Science – Study reveals the environmental impact of thousands of foods – Wikipedia

Oxford/Berlin (dpa) – If you want to do something good for the environment when you shop for groceries, you should avoid meat, fish and cheese and prefer to eat more fruits, vegetables and bread. That’s according to a British study that evaluated the environmental impact of more than 57,000 products sold in supermarkets, including many processed foods.

As the authors also report in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences (“PNAS”), many nutritious products have low environmental impacts.

Climate and environment issues are important to the majority

Climate and environmental issues are important or very important to 84 percent 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 to feel overwhelmed when it comes to choosing an eco-friendly diet. In addition, supermarket products often consist of combinations of different ingredients.

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 retail stores in the UK and Ireland. The authors identified, for example, the effects of food on greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water consumption.

Environmental impact value of composite products

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.”

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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.

Compare meat and meat alternatives

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.”

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.

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Significant differences within the product category

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 crackers, 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.

© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220809-99-326766 / 2

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