Sustain has taken a keen interest in the rapidly accumulating evidence about the contribution of food and farming to climate change. These pages record recent activity on this issue. For enquiries about this material, contact Sustain's policy director, Kath Dalmeny, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our food system is a very significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The figures are startling.
- The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has calculated that, globally, agriculture generates 30% of total man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, including half of methane emissions and more than half of the emissions of nitrous oxide.
- In the EU, over 30% of the greenhouse gases from consumer purchases come from the food and drink sector.
- Latest conservative estimates from the Food Climate Research Network in the UK suggest that almost one-fifth of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions are associated with our food and drink (download 260Kb ppt).
- Less meat and dairy, and more food from plants
Products from farmed animals – meat and dairy products such as milk and cheese – are among the most energy-intensive and greenhouse-gas intensive food products of all. According to latest figures from the United Nations, animal farming globally causes more greenhouse gas emissions than all of the cars, lorries and planes in the world put together, and the impact is increasing. This is partly due to methane gas from the digestive systems of ruminants (cows and sheep burping), but also due to large areas of forest being cleared to grow grain and beans for livestock (including cows, pigs and chickens) to eat.
- Local and seasonal food
Locally grown and prepared food can cut down on fuel use in ‘food miles’ and makes it easier to identify and support environmentally benign food production methods. Buying local produce also means that the food is less likely to be associated with the greenhouse gas caused by recent land conversion. Seasonal food need not be imported, does not require energy-intensive conditions such as heated greenhouses, can be produced organically, and reduces the likelihood of energy-intensive methods of storage and transport such as refrigeration and air-freighting.
- Food, such as organic, grown without artificial chemical
Organic production methods are usually less energy-intensive than industrial agriculture. They do not use artificial fertiliser, which takes an enormous amount of energy and water to produce and results in emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.
- Sustain's sustainable food guidelines can be viewed at: http://www.sustainweb.org/sustainablefood/
- A one-page Model Catering Policy, for communicating sustainable food guidelines simply to caterers can be downloaded here. It can also be used to commission sustainable food for meetings.
download 50Kb pdf