Environmental concerns of food consumption
Gas and water consumption
Environment, production, sustainable consumption, environmental footprint, water footprint, local food, environmental impact, greenhouse gases
Food production and consumption have a considerable impact on the environment.
According to FAO, food production has increased by more than 100 % in the last 30 years. The organisation estimates that about 60 % more food will be needed by 2050 to meet the food requirements of a growing global population.
Although farming techniques have evolved and crop yields have increased in recent decades, this growing demand will not only require a larger amount of water, energy and land use but also will drive to global warming.
Food production produces greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), such as methane and carbon dioxide, that contribute to climate change. These emissions are mainly tied to land use and agricultural stages which implies changes in biomass from deforestation, emissions from agricultural fertilizers (adding nitrogen to the soil can generate the greenhouse gas known as nitrous oxide), methane emissions from ruminant livestock and emissions from rice cultivation or burning crops residues, among others.
With the “carbon footprint” of food, we can know the GHG emissions that are released while making food products. Thus, meat products have larger carbon footprints than grain or vegetable products. As example, 1 kg of beef releases 60.0 kg CO2-eq while 1 kg of tomatoes implies only 1.4 kg CO2-eq emissions.
Moreover, food production requires large quantities of water for the growing and processing of crops as well for the livestock. The term “water footprint” is used to indicate the amount of fresh water that any given process or activity uses. FAO estimates that between 2.000 and 5.000 litres of water are needed to produce a person’s daily food. For example, it takes between 1 and 3 tonnes of water to grown 1kg of cereal. A kilogram of beef takes up to 15 tonnes of water to produce while a kilogram of tomatoes requires 214 litres.
Taking these concepts into account, we should reflect on how our food consumption impacts the global environment so we can help mitigate climate change through our food choices.
Therefore, when we waste food, we’re wasting all the water, energy and other resources that were used to produce it. Globally, approximately a third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted (FAO, 2011).
Tackling food waste is of paramount importance. It is not only an ethical and economic issue, but it also depletes the environment of limited natural resources.
Studies say that for most foods, most GHG emissions result from land use change and from processes at the farm stage (fertilizers and methane emissions). Conversely, transport is a small contributor to emissions, which may initially come as a surprise, as it accounts for less than 10% for most food products.
Overall, animal-based foods tend to have a higher footprint than plant-based.
By choosing what to eat and what to cut back on, we can reduce the carbon footprint of our food, as well as the water footprint. Sometimes it can be difficult to measure climate impact since there are many steps between the farm and our house.
To learn more about how food production and consumption impact the environment and how we can include environmental considerations in our diet, we can consult
a lot of reports, studies and blog post from environmental organizations and initiatives such us FAO, UNEP (UN), EIT Food or the European Commission – DG Env and DG SANTE.
By adopting sustainable diets and preventing food waste, we’ll also contribute to reach the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12 defined by the UN: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Beef, chocolate, rice, tomatoes, avocados, cereal
People across the world are becoming increasingly concerned about climate change and this has resulted in a growing awareness about the impact of our diet and food choices on the environment.
However, there is still a need for raise awareness on the long-term effects on the environment caused by food production and consumption. Moreover, sometimes the information on sustainable choices is hard to collect and track. Another key aspect to take into account is the availability and price of sustainable food.
The EU, with the goal of addressing this problem, has created several initiatives such as the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste or the Farm to Fork Strategy which, at the heart of the European Green, aims to accelerate our transition to a sustainable food system. Main elements of this strategy include improving consumer information, strengthening sustainable food procurement and encouraging adoption of fiscal measures that support sustainable food consumption.
FAO. 2011. Global food losses and food waste: https://www.fao.org/3/i2697e/i2697e.pdf
FAO. THE STATE OF THE WORLD’S H LAND AND WATER RESOURCES FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE. https://www.fao.org/3/i1688e/i1688e.pdf
Environmental impacts of food production and consumption:
EC. Farm to Fork strategy:
EC. EU actions against food waste: