How do you eat in the most climate-friendly way possible?

14-Oct-2022 - Germany

For many people, their diet is a very personal issue. And yet what we eat has a global impact. Because the production of food is a driver of global warming. So what could a climate-friendly diet look like? One thing is clear: meat generally causes much higher emissions than plant-based products. In addition, food from far away can cause more CO2 just by being transported. However, experts do not always agree on the details. An overview on the occasion of World Food Day on October 16.

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Is organic better for the climate?

Organic is good for the environment in many ways. However, according to nutritionist and book author Malte Rubach, organic food does not necessarily protect the climate.

"The productivity of organic production is not as high as in conventional production," Rubach says. That's because artificial fertilizers, concentrated feeds and genetically engineered feeds must be avoided, he says. "Not using these things reduces productivity." Per kilogram of organic food, he said, this results in a higher carbon footprint.

According to a study by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (Ifeu), for example, a kilogram of whole milk causes an average of about 1.4 kilograms of CO2 - with the organic variety it is 1.7 kilograms.

However, Silke Oppermann, an expert from the environmental organization WWF, believes that this is too short-sighted. The use of mineral oil fertilizers and pesticides in conventional farming would cause soil organisms to die off very quickly. "With the loss of soil organisms, the storage capacity of soils of CO2 and carbon is also lost," says the expert on sustainable nutrition and climate protection. Soils are the second-largest store of CO2 after the oceans, she adds.

Which is better: milk from cows or from plants?

Oat, soy, rice and almond milk - there are many milk substitutes. According to a large-scale study published at the online publication "Our World in Data," cow's milk performs significantly worse than plant-based products in all relevant environmental aspects. The Federal Environment Agency (Uba) also generally advises the consumption of plant-based alternatives.

WWF expert Oppermann points out that rice and almond milk have a less favorable environmental balance compared to oat milk. "Because rice also has a relatively high CO2 footprint due to the way it is grown. And with almonds, the problem is that they're mainly grown in Spain and California, and there water scarcity and drought plays a role." Anne Klatt of the Uba says, "If the water scarcity in the growing regions of the plant-based raw materials is taken into account, cow's milk may be more advantageous compared to some alternatives, for example, soy- or almond-based."

Nutritionist Rubach finds the comparison between cow's milk and milk substitutes misleading. He says the latter have significantly fewer nutrients and proteins. Consequently, he says, more of it has to be drunk, which in turn also increases the carbon footprint.

Cheese or meat - which is more harmful to the climate?

That depends very much on the production method of the individual product. In general, however, it can be said that between 4 and 13 liters of milk are needed to produce one kilogram of cheese. According to the Ifeu study, a kilogram of cheese - depending on the type - therefore causes around 5.7 kilograms of CO2 and more. For a kilogram of chicken, the average is 5.5 kilograms. "This is because chickens have a very high productivity," Rubach says. Pork also has a lower average of 4.6 kilograms of CO2. The situation is different for beef: Here, the production of one kilogram of meat causes an average of 13.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

How damaging to the climate are beverages?

"Of the total climate gases caused by our diet, beverages are in second place, right after meat and ahead of cereals and dairy products," says Rubach. "Beverages have a comparatively low footprint per liter, but in total we drink 2.5 liters a day and that adds up."

Tap and mineral water have the lowest impact on the climate, followed by bottled and prepared beverages such as coffee and tea. "With tea, for example, the biggest point of causation is boiling water, not the tea itself; with coffee, it's the roasting process," Rubach says./ppz/DP/stw

Note: This article has been translated using a computer system without human intervention. LUMITOS offers these automatic translations to present a wider range of current news. Since this article has been translated with automatic translation, it is possible that it contains errors in vocabulary, syntax or grammar. The original article in German can be found here.

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