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In this page:
The Carnivor’s Dilemma
from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/31/opinion/31niman.html
Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America
from The Pew Charitable Trusts: http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_report_detail.aspx?id=38442
Eating less, eating local and eating better could slash U.S. energy use, CU study finds
from ChronicleOnline (Cornell University): http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Aug08/Energy.Food.htm
How Meat Contributes to Global Warming
from Scientific American Magazine: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-greenhouse-hamburger
Sweden Looks to Diet to Cut Global Warming
from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/world/europe/23degrees.html
How much energy we use to produce food could be cut in half if Americans ate less and ate local foods, wolfed down less meat, dairy and junk food, and used more traditional farming methods, says a new Cornell study.
“We could reduce the fossil energy used in the U.S. food system by about 50 percent with relatively simple changes in how we produce, process, package, transport and consume our food,” said David Pimentel, professor emeritus of ecology and agriculture in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell.
Pimentel’s analysis, co-authored with five former Cornell undergraduates who were in Pimentel’s Environmental Policy course in 2006, is published in the academic journal Human Ecology.
Pimentel says that about 19 percent of the total fossil fuel used in this country goes into the food system — about the same amount we use to fuel cars. His analysis details how changes in the food system could reduce energy.
For example, the researchers recommend:
- Eat less and cut down on junk food: To produce the typical American diet requires the equivalent of about 500 gallons of oil per year per person, says the study. Americans, on average, consume about 50 percent more calories than recommended by the federal government for optimal health and get one-third of their calories from junk food. Eating less and cutting down on junk food would use significantly less energy, considering all the processing, packaging and transportation costs saved.
- Eat less meat and dairy: We use 45 million tons of plant protein to produce 7.5 million tons of animal protein per year, according to Pimentel. Switching to a vegetarian diet, he says, would require one-third less fossil fuel than producing the current animal-based American diet.
- Eat more locally grown food: Food travels an average of 1,500 miles before it is eaten. “This requires 1.4 times the energy than the energy in the food,” Pimentel said. A head of iceberg lettuce, for example, which is 95 percent water, provides 110 calories and few nutrients. Irrigating the lettuce in California takes 750 calories of fossil energy and shipping it to New York another 4,000 calories of energy per head, according to the analysis. Locally grown cabbage, on the other hand, requires only 400 calories to produce and offers far more nutrients, not to mention it can be stored all winter long.
- Use more traditional farming methods: Pimentel’s team also shows how using methods to reduce soil erosion, irrigation and pesticide use, through such things as crop rotation, manure and cover crops, could cut the total energy now used in crop production.
The study’s co-authors are Sean Williamson, Courtney Alexander, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Caitlin Kontak and Steven Mulkey, all Cornell Class of 2007.
Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America
Apr 29, 2008 (from The Pew Charitable Trusts)
Over the last 50 years, the method of producing food animals in the United States has changed from the extensive system of small and medium-sized farms owned by a single family to a system of large, intensive operations where the animals are housed in large numbers in enclosed structures that resemble industrial buildings more than they do a traditional barn. That change has happened primarily out of view of consumers but has come at a cost to the environment and a negative impact on public health, rural communities, and the health and well-being of the animals themselves.
The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP) was funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to investigate the problems associated with industrial farm animal production (IFAP) operations and to make recommendations to solve them. Fifteen Commissioners with diverse backgrounds began meeting in early 2006 to start their evidence-based review of the problems caused by IFAP.
Scientific American Magazine – February 4, 2009
How Meat Contributes to Global Warming
Producing beef for the table has a surprising environmental cost:
it releases prodigious amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases
By Nathan Fiala
The FAO report found that current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of “CO2-equivalent” greenhouse gases the world produces every year. It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for someone’s lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles.
In truth, every food we consume, vegetables and fruits included, incurs hidden environmental costs: transportation, refrigeration and fuel for farming, as well as methane emissions from plants and animals, all lead to a buildup of atmospheric greenhouse gases. Take asparagus: in a report prepared for the city of Seattle, Daniel J. Morgan of the University of Washington and his co-workers found that growing just half a pound of the vegetable in Peru emits greenhouse gases equivalent to 1.2 ounces of CO2 as a result of applying insecticide and fertilizer, pumping water and running heavy, gas-guzzling farm equipment. To refrigerate and transport the vegetable to an American dinner table generates another two ounces of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases, for a total CO2 equivalent of 3.2 ounces.
But that is nothing compared to beef. In 1999 Susan Subak, an ecological economist then at the University of East Anglia in England, found that, depending on the production method, cows emit between 2.5 and 4.7 ounces of methane for each pound of beef they produce. Because methane has roughly 23 times the global-warming potential of CO2, those emissions are the equivalent of releasing between 3.6 and 6.8 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for each pound of beef produced.
Raising animals also requires a large amount of feed per unit of body weight. In 2003 Lucas Reijnders of the University of Amsterdam and Sam Soret of Loma Linda University estimated that producing a pound of beef protein for the table requires more than 10 pounds of plant protein with all the emissions of greenhouse gases that grain farming entails. Finally, farms for raising animals produce numerous wastes that give rise to greenhouse gases.
Taking such factors into account, Subak calculated that producing a pound of beef in a feedlot, or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) system, generates the equivalent of 14.8 pounds of CO2 pound for pound, more than 36 times the CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emitted by producing asparagus. Even other common meats cannot match the impact of beef; I estimate that producing a pound of pork generates the equivalent of 3.8 pounds of CO2; a pound of chicken generates 1.1 pounds of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases. And the economically efficient CAFO system, though certainly not the cleanest production method in terms of CO2-equivalent greenhouse emissions, is far better than most: the FAO data I noted earlier imply that the world average emissions from producing a pound of beef are several times the CAFO amount.
What can be done? Improving waste management and farming practices would certainly reduce the “carbon footprint” of beef production. Methane-capturing systems, for instance, can put cows’ waste to use in generating electricity. But those systems remain too costly to be commercially viable.
Individuals, too, can reduce the effects of food production on planetary climate. To some degree, after all, our diets are a choice. By choosing more wisely, we can make a difference. Eating locally produced food, for instance, can reduce the need for transport though food inefficiently shipped in small batches on trucks from nearby farms can turn out to save surprisingly little in greenhouse emissions. And in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world, people could eat less meat, particularly beef.
The graphics on the following pages quantify the links between beef production and greenhouse gases in sobering detail. The take-home lesson is clear: we ought to give careful thought to diet and its consequences for the planet if we are serious about limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases.
Note: This article was originally printed with the title, “The Greenhouse Hamburger”.
To Cut Global Warming, Swedes Study Their Plates
STOCKHOLM — Shopping for oatmeal, Helena Bergstrom, 37, admitted that she was flummoxed by the label on the blue box reading, “Climate declared: .87 kg CO2 per kg of product.”
“Right now, I don’t know what this means,” said Ms. Bergstrom, a pharmaceutical company employee.
But if a new experiment here succeeds, she and millions of other Swedes will soon find out. New labels listing the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the production of foods, from whole wheat pasta to fast food burgers, are appearing on some grocery items and restaurant menus around the country.
People who live to eat might dismiss this as silly. But changing one’s diet can be as effective in reducing emissions of climate-changing gases as changing the car one drives or doing away with the clothes dryer, scientific experts say.
“We’re the first to do it, and it’s a new way of thinking for us,” said Ulf Bohman, head of the Nutrition Department at the Swedish National Food Administration, which was given the task last year of creating new food guidelines giving equal weight to climate and health. “We’re used to thinking about safety and nutrition as one thing and environmental as another.”
Some of the proposed new dietary guidelines, released over the summer, may seem startling to the uninitiated. They recommend that Swedes favor carrots over cucumbers and tomatoes, for example. (Unlike carrots, the latter two must be grown in heated greenhouses here, consuming energy.)
They are not counseled to eat more fish, despite the health benefits, because Europe’s stocks are depleted.
And somewhat less surprisingly, they are advised to substitute beans or chicken for red meat, in view of the heavy greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising cattle.
“For consumers, it’s hard,” Mr. Bohman acknowledged. “You are getting environmental advice that you have to coordinate with, ‘How can I eat healthier?’ ”
Many Swedish diners say it is just too much to ask. “I wish I could say that the information has made me change what I eat, but it hasn’t,” said Richard Lalander, 27, who was eating a Max hamburger (1.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions) in the shadow of a menu board revealing that a chicken sandwich (0.4 kilograms) would have been better for the planet.
Yet if the new food guidelines were religiously heeded, some experts say, Sweden could cut its emissions from food production by 20 to 50 percent. An estimated 25 percent of the emissions produced by people in industrialized nations can be traced to the food they eat, according to recent research here. And foods vary enormously in the emissions released in their production.
While today’s American or European shoppers may be well versed in checking for nutrients, calories or fat content, they often have little idea of whether eating tomatoes, chicken or rice is good or bad for the climate.
Complicating matters, the emissions impact of, say, a carrot, can vary by a factor of 10, depending how and where it is grown.
Earlier studies of food emissions focused on the high environmental costs of transporting food and raising cattle. But more nuanced research shows that the emissions depend on many factors, including the type of soil used to grow the food and whether a dairy farmer uses local rapeseed or imported soy for cattle feed.
Business groups, farming cooperatives and organic labeling programs as well as the government have gamely come up with coordinated ways to identify food choices.
Max, Sweden’s largest homegrown chain of burger restaurants, now puts emissions calculations next to each item on its menu boards. Lantmannen, Sweden’s largest farming group, has begun placing precise labels on some categories of foods in grocery stores, including chicken, oatmeal, barley and pasta.
Consumers who pay attention may learn that emissions generated by growing the nation’s most popular grain, rice, are two to three times those of little-used barley, for example.
Some producers argue that the new programs are overly complex and threaten profits. The dietary recommendations, which are being circulated for comment not just in Sweden but across the European Union, have been attacked by the Continent’s meat industry, Norwegian salmon farmers and Malaysian palm oil growers, to name a few.
“This is trial and error; we’re still trying to see what works,” Mr. Bohman said.
Next year, KRAV, Scandinavia’s main organic certification program, will start requiring farmers to convert to low-emissions techniques if they want to display its coveted seal on products, meaning that most greenhouse tomatoes can no longer be called organic.
Those standards have stirred some protests. “There are farmers who are happy and farmers who say they are being ruined,” said Johan Cejie, manager of climate issues for KRAV.
For example, he said, farmers with high concentrations of peat soil on their property may no longer be able to grow carrots, since plowing peat releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide; to get the organic label, they may have to switch to feed crops that require no plowing.
Next year KRAV will require hothouses to use biofuels for heating. Dairy farms will have to obtain at least 70 percent of the food for their herds locally; many previously imported cheap soy from Brazil, generating transport emissions and damaging the rain forest as trees were cleared to make way for farmland.
The Swedish effort grew out of a 2005 study by Sweden’s national environmental agency on how personal consumption generates emissions. Researchers found that 25 percent of national per capita emissions — two metric tons per year — was attributable to eating.
The government realized that encouraging a diet that tilted more toward chicken or vegetables and educating farmers on lowering emissions generally could have an enormous impact.
Sweden has been a world leader in finding new ways to reduce emissions. It has vowed to eliminate the use of fossil fuel for electricity by 2020 and cars that run on gasoline by 2030.
To arrive at numbers for their company’s first carbon dioxide labels, scientists at Lantmannen analyzed life cycles of 20 products. These take into account emissions generated by fertilizer, fuel for harvesting machinery, packaging and transport.
They decided to examine one representative product in each category — say, pasta — rather than performing analyses for fusilli versus penne, or one brand versus another. “Every climate declaration is hugely time-intensive,” said Claes Johansson, Lantmannen’s director of sustainability.
A new generation of Swedish business leaders is stepping up to the climate challenge. Richard Bergfors, president of Max, his family’s burger chain, voluntarily hired a consultant to calculate its carbon footprint; 75 percent was created by its meat.
“We decided to be honest and put it all out there and say we’ll do everything we can to reduce,” said Mr. Bergfors, 40. In addition to putting emissions data on the menu, Max eliminated boxes from its children’s meals, installed low-energy LED lights and pays for wind-generated electricity.
Since the emissions counts started appearing on the menu, sales of climate-friendly items have risen 20 percent. Still, plenty of people head to a burger restaurant lusting only for a burger.
Kristian Eriksson, 26, an information technology specialist, looked embarrassed when asked about the burger he was eating at an outdoor table.
“You feel guilty picking red meat,” he said.