Eating Less Red Meat, Reducing Food Waste Would Reduce Agricultural CO2 Emissions

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Reducing global red meat consumption and reducing food waste could drastically reduce the annual amount of carbon emissions from the worldwide agriculture industry, according to a new report released Friday by Climate Focus and California Environmental Associates.
The report, entitled Strategies for Mitigating Climate Change in Agriculture, entailed the review and synthesis of a vast array of different literature on agriculture and climate change (including some unpublished data). The result of that analysis was the development of 12 key strategies intended to eliminate agriculture’s climate footprint, the organizations behind the study said in a statement.
According to the report’s findings, changes to procedures in Brazil, China, the European Union and the US could have the greatest impact on global emission levels. The authors stress that the role consumption plays in producing food-related emissions is often overlooked, and that by changing diets and cutting back on food waste levels in key nations could eliminate over three gigatons of CO2 production each year.
“By reducing the climate impact of the food we eat, we can improve our health and the health of the planet,” explained study co-author and Climate Focus Director Dr. Charlotte Streck. “By making the way we produce food more efficient, farmers can reap the benefits of increased production while decreasing the environmental impacts of farming.”
“The energy and transport sectors have seen a significant growth in innovation needed to ensure the long term sustainability of the sectors. It is time that agriculture followed,” she added. “There are so many ways in which policymakers can help farmers boost productivity while mitigating climate change. We need to dispel the notion, once and for all, that productivity and sustainability can’t work hand in hand.”
One of the report’s key findings is that 70 percent of the direct greenhouse gas emissions linked to the agriculture industry originate from cows, sheep and other grazing livestock. The bulk of these emissions would be eliminated if there was less demand for beef products, particularly in two countries: the US, which is currently the largest consumer of red meat on Earth, and China, where demand for such meats is expected to increase rapidly.
Americans are already beginning to eat less meat, with per capita consumption of red meat dropping from a peak of 88.8 pounds in 1976 to just 58.7 pounds in 2009, though in comparison to other nations, consumption rates remain high, the authors said. Conversely, beef consumption is expected to increase by 116 percent by 2050 – bad news, considering beef livestock carbon emissions are six times those of poultry on a per unit basis.
“Because China already has a climate-friendly diet and hasn’t yet embraced beef, it’s still possible to discourage the consumption of more beef without changing the country’s traditional beliefs and culture,” said co-author Amy Dickie, Director of Philanthropic Services at California Environmental Associates. “Steering the Chinese diet in a more climate-friendly direction would yield enormous benefits for the country’s health and food security – as well as the global climate.”
US and China are also two of the countries that could help reduce agriculture’s climate footprint by limiting food waste, joining Sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia. Between 30 and 40 percent of the global food supply is lost while traveling along the supply chain from the farmer to consumers, and such waste is the result of inefficient production, storage, distribution and consumption practices, the study claims.
One measure which could be instituted includes fixing the confusion between “sell-by” and “best-by” dates and other food labels that often causes American consumers to dispose of perfectly edible food. Also, consumers in the US and European Union should be encouraged to stop disposing of food based on its shape or color, American and Chinese restaurants should cut back on portion sizes, and Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa would benefit from improved food cooling and storage practices that could reduce food loss from spoilage.