A recent Austrian and Dutch study shows that the production of one kilogram of beef in Brazil produces 335 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2), which corresponds roughly to the emissions of driving an average European car for more than 1600 kilometres. Even Dutch beef still amounts to 22 kilogram CO2 or 111 kilometres in a car.
Kurt Schmidinger from the University of Vienna and Elke Stehfest from the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency have developed a fundamental enhancement of the commonly used life cycle assessment method (LCA) for foods, which now appears online in the International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment.
The particular innovation is the integration into the calculations of the area used for production in addition to the emissions resulting from the production of foods. Despite playing a central role for the climate, area use effects have been ignored in climate balances until now. Occupation of huge areas prevents natural vegetation from regrowing. This vegetation would absorb CO2 from the atmosphere in much the same way a sponge would and stabilize the world climate.
With the now published enhancement for LCAs the area demand of a product is added as a “missed potential carbon sink” to the emissions of the food production in the balance.
One kilogram of Dutch chicken meat has the lowest total CO2-balance among animal products with 6.2 kilograms CO2 or 31 car kilometres. The author, geophysicist and food scientist Kurt Schmidinger, warns of false conclusions: “Industrial livestock systems are simply not viable options, even if their climate balances sometimes outcompete pasture systems. Industrial livestock systems require enormous amounts of cropland, which is less available than pastures, this in turn threatens global food security. Global pandemics, antibiotic resistance, animal welfare problems, water pollution, soil erosion and many more issues are associated with industrial livestock farming. Plant based foods, on the other hand, perform significantly better when considering all ethical aspects of nutrition.”
Protein rich plant based foods show by far the lowest CO2-scores in the new study, with tofu producing 3.8 kilograms of CO2 , which is equivalent to 19 car kilometres and tempeh producing 2.4 kilograms of CO2 , which is equivalent to 12 car kilometres.
Link to the study: http://www.springerlink.com/content/t7h218510496nh0m
Source: FEWD Research Center for Ethics and Science at the University of Vienna