In the ongoing effort to find more ways to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions, it seems eating less meat might be the answer. Mike Berners-Lee, founding director of Small World Consulting, discusses the inherent inefficiencies in the global food system in The Conversation.
Berners-Lee says, “It is a system riddled with inefficiencies and waste. Humans don’t simply eat food straight out of the ground, of course. It’s harvested, stored, processed — or fed to animals who are in turn slaughtered and processed — and finally packaged and delivered. Each of these stages uses energy, which means emissions.”
According to Berners-Lee, approximately 6,000 calories per person in edible crop harvest is grown, which is more than enough to fulfill the approximate 2,000 calories each person eats per day. However, inefficiencies in the food system and uneven sharing leave some hungry and others eating more than they should.
About 900 calories are lost in agricultural waste, 500 go to biofuels, and 600 are lost in post-harvest waste. Of the remaining 4,000 around 1,700 are fed to animals, and here is where many of the inefficiencies arise. Grass is used to supplement animal diets, some of which is grown on land that could be used to grow more crops for humans, and animals walking around and keeping warm use up energy, yielding only 500 calories per person per day in meat and dairy.
Lastly, around 800 calories is lost to processing, distribution, and household waste, leaving 2,000 calories per person per day, enough to feed everyone however inadequate sharing leads some to go hungry.
So what can be done? Results from a U.K. study show that going vegetarian might cut greenhouse gas footprints by 25 percent. For those not ready to give up meat, this can also be accomplished through three key actions: reduce meat consumption, switch to meats with lower carbon footprints, and cut waste.