Top 10 foods that contribute the most to climate change

Top 10 foods that contribute the most to climate change

The production of human food generates 37% of global greenhouse gas emissions. But foods of animal origin emit twice as much as those of plant origin. Beef thus emits twice as many greenhouse gases as rice, which itself emits twice as many as wheat.

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The production of our food generates 37% of emissions total greenhouse gases emitted on the planet, i.e. 17.3 gigatonnes of CO equivalent2 per year, according to a study by Nature Food published in 2021. In comparison, transportation emits 13.4 gigatonnes of CO2 per year, or 28% of anthropogenic emissions. This is to say if our diet has a huge impact on our Earth.

Foods of animal origin versus foods of plant origin

But all food do not contribute to warming in the same way. Those of animal origin (meat, fish, dairy products, etc.) represent 57% of these emissions, against 29% for foods of plant origin – the remaining 14% being dedicated to non-food agricultural productions such as rubber, cotton or cereals for the biofuel. If the change in land use and land use (plowing, conversion of forests or other natural landscapes into pastures and cultivated land, etc.) represents the largest share of emissions, the balance sheet of animal products is “weighed down” by methane emissions from cattle and other livestock.

But there are also big differences within each category. Rice, for example, produces a lot of methane due to the fermentation anaerobic due toflood rice fields. This crop thus represents 12% of all greenhouse gas emissions linked to crop production. It is followed by wheat, whose cultivated areas are the most important, and which generates mainly CO2 resulting from the change of soil affection. Then come the cane to sugar, the But and cassava.

Beef, the most disastrous food for the planet

Among animal products, beef, with 25% of the total, accounts for the carbon footprint most disastrous, because of methane releases. It is followed by the milk of cow, pork and chicken. Animals not only generate methane, but they require huge areas to grow cereals to feed them.

However, we should not think that it would be enough to convert these areas into cereals for human consumption. ” More than 70% of the ruminant ration is made up of fodder (grass, hay, silage, etc.) that cannot be consumed by humans “, underlines INRAE. In addition, the concentrated feeds used for pigs or poultry add value to crop residues and by-products from plant sectors intended for human consumption (cakes, brans, spent grains, etc.). ” In total, 86% of animal feed cannot be consumed by humans », Underlines the institute.

Besides carbon dioxide and methane, agriculture also generates nitrous oxide (NOT2O), with heating power 310 times greater than CO2. The latter is mainly released by thespreading nitrogen fertilizers minerals and organic. The researchers also took into account the upstream and downstream impacts of agriculture, such as greenhouse gases produced by the manufacture of pesticides and fertilizers, transport (imports and exports) or packaging. This explains why the figure of 37% is higher than previous estimates, which instead estimated the contribution of agriculture to global emissions at 25%.

How to reduce emissions from agriculture?

In 2050, agriculture will have to feed nearly 10 billion human beings. Increase agricultural production without destroying the planet is therefore a challenge. We can of course reduce our meat consumption and dairy products, but also changing agricultural practices (reducing the use of fertilizers or using no-till farming methods, for example) or even resorting to biotechnology for improve crop productivity or reduce methane emissions from ruminants. All this without increasing the prices, under penalty of aggravating hunger in the world.

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