By Shannon Steinkamp
According to some experts, you may need to change your diet if you’re concerned about environmental sustainability.
A journal, Frontiers in Nutrition, published a new study on February 9th that suggests a diet packed with fruits and vegetables is less damaging to the planet than one that utilizes high amounts of animal products. In addition, the consumption of organic foods was found to be more beneficial for the environment.
This groundbreaking study, the first to investigate the impacts of dietary choices and organic food on the environment, confirms the fears of many activists and organizations: a diet high in animal products will not only cause long term damage on the human body but also cause damage to the planet.
To avoid negative environmental impacts, experts suggest that diets be plant-based and, preferably, rely on organic products. These sustainable diets can be achieved by reducing the consumption of animal products, or by only consuming animals products that have been raised responsibly.
A reduction of animal products will lead to less greenhouse gas emissions and natural habits will not be lost to fields for livestock farms.
Louise Seconda is from the French Agence De L'Environnement Et De La Maitrise De L'Energie and the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Unit. She is an author of one of the publication’s articles, and one of the many activists worried about dietary sustainability. “We wanted to provide a more comprehensive picture of how different diets impact the environment," she says. "In particular, it is of considerable interest to consider the impacts of both plant-based foods and organic foods."
To understand the effects of diet on the environment, The French Agence De L'Environnement Et De La Maitrise De L'Energie and the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Unit collected information from 34,000 French citizens about their food consumption, and researchers determined whether plant-based or animal-based diets were more popular.
In addition, environmental impact assessments were conducted on farms. They assessed three environmental indicators: greenhouse gas emissions, cumulative energy demand and land occupation.
"Combining consumption and farm production data we found that across the board, diet-related environmental impacts were reduced with a plant-based diet -- particularly greenhouse gas emissions," says Louise Seconda. "The consumption of organic food added even more environmental benefits for a plant-based diet. In contrast, consumption of organic food did not add significant benefits to diets with high contribution from animal products and only moderate contribution from plant products."
While these results are important, Seconda says, they can be impacted by other factors.
"We didn't look at other indicators such as pesticide use, leaching and soil quality which are relevant to the environmental impacts of productions systems," says Seconda. "Therefore future studies could also consider these as well as supply chain and distribution impacts of food production."
Seconda believes other studies are necessary to confirm their results and test other factors that would impact the sustainability of food production.