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article imageEnvironmental benefits of vegetarian diets revealed

By Tim Sandle     Jun 2, 2016 in Environment
The environmental impact of eating meat has been well-documented, but what about a vegetarian or vegan diet? A new study suggests meat-free alternatives carry a lower environmental burden.
One study (from the Universality of Michigan) has shown the impact of consuming an 8-ounce steak, once all of the factors of rearing, slaughtering and cooking the animal, have been accounted for is equivalent to driving a small car for 29 miles. This leads some to call for vegetarian alternatives to be used in place of meat. Given that much vegetarian food, aimed at being a "meat alternative," is processed, is this really a better alternative for the environment?
This frames the research question posed by Andrews University, where a research group undertook a study of 39 meat substitutes. The focus was with so-called "imitation meats," things like veggie burgers, meatless bacon, and pretend "chicken" nuggets. The types of ingredients for these products include tofu, mycoprotein, wheat, pea flour and quinoa.
Despite these foods being processed, the technology involved generates around 10 times less greenhouse gasses than the processes associated with making beef products. This was based on an emissions assessment from the field, to the factory, and finally to the grocery store. The factors assessed included fertilizer and pesticides use; the water consumptions; energy expended for cultivation, harvesting, and transportation.
This generated thousands of data points, and specialized software called SimaPro was required to analyse the findings. The analytical focus was on carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The software works on the basis of “Life Cycle Assessment”, which is generally recognized as the main method to measure product sustainability.
In terms of averages, the typical meatless product generated 2.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide; whereas typical mat products generate anywhere between 9 and 129 kilograms for beef products. Although the carbon dioxide levels are lower for other meat products (4 to 11 kilograms for pork and 2 to 6 kilogram for chicken), they still generated higher levels of greenhouse gasses than the meatless fare.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Alfredo Mejia, who led the study, told Laboratory Roots: “As the world population grows, there’s an urgent need to produce protein-rich foods that are friendlier for the environment and healthy for people.” Such research is of interest to consumers who not only wish to eat more healthily but also know they are making a contribution to reducing environmental pollution.
The news has received a number of positive comments on social media, particularly Twitter.
The impact of a meat free environment has been publicized on Twitter.
The impact of a meat free environment has been publicized on Twitter.
One tweeter raised the environmental issue, drawing attention to the United Nations calling for more meat free days.
Twitter user Olivia raises the U.N. campaign for meat free days.
Twitter user Olivia raises the U.N. campaign for meat free days.
However, not everyone is convinced. One user, called GuillaumeNWR, tweeted a Guardian newspaper report raising concerns about the environmental impact of tofu.
A tweet raising concerns about the environmental impact of tofu.
A tweet raising concerns about the environmental impact of tofu.
The findings have been presented at the American Society for Nutrition Annual Meeting in May 2016 in San Diego, U.S. the findings have yet to be published in a peer reviewed journal.
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