Research Reveals the True Cost of a Burger
The UK could considerably reduce its carbon footprint if more of us switched to a vegetarian diet, according to new research by Lancaster University.
The report 'Relative greenhouse gas impacts of realistic dietary choices' published in the journal Energy Policy says that if everyone in the UK swapped their current eating habits for a vegetarian or vegan diet, our greenhouse gas emissions savings would be the equivalent of a 50 per cent reduction in exhaust pipe emissions from the entire UK passenger car fleet or 40m tonnes.
From biscuits and bananas to beer and wine, everything in our shopping basket comes at a cost to the environment and each stage of food production -- from farming and transport to storage and packaging -results in greenhouse gas emissions.
By working out the typical greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of 61 different categories of food, using supermarket data supplied by Booths, the authors of the report, Professor Nick Hewitt of Lancaster University and Mike Berners-Lee of Small World Consulting, were able to work out the typical emissions associated with a number of different diets.
They worked out that the combined greenhouse gas emissions from the foods we eat in the UK are the equivalent of 167 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and switching to vegetarian or vegan diets could cut this by between 22 and 26 per cent.
Fresh meat had the highest emissions of all, but meat and cheese had generally high greenhouse gas costs. These emissions were largely caused by methane from rumination, slurry and farm yard manure and nitrous oxide from fertilizer. Meat has a carbon footprint at the checkout of 17kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilogram. Cheese has 15kg. Cooked meats are also high at 11kg per kilogram, with bacon at 9kg.
Exotic vegetables and mushrooms are high (9kg), largely because of freight and glasshouse heating costs. In contrast, fruit and vegetables grown without artificial heating and/ or were shipped to the UK by sea, have low emissions. Wine has a carbon footprint of 2kg per kilogram, and potatoes, apples, milk, bread and cereals are under 2kg.
Professor Nick Hewitt said: "Greenhouse gases resulting from man's activities are changing the composition of the atmosphere, ultimately, with effects on global climate. It is clear that in order to meet the ambitious emissions reductions targets agreed in the UK and elsewhere, emissions from every possible source category have to be addressed and driven down. Food production, particularly by industrialised agricultural practices, causes significant greenhouse gas emissions. Realistic choices about diet can make substantial differences to embodied GHG emissions."
It is amazing how little details of our lives such as the food we eat can impact the environment so greatly. It just goes to show how delicate our eco-system is and how the more important for us to take even greater care of it.
This article also brings up another point, the power of numbers. How such a simple thing as food can cause such a big butterfly effect is due to the numbers(of people eating and number of factories, food demand and etc.) causing a domino effect.
The third point is that a simple thing such as a burger has so many hidden processing. First there’s the bread. The bread. Needs flour, sesame seeds, eggs, butter, yeast and etc. Flour comes from growing wheat, and grinding it. Some factories use machines to grind, contributing to green-house gas emmisions. Sesame seeds also need to be grown. Eggs farmed from chickens and butter processed from the milk of the cow, which has by-products of methane, animal slurry and other pollution contributing substances form animals. And yeast…… the list just goes on and on. And that’s just the bread alone. There is still the bugger patty, the onions, the cheese, the lettuce, the tomato and depending on your type of burger there could be other ingredients as well.