Study: Plant-based foods have lowest environmental impacts

Study: Plant-based foods have lowest environmental impacts
By Marwa Nassar - -

A study estimating the environmental impact of 57,000 food products in the UK and Ireland found out that plant-based foods have the lowest environmental impacts.

The Oxford University-led study compared the environmental impacts of meat and meat alternative products, such as plant-based sausages or burgers, and finds many meat alternatives had a fifth to less than a tenth of the environmental impact of meat-based equivalents.

This is the first time a transparent and reproducible method has been developed to assess the environmental impacts of multi-ingredient products. It provides a first step towards enabling consumers, retailers, and policymakers to make informed decisions on the environmental impacts of food and drink products.

Lead author, Dr Michael Clark says, ‘By estimating the environmental impact of food and drink products in a standardised way, we have taken a significant first step towards providing information that could enable informed decision-making. We still need to find how best effectively to communicate this information, in order to shift behavior towards more sustainable outcomes, but assessing the impact of products is an important step forward.’

A study by the Food Standards Agency shows more than half of UK consumers want to make more sustainable decisions on the environmental impacts of foods and, at the same time, food corporations are setting ambitious net zero greenhouse gas targets. But there is a lack of detailed environmental impact information on food and drink products – which would allow consumers and corporations to make more sustainable choices.

The study, led by researchers in Oxford’s Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) program and Oxford Population Health used publicly available information to derive estimates of the environmental impact of 57,000 food products, which make up the majority of foods and drinks for sale in UK supermarkets.

They looked at greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water stress, and eutrophication potential — when bodies of water become enriched with nutrients, often causing harmful algal blooms and ultimately killing other life.

Professor Peter Scarborough, Oxford Professor of Population Health, said “For the first time, we have a transparent and comparable method for assessing the environmental footprint of multi-ingredient processed foods. These types of foods make up most of the supermarket shopping we do, but until now there was no way of directly comparing their impact on the environment.”

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