According to a new study published in the journal Nature, plant-based diets, improved agricultural practices and less food waste are needed to reduce the food system’s negative environmental impact. The study’s lead author told Deutsche Welle that there is “little chance of staying within environmental boundaries” if no action is taken.
The results of the study show that due to continued population growth, rising income levels and the increase in Western diets that include high levels of red meat and processed foods, the negative environmental impact of the food system could increase by up to 90% by 2050. Study author Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food warns that current global development “transcends important planetary boundaries that define a safe workspace for humanity in which the Earth’s vital ecosystems could become unstable.”
The study states: “If socio-economic changes in relation to Western consumption patterns continue, the environmental pressures on the food system are likely to worsen. Humanity could soon reach the planet’s limits for global use of freshwater and agricultural land, and acidification of the oceans will be encouraged. Ecosystems run the risk of being destabilised and of losing the regulatory functions on which the population depends.”
The report also notes that maintaining a healthy planet requires halving the amount of food lost and wasted and improving agricultural practices and technologies. Sharon Palmer, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist and expert in plant-based foods and sustainability, comments on the study: “Research shows time and again that drastically reducing the consumption of animal food and, above all, consuming more plant-based foods is one of the most powerful measures anyone can take to reduce the impact of energy requirements, land use, greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and pollutants on the planet during their lifetime.”
The study found that the production of animal products accounts for the largest share of food-related greenhouse gas emissions – up to 78% of total agricultural emissions. For example, according to Springmann, beef production is more than 100 times more emission-intensive than legume production.
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