03 Mar

Food Production

Food production is a significant contributor to climate change and its many negative environmental changes.

When we think of the causes of climate change, the first areas that come to mind are industry, aviation and private transport. We think of smoking chimneys, heavy traffic and kilometre-long traffic jams on motorways or thousands of aeroplanes or cruise ships that transport millions of tourists from one place to another.

Hardly anyone who comfortably cuts into their steak spends a single thought on climate change. And yet, food production worldwide and its attendant effects are a significant contributor to greenhouse gases.

It is essential to know that about half of the greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector occur during the production, processing and distribution of food. The largest share comes from the production of animal food. 

If we look at Austria alone, we will be surprised to learn that about one-fifth of the greenhouse gases in Austria are caused by food. In its online article on the "Climate and environmental relevance of food", the City of Vienna states: "Energy-intensive agriculture and animal husbandry, in particular, are primarily responsible for this, or the dietary style common in our society with a high proportion of food of animal origin. A more climate-friendly diet means conscious meat consumption. It combines the long-standing recommendations for a healthy diet with environmentally sound production and regional distribution wherever possible. Seasonal and less processed foods should also be given preference." 

In our western society, significantly more animal foods (meat, eggs, milk) are eaten than would correspond to a balanced, healthy diet. The production of animal foods requires about five to six times as many resources (e.g. land, fertilisers) as the production of a comparable amount of plant foods.

A Graz University of Technology study shows that organic farming exerts less pressure on the environment than conventional farming to varying degrees for all the products studied: beef, eggs, milk, table potatoes, grain maise and apples. In the case of meat, the reduction in environmental pressure of over 60 per cent results from the organic production of feed. The ecological footprint of the agricultural output can be reduced primarily by replacing mineral fertilisers and synthetic chemical pesticides.
By adopting a climate-friendly dietary style, greenhouse gas emissions in the food requirement field can be reduced by more than half.

There are a few essential and straightforward rules for everyone who wants to look at the climate simultaneously as eating. It would be necessary to buy or enjoy food only during its natural season. Of course, regional is best, because everything that comes from far away has to be transported long, costly and resource-damaging. In any case, consumption from organic production processes is preferable. The following should apply: less meat, more fruit and more vegetables.

As the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows, 14.5 per cent of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from the keeping and processing of animals. The share was higher than that of international transport. 

The more demand there is, the higher the production volumes required. And more cattle on the world's pastures means an additional environmental risk: according to the FAO, cattle contribute enormously to the emission of climate gases through livestock farming by their very existence. Their digestion produces methane, which is 25 times more potent than CO2. They are responsible for about 65 per cent of all emissions. On the other hand, Pigs contribute only nine per cent, and poultry only eight per cent. 

A similar result emerges if one considers how many kilogrammes of CO2 is necessary to produce one kilogramme of animal protein. One kilogram of protein from beef produces more than 300 kilograms of CO2. In the case of other reprocessors such as sheep, the average is between 165 and 112 kilograms of CO2 per kilogram of protein. The ratio is somewhat better for cow's milk, which is only about 80 kilograms of CO2. The balance is even better for pork, where about 50 kilograms of CO2 are emitted per kilogram of animal protein. Chicken is just below that. The best ratio is for chicken eggs, where only about 35 kilogrammes of CO2 are released per kilogramme of protein. 

The storage of manure, the production of animal feed, as well as the clearing of forests to create more grazing land or for the cultivation of fodder crops also contribute to the poor ecological balance of meat production.