June 20, 2024

Food: These are the most harmful to the environment – 57,000 products tested

57,000 products tested
Rotten cheese and good vegetables: these are the most polluted foods of all

According to the study, meat and cheese are the most harmful to the environment.

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British researchers looked at foods that can still be eaten with a clear conscience and found that cheese is not one of them. These are the most contaminated foods.

Bad news for cheese lovers, they have to put the contaminant label on them. A research team from Oxford University looked at foods that are particularly harmful to the environment and testified that cheese has a very poor ecological balance. The UK study evaluated more than 57,000 products available in UK supermarkets, including many processed foods. The upshot: If you want to do something green when you shop for groceries, buy more fruits, vegetables, and bread.

Climate and environmental issues are important or very important to 84% of Germans when it comes to nutrition. This is stated in the current nutrition report by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. At the same time, 27 percent feel less knowledgeable or not at all well informed about relevant communications. In fact, few consumers seem overwhelmed when it comes to eco-friendly diet choices. In addition, supermarket products often consist of combinations of different ingredients.

What are the effects of food on the environment?

To better estimate the environmental impact of these products, too, a team led by Oxford University researchers developed an algorithm that estimated the total impacts of more than 57,000 foods and drinks sold in the UK and Ireland. The authors identified, for example, the effects of food on greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water consumption.

With this in mind, they assigned a single compound EIA score for every 100 grams of each product, ranging from 0 (no effect) to 100 (largest impact). Co-author Peter Scarborough summarizes: “For the first time, we have a transparent and comparable method for assessing the environmental impact of multi-ingredient processed foods.” “These types of food make up the majority of our supermarket purchases, but so far there is no way to directly compare their impact on the environment.”

The most polluting beef bacon

Products made from dried beef such as biltung or jerky had the highest value in the study – dried meat products can also be found as snacks in more and more supermarkets in Germany. Products made with meat, fish, and cheese were usually of higher value, while many sweets and baked goods were in the middle range and products made with fruit, vegetables, sugar and flour such as soups, salads, bread, and many breakfast cereals were at the lower end of the scale.

The study also compared the environmental impacts of meat and its alternatives, including vegan sausages or burgers. Many of the alternative products had a fifth to less than a tenth of the environmental impact of their meat-based equivalents.

“Overall, the British results are consistent with what we found for current food habits in Germany,” Rolf Sommer, head of agriculture and land use at WWF Germany, commented in an independent assessment. “We depend on ecosystem services that are of a healthy nature in many ways,” Sommer explains. Thus, our eating patterns put our food security at risk. The agricultural expert summarizes: “More fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and fewer animal products, this is a good combination for the environment and your health.”

Banknotes of 10, 20 and 50 euros are distributed on the surface

More sustainable food is nutritious too

Not only does this recommendation align with global guidelines for the Planetary Health Diet, which were introduced by the Eat Lancet committee in 2019 and contain goals for a balanced, eco-friendly diet. They also point to another finding of the current study. Their authors note that more sustainable foods tend to be more nutritious.

The analysis also showed significant differences within the product category. Depending on the ingredients and composition, different pesto sauces, for example, can have significantly different environmental effects and nutritional values, and researchers have made similar comparisons for biscuits, lasagna, and sausage. For the authors, this means that even consumers for whom a significant change in diet cannot be made or is attractive enough can contribute to a reduced environmental impact and their health by choosing appropriately labeled and specific foods.

Overall, the researchers hope that the method they have developed will be a first step in enabling consumers, retailers and policy makers to make informed decisions about the environmental impact of food and beverages.


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