ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

Shifting dietary patterns for environmental benefits has long been advocated. In relation to mitigating climate change, the debate has been more recent, with a growing interest from policy makers, academics, and society. Many researchers have highlighted the need for changes to food consumption in order to achieve the required greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. So far, food consumption has not been anchored in climate change policy to the same extent as energy production and usage, nor has it been considered within the context of achieving GHG targets to a level where tangible outputs are available. Here, we address those issues by performing a relatively simple analysis that considers the extent to which one food exchange could contribute to achieving GHG reduction targets in the United States (US). We use the targeted reduction for 2020 as a reference and apply published Life Cycle Assessment data on GHG emissions to beans and beef consumed in the US. We calculate the difference in GHGs resulting from the replacement of beef with beans in terms of both calories and protein. Our results demonstrate that substituting one food for another, beans for beef, could achieve approximately 46 to 74% of the reductions needed to meet the 2020 GHG target for the US. In turn, this shift would free up 42% of US cropland (692,918 km 2). While not currently recognized as a climate policy option, the Bbeans for beef^ scenario offers significant climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits, illustrating the high potential of animal to plant food shifts. Climatic Change
This content is subject to copyright. Terms and conditions apply.
Substituting beans for beef as a contribution toward US
climate change targets
Helen Harwatt
&Joan Sabaté
&Gidon Eshel
Sam Soret
&William Ripple
Received: 16 February 2016 /Accepted: 10 April 2017
#Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017
Abstract Shifting dietary patterns for environmental benefits has long been advocated.
In relation to mitigating climate change, the debate has been more recent, with a growing
interest from policy makers, academics, and society. Many researchers have highlighted
the need for changes to food consumption in order to achieve the required greenhouse
gas (GHG) reductions. So far, food consumption has not been anchored in climate
change policy to the same extent as energy production and usage, nor has it been
considered within the context of achieving GHG targets to a level where tangible outputs
are available. Here, we address those issues by performing a relatively simple analysis
that considers the extent to which one food exchange could contribute to achieving GHG
reduction targets in the United States (US). We use the targeted reduction for 2020 as a
reference and apply published Life Cycle Assessment data on GHG emissions to beans
and beef consumed in the US. We calculate the difference in GHGs resulting from the
replacement of beef with beans in terms of both calories and protein. Our results
demonstrate that substituting one food for another, beans for beef, could achieve ap-
proximately 46 to 74% of the reductions needed to meet the 2020 GHG target for the US.
In turn, this shift would free up 42% of US cropland (692,918 km
). While not currently
recognized as a climate policy option, the Bbeans for beef^scenario offers significant
climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits, illustrating the high poten-
tial of animal to plant food shifts.
Climatic Change
DOI 10.1007/s10584-017-1969-1
*Helen Harwatt
Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, USA
Physics Department, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, USA
Present address: Radcliffe Inst. for Advanced Study, Harvard, USA
Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR, USA
1 Introduction
Climate change is one of the defining public issues of our time, threatening crop yield in
some regions, reducing access to water, increasing human toll due to weather extremes, and
increasing the spread of infectious disease among a myriad of other, mostly adverse, effects
(Stern 2007;Blancoetal.2014). The Copenhagen Accord and Paris Agreement acknowl-
edge that limiting global mean temperature rise to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels requires
deep cuts in global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (UNEP 2011; UNFCCC 2015).
Additionally, the Paris Agreement states that efforts to limit warming to no more than
1.5 °C are needed to significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change
(UNFCCC 2015), requiring deeper cuts in global GHGs. Currently, climate change policy
largely focuses on reducing carbon dioxide (CO
) emissions, the dominant anthropogenic
GHG (Solomon et al. 2007). Yet realizing 2 °C warming also requires major reductions in
GHG emissions (primarily methane (CH
) and nitrous oxide (N
O)) (Stehfest et al.
2009;Poppetal.2010; Bajzelj et al. 2014;Blancoetal.2014), especially in the near term
(Ripple et al. 2014; Pierrehumbert and Eshel 2015). Globally, livestock farming accounts for
~15% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions (Gerber et al. 2013) and is the primary
anthropogenic source of CH
and N
O emissions, producing around 50 and 60%, respec-
tively (Smith et al. 2007). This is particularly significant given that on a mass basis, CH
O have 25 and 298 times the centennial-mean global warming potential of CO
et al. 2013)
In addition, CH
has a much shorter atmospheric lifetime than CO
(912 years),
enhancing its near-term prominence (Myhre et al. 2013) and highlighting the importance of
early focus on livestock.
Livestock accounts for up to half of the technical GHG mitigation potential of the
agriculture, forestry, and land-use sectors (Herrero et al. 2016). Yet even the most
technologically possible GHG reductions (32%) are outpaced by increasing demand for
meat (Gerber et al. 2013). In addition, due to adoption constraints, costs and numerous
trade-offs only 10% of the livestock-related technical GHG mitigation potential is viable
(Herrero et al. 2016). Without significant dietary shifts, food-related GHG emissions in
2050 would constitute half of the total emissions budget imposed by the 2 °C target
(Springmann et al. 2016). Hedenus et al. (2014) have shown that food-related emissions
could exceed the full emissions budget by as early as 2070. Hence, a dietary shift away
from livestock products is most likely required in addition to technological reduction of
agricultural GHG emissions (Hertwich et al. 2010;Poppetal.2010; Bajzelj et al. 2014;
Hedenus et al. 2014).
Modifying diets for environmental benefits has long been advocated (Gussow and Clancy
1986) and has been enjoying considerable attention recently (Stehfest et al. 2009; Scarborough
et al. 2014; Green et al. 2015; Machovina et al. 2015;Lambetal.2016;Springmannetal.
2016). Despite this growing interest, so far, dietary choices have not been as central in climate
change discourse as energy production and usage (Stehfest et al. 2009;Baileyetal.2014;
Bajzelj et al. 2014). The analysis presented here seeks to specifically assess the potential
contribution of simple dietary changes toward achieving the US GHG emissions target for
2020, which we use as a reference. To keep the analysis tractable, we consider replacing one
item, beef, the highest GHG emitting food item (Nijdam et al. 2012; Eshel et al. 2014), with
beans, a lower GHG intensity food (Nijdam et al. 2012). This work is novel in that no other
analysis has placed potential diet changes in the context of meeting country-wide GHG
reduction targets.
Climatic Change
2 Methods
The US Presidents Climate Change Plan sets out to reduce net US GHG emissions by 17%
below 2005 levels (6438 million metric tons, mmt, of CO
equivalent, denoted CO
e) by the
year 2020 (EOP 2013). This target requires net 2020 GHG levels to remain below 5344 mmt
e, a 7% reduction from current net emissions of 5791 mmt CO
recent data available, we refer to 2013 levels as Bcurrent emissions^).
This analysis is based on replacing beef consumption with beans. Beef is the most GHG-
intensive food item, with emissions ranging from 9 to 129 kg CO
e/kg, whereas compara-
tively legumes result in 12kgCO
e/kg (Nijdam et al. 2012). In addition, legumes are a
high protein food currently consumed at levels well below the US governmentsdietary
recommendations (USDA 2012c; Moore and Thompson 2015). Legumes are therefore a
natural option for substantially reducing GHG emissions while improving nutrition. We
calculate the net emission change by taking the averted beef emissions and subtracting the
emissions associated with producing the legume replacement. We use emission factors from
US Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) of 40.2 kg CO
e/kg beef and 0.8 kg CO
e/kg beans
(Nijdam et al. 2012). The beef LCA reflects typical US beef production, Midwestern feedlot
finishing of range-weaned calves (Pelletier et al. 2010). Live to retail weight loss is
accounted for, using a factor of 2.7 (Nijdam et al. 2012). As a sensitivity analysis, we also
use a global average from Nijdam et al. (2012), of 25.5 kg CO
e/kg beef and 1.1 kg CO
beans, derived from a review of 52 LCA studies of meat and its alternatives (Nijdam et al.
2012). Because beef emission estimates vary widely, we use their geometric mean. The 52
LCAs included CO
e emissions from the cultivation/farming process and transportation to
retail. Additionally, the beef LCAs include direct and indirect N
O emissions from feed
production, CH
from enteric fermentation, N
from manure management, and
carbon (C) emissions due to the slaughter process. GHGs from the production of farm
machinery, changes in soil C emissions, and emissions related to land use change are not
considered here. For both beans and beef, the bulk (>90%) of emissions occur during
production (Nijdam et al. 2012). We consider the mass necessary to fully replace both kcals
and protein delivered by beef with beans, using nutritional information for both beef (USDA
2015a) and beans (USDA 2015b), and report each separately. Beef provides 332 kcals and
14.4 g protein per 100 g of raw weight (USDA 2015a), and raw beanscorresponding values
per 100 g are 341 kcals and 21.6 g protein (USDA 2015b) (we use raw weights because the
emissions data apply to the retail level). The corresponding moisture content of the raw
weights of beef and beans is 54 and 11%, respectively. The caloric equivalence ratio of
substituting beans for beef is 0.97 (332 beef kcals divided by 341 bean kcals), and the
protein mass ratio is 0.66 (14.4 g beef protein divided by 21.6 g bean protein). Consequently,
we derive energy (kcal) and protein equivalence emissions factors using:
&US emissions, energy equivalence: 40.2 kg CO
e/kg(0.8 kg CO
×0.97) = 39.4 kg CO
&US emissions, protein equivalence: 40.2 kg CO
e/kg(0.8 kg CO
×0.66) = 39.7 kg CO
&Global emissions, energy equivalence: 25.5 kg CO
e/kg(1.1 kg CO
×0.97) = 24.4 kg CO
&Global emissions, protein equivalence: 25.5 kg CO
e/kg(1.1 kg CO
×0.66) = 24.8 kg CO
Climatic Change
We next use US beef consumption data (USDA 2012b), converting carcass to retail weights
following Nijdam et al. (2012). Finally, we obtain emission savings due to substituting beans
for beef in the energy and protein equivalence by applying the above factors to US annual beef
consumption, 8.4 mmt. We report results using both US specific and global GHG emission
factors for beef and beans. As the US is a net exporter of beans (USDA 2012c)andbeef
(USDA 2012a), we assume that the consumption amounts in this analysis are relevant to the
US GHG inventory and hence our Bbeans for beef^scenario is appropriate for considering as
part of US GHG reduction efforts. We treat the envisioned dietary change in isolation,
quantifying its effect as the only emission reduction measure implemented toward the 2020
target. We do not consider land use changes associated with converting pasture and cropland
from beef into beans.
3 Results and discussion
Substituting beans for beef in the US diet would reduce CO
e emissions by 334 mmt,
accomplishing 75% of the 2020 reduction target. Using global emissions factors, the figures
reduce to 209 mmt CO
e and 47%, respectively (Table 1), due to large differences between US
and global emissions factors (Fig. 1). The results are almost identical when conserving either
protein mass or energy (Table 1).
Our findings demonstrate that substituting plant sourced foods for animal sourced foods can
play an important role in climate change mitigation. While substituting beans for beef does not
entirely satisfy the US GHG reduction targets, it could be combined with mitigation efforts for
other major emitters such as power generation or transportation. While our estimate represents
the upper bound, given the sizable contribution to the GHG reduction target, a lower level of
uptake, i.e., less than 100%, would still provide an important contribution.
The example analyzed is particularly impactful for mitigating near-term global temperature
rise (Rockstrom et al. 2009; Ripple et al. 2014). Radiative forcing in the short-term, i.e., over
the next several decades, will be dominated by CH
due to its relatively short atmospheric
lifetime (~9 years) in comparison to CO
(~100 years) and its much higher global warming
potential (Myhre et al. 2013). Because we replace beef, a high CH
source, with beans, a
relatively much lower CH
source, the expected resultant decline in radiative forcing and
decline in decadal scale warming will be greater than that expected from current policies,
Tab l e 1 Actual CO
e reduction and percent of the US 2020 CO
e target achieved by substituting beans for beef
in the calorie and protein mass equivalence
Scenario Beans for beef: energy equivalent Beans for beef: protein mass equivalent
% contribution to 2020
US climate change
e reduction
(million metric
% contribution to 2020
US climate change
(million metric
US specific LCA
74 332 75 334
Global LCA
46 206 47 209
Climatic Change
which focus almost exclusively on reducing CO
emissions (Pierrehumbert and Eshel 2015).
However, to meet long-term GHG reduction targets, significant reductions of both CO
emissions are required (Blanco et al. 2014).
Although the goal of our analysis is to assess the potential of conceptually simple food
substitutions to contribute to climate change goals, the resultant shiftsrequiring societal level
behavior change (Popp et al. 2010; Green et al. 2015)are non-trivial and unprecedented at the
national level. Policy innovation and experimentation, and economic incentives (Ripple et al.
2014) will likely be required to propel such shifts (Bajzelj et al. 2014). While a national substitution
of beans for beef would be socially demanding, a strong willingness to make dietary changes for
environmental improvements, including eliminating red meat, has been demonstrated (Bailey et al.
2014). For example, in 2014, Ipsos MORI (Market & Opinion Research International) conducted
an online survey of at least 1000 individual consumers from each of the following countries:
Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, the UK, and the
US (Bailey et al. 2014). Among those aware of the climate impact of meat, 44% were likely to
reduce their meat consumption and 15% had already reduced their meat consumption. A public
survey conducted by the UK government revealed that from over 3000 participants, 85% stated
that they will or maybe will change their diets for environmental improvements, and 53% were
willing to give up red meat (DEFRA 2011). Furthermore, consumer acceptance could possibly be
increased by plant-based beef analogs (Hoek et al. 2011;Baileyetal.2014) that have become more
palatable, available and accepted, now being regularly availed by a third of US consumers (Mintel
2015). Because these meat analogs have very similar GHG emissions to the beans used in our
analysis (Nijdam et al. 2012), if beef is replaced by meat analogs, we expect similar GHG
reductions to those presented for replacing beef with beans. To further ease the implementation
of such a policy, increasing awareness of the impacts food choices have on climate change and also
on the urgency and importance of reducing the impacts of climate change are likely to be crucial
(Stern 2007;Rippleetal.2014;Baileyetal.2014). Recent findings have demonstrated that people
who are the most aware of the related climate impacts have a greater likeliness of having already
reduced their meat consumption and a greater likeliness of reducing meat consumption in the
future (Bailey et al. 2014). Highlighting the human health benefits related to such a policy could
increase consumer interest (Stehfest et al. 2009; Bailey et al. 2014), particularly as health benefits
have been a strong motivator for consumers purchasing meat analog products (Sadler 2004).
needed from
from 'beans for
beef' (energy)
from 'beans for
beef' (protein)
from 'beans for
beef' (energy)
from 'beans for
beef' (protein)
US emissions factors Global emissions factors
CO2e million metric tons
Fig. 1 Greenhouse gas reductions. CO
e reductions needed to achieve US climate change targets set for 2020
(solid box), in comparison to the CO
e reductions achieved from substituting beans for beef, by energy
equivalence and protein weight equivalence using US emission factors (diagonally hatched boxes) and global
emission factors (horizontally hatched boxes)
Climatic Change
To provide further context to the analysis, replacing daily calories from beef could be
achieved with 188 g (0.8 of a cup) of cooked black beans, which 87% of Americans currently
consume below recommended levels (Moore and Thompson 2015). This shift will also reduce
chronic disease burdens including heart disease, diabetes, and some meat-related cancers
(Bouvard et al. 2015;Orlichetal.2013) and increase dietary fiber intake, currently also below
recommended or protective levels (Anderson et al. 2009;Orlichetal.2013).
The GHG targets assessed here are less demanding in comparison to those recommended to
stabilize global temperature increase below 2 °C (Gupta et al. 2007;UNEP2011;UNFCCC
2015). We analyze beef-to-beans in this analysis purely as an illustration of the substantial
emission reduction potential of a conceptually simple dietary shift. Future assessments could
compare more stringent GHG reductions or sweeping dietary shifts.
The actual emission reduction needed to meet the 2020 target depends on the considered
baseline emissions. For example, if we instead use the 2020 forecast (6206 mmt CO
e) (USDS
2010), as the baseline, and estimate beef consumption for 2020 by applying current per capita
consumption (8,428,000 metric tons for 308,745,538 people) to the projected 2020 US
population (334,503,000 people) (USCB 2014), we get 9.1 mmt of beef
(27.3 kg cap
×334,503,000 people). Inputting these figures into the methodology of section
2 changes our estimated contribution to meeting the 2020 target from 4674 to 2642%.
Given the focus on GHG reduction targets, the current analysis included GHG emissions as
the sole environmental metric. A more comprehensive assessment would include the likely
very significant impacts of substituting beans for beef on other resource use. For example,
using the mean for US specific land-use factors from a published meta-analysis for beef
(86.5 m
/kg) and beans (4.4 m
/kg) (Nijdam et al. 2012), substituting beans for beef in the US
on a calorie equivalent basis will spare 692,918 km
of land, as an upper bound estimate. This
land area is equivalent to 42% of cropland in the contiguous US, which is 1,650,745 km
(USDA 2011), and roughly 1.6 times the surface area of California. This type of land sparingis
particularly relevant to climate change goals given the potential for enhancing carbon seques-
tration, which will likely augment GHG reductions (Lamb et al. 2016). By removing cattle
from rangelands and pastures, the beef-to-beans shift would also benefit woody plant recruit-
ment and biodiversity (Mishra et al. 2003; Pelletier and Tyedmers 2010;Phalanetal.2011;
Batchelor et al. 2015;Lambetal.2016), and substantially reduce water needs (Marlow et al.
2015), an increasingly important conservation issue under climate change (IPCC 2007;
Cisneros et al. 2014). Beyond calories and protein, and the general health co-benefits men-
tioned above, our analysis did not rigorously account for any health and/or nutritional factors
related to substituting Bbeans for beef.^Future assessments could usefully include such health
factors in an integrated assessment with environmental factors (Stehfest et al. 2009; Sabate
et al. 2014; Green et al. 2015; Springmann et al. 2016).
While some have argued that there are climate and environmental benefits associ-
ated with livestock production in certain locales and practices (de Oliveira Silva et al.
2016;Teagueetal.2016), others have forcefully demonstrated the factual inconsis-
tencies in these arguments (Beschta et al. 2013;Briskeetal.2013; Carter et al. 2014;
Phalan et al. 2016).
One of the key strategies for effective climate change mitigation is informing, educating,
and persuading individuals about what they can do (Stern 2007). Dietary shift is ideal in this
respect as it ascribes a pivotal role to personal choice in achieving GHG reduction targets.
Further strategies will likely prove necessary to assist consumer choice regarding dietary shifts,
including gaining support from the food service industry and retail markets.
Climatic Change
4 Conclusions
Key traits position livestock production as a prime target for climate policy. The significant
contribution to global GHGs, the dominance of short-lived methane, and thus the relatively
immediate impact compel dietary shifts away from livestock products as important tools for
mitigating anthropogenic climate change and particularly for avoiding near-term global tem-
perature rise. We further demonstrate this through our analysis, showing the significant GHG
reductions deliverable through simple food substitutions such as Bbeans for beef,^meeting up
to 74% of the reductions needed to reach the 2020 GHG target for the US. Additional benefits
include the sparing of 692,918 km
, equivalent to 42% of US cropland.
Acknowledgements We dedicate this article to the memory of our valued colleague and co-author, Dr. Sam
Soret, 1962 - 2016.
Author Contributions HH conceptualized the research, conducted the analysis and wrote the article; JS
obtained part of the research funding; GE assisted with the analysis and writing; SS obtained part of the research
funding; WR assisted with the analysis and writing. All authors contributed to editing the article.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr, Ferreri S, Knudtson M, Koraym A, Waters V, Williams CL (2009) Health
benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev 67:188205
Bailey R, Froggatt A, Wellesley L (2014) Livestockclimate changes forgotten sector global public opinion on
meat and dairy consumption. Chatham House, London
Bajzelj B, Richards KS, Allwood JM, Smith P, Dennis JS, Curmi E, Gilligan CA (2014) Importance of food-
demand management for climate mitigation. Nature Clim. Change 4:924929
BatchelorJ, Ripple W, Wilson T, PainterL (2015) Restoration of riparian areas following the removal of cattle in
the Northwestern Great Basin. Environ Manag:113
Beschta RL, Donahue DL, DellaSala DA, Rhodes JJ, Karr JR, OBrien MH, Fleischner TL, Deacon Williams C
(2013) Adapting to climate change on western public lands: addressing the ecological effects of domestic,
wild, and feral ungulates. Environ Manag 51:474491
Blanco G, Eby M, Edmonds J, Fleurbaey M, Gerlagh R, Kartha S, Kunreuther H, Rogelj J, Schaeffer M,
Sedláček J, Sims R, Ürge-Vorsatz D, Victor D, Yohe G (2014) Climate change 2014 synthesis report.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Fifth Assessment. Approved Summary for Policymakers, 1
November 2014
Bouvard V, Loomis D, Guyton KZ, Grosse Y, Ghissassi FE, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Guha N, Mattock H, Straif K
(2015) Carcinogenicity of consumption of red and processed meat. Lancet Oncol 16:15991600
Briske DD, Bestelmeyer BT, Brown JR, Fuhlendorf SD, Wayne Polley H (2013) The savory method can
not green deserts or reverse climate change: a response to the Allan Savory TED video. Rangelands
Carter J, Jones A, Brien M, Ratner J, Wuerthner G (2014) Holistic management: misinformation on the science
of grazed ecosystems. International Journal of Biodiversity 2014:10
Cisneros J, Oki BET, Arnell NW, Benito G, Cogley JG, Döll P, Jiang T, Mwakalila SS (2014) Freshwater
resources. In: Field CB, Barros VR, Dokken DJ, Mach KJ, Mastrandrea MD, Bilir TE, Chatterjee M, Ebi
KL, Estrada YO, Genova RC, Girma B, Kissel ES, Levy AN, MacCracken S, Mastrandrea PR, White LL
(eds) In: Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part A: global and sectoral aspects.
Climatic Change
Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IntergovernmentalPanel on Climate
Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York, pp 229269
de Oliveira Silva R, Barioni LG, Hall JAJ, Folegatti Matsuura M, Zanett Albertini T, Fernandes FA, Moran D
(2016) Increasing beef production could lower greenhouse gas emissions in Brazil if decoupled from
deforestation. Nature Clim. Change 6:493497
DEFRA (2011) Attitudes and behaviors around sustainable food purchasing. Department for Environment, Food,
and Rural Affairs. Report (SERP 1011/10). April 2011
EOP (2013) The Presidents climate action plan. Executive office of the President. June2013. The White House.
Washington, US
EPA (2015) Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 19902013. U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency. 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. Washington, DC 20460, U.S.A. April 15, 2015
Eshel G, Shepon A, Makov T, Milo R (2014) Land, irrigation water, greenhouse gas, and reactive nitrogen
burdens of meat, eggs, and dairy production in the United States. Proc Natl Acad Sci 111:1199612001
Gerber P, Steinfeld H, Henderson B, Mottet A, Opio C, Dijkman J, Falcucci A, Tempio G (2013) Tackling
climate change through livestocka global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and
Agriculture Organization, Rome
Green R, Milner J, Dangour A, Haines A, Chalabi Z, Markandya A, Spadaro J, Wilkinson P (2015) The potential to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the UK through healthy and realistic dietary change. Clim Chang 129:253265
Gupta S, Tirpak D, Burger N et al (2007) Policies, instruments and co-operative arrangements. In: Metz B,
Davidson OR, Bosch PR, Dave R, Meyer LA (eds) Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of
Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Gussow JD, Clancy KL (1986) Dietary guidelines for sustainability. J Nutr Educ 18:15
Hedenus F, Wirsenius S, Johansson DA (2014) The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for
meeting stringent climate change targets. Clim Chang 113
Herrero M, Henderson B, Havlik P, Thornton PK, Conant RT, Smith P, Wirsenius S, Hristov AN, Gerber P, Gill
M, Butterbach-Bahl K, Valin H, Garnett T, Stehfest E (2016) Greenhouse gas mitigation potentials in the
livestock sector. Nature Clim. Change advance online publication
Hertwich E, van der Voet E, Tukker A (2010) Assessing the environmental impacts of consumption and
production. Priority products and materials. United Nation Environment Program
Hoek AC, van Boekel MAJS, Voordouw J, Luning PA (2011) Identification of new food alternatives: how do
consumers categorize meat and meat substitutes? Food Qual Prefer 22:371383
IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. In: Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof
JP, van der Linden PJ, Hanson CE (eds) Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report
of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 976 pp
Lamb A, Green R, Bateman I, Broadmeadow M, Bruce T, Burney J, Carey P, Chadwick D, Crane E, Field R,
Goulding K, Griffiths H, Hastings A, Kasoar T, Kindred D, Phalan B, Pickett J, Smith P, Wall E, zu
Ermgassen EKHJ, Balmford A (2016) The potential for land sparing to offset greenhouse gas emissions
from agriculture. Nature Clim. Change advance online publication
Machovina B, Feeley KJ, Ripple WJ (2015) Biodiversity conservation: the key is reducing meat consumption.
Sci Total Environ 536:419431
Marlow HJ, Harwatt H, Soret S, Sabaté J (2015) Comparing the water, energy, pesticide and fertilizer usage for
the production of foods consumed by different dietary types in California. Public Health Nutr 18:24252432
Mintel (2015) Meat alternatives - US - June 2013. Mintel, London
Mishra C, Allen P, McCarthy TOM, Madhusudan MD, Bayarjargal A, Prins HHT (2003) The role of incentive
programs in conserving the Snow Leopard el Papel de Programas de Incentivos en la Conservación del
Uncia uncia. Conserv Biol 17:15121520
Moore LV, Thompson FE (2015) Adults meeting fruit and vegetable intake recommendationsUnited States,
2013. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report July 10
2015/64 (26); 709713
Myhre G, Shindell D, Bréon FM, Collins W, Fuglestvedt J, Huang J, Koch D, Lamarque JF, Lee D, Mendoza B,
Nakajima T, Robock A, Stephens G, Takemura T, Zhang H (2013) Anthropogenic and natural radiative
forcing. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner G-K, Tignor M, Allen SK, Boschung J, Nauels A, Xia Y, Bex V,
Midgley PM (eds) Climate change 2013: the Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the
Fifth assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge and New York
Nijdam D, Rood T, Westhoek H (2012) The price of protein: review of land use and carbon footprints from life
cycle assessments of animal food products and their substitutes. Food Policy 37:760770
Orlich MJ, Singh PN, Sabate J, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J, Knutsen S, Beeson WL, Fraser GE (2013) Vegetarian
dietary patterns and mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med 173:12301238
Climatic Change
Pelletier N, Tyedmers P (2010) Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000
2050. Proc Natl Acad Sci 107:1837118374
Pelletier N, Pirog R,Rasmussen R (2010) Comparative life cycle environmental impacts of three beef production
strategies in the Upper Midwestern United States. Agric Syst 103:380389
Phalan B, Onial M, Balmford A, Green RE (2011) Reconciling food production and biodiversity conservation:
land sharing and land sparing compared. Science 333:12891291
Phalan B, Ripple WJ, Smith P (2016) Increasing beef production wont reduce emissions. Glob Chang Biol 22:
Pierrehumbert RT, Eshel G (2015) Climate impact of beef: an analysis considering multiple time scales and
production methods without use of global warming potentials. Environ Res Lett 10:085002
Popp A, Lotze-Campen H, Bodirsky B (2010) Food consumption, diet shifts and associated non-CO2 green-
house gases from agricultural production. Glob Environ Chang 20:451462
Ripple WJ, Smith P, Haberl H, Montzka SA, McAlpine C, Boucher DH (2014) Ruminants, climate change and
climate policy. Nature Clim Change 4:25
Rockstrom J, Steffen W, Noone K, Persson A, Chapin FS 3rd, Lambin EF, Lenton TM, Scheffer M, Folke C,
Schellnhuber HJ, Nykvist B, de Wit CA, Hughes T, van der Leeuw S, Rodhe H, Sorlin S, Snyder PK,
Costanza R, Svedin U, Falkenmark M, Karlberg L, Corell RW, Fabry VJ, Hansen J, Walker B, Liverman D,
Richardson K, Crutzen P, Foley JA (2009) A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461:472475
Sabate J, Sranacharoenpong K, Harwatt H, Wien M, Soret S (2014) The environmental cost of protein food
choices. Public Health Nutr 17
Sadler MJ (2004) Meat alternativesmarket developments and health benefits. Trends Food Sci Technol 15:250260
Scarborough P, Appleby P, Mizdrak A, Briggs AM, Travis R, Bradbury K, Key T (2014) Dietary greenhouse gas
emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. Climat Chang 114
Smith P, D. Martino, Z Cai, D Gwary, H Janzen, P Kumar, B McCarl, S Ogle, F OMara, C Rice, B Scholes, O
Sirotenko (2007) Agriculture. In: Metz B, Davidson OR, Bosch PR, Dave R, Meyer LA (eds) Climate
Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA
Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (2007) Climate Change
2007: The Physical Science Basis. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB,
Tignor M, Miller HL (eds) Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, IPCC Cambridge, United
Kingdom and New York, USA, p 996
Springmann M, Godfray HCJ, Rayner M, Scarborough P (2016) Analysis and valuation of the health and climate
change cobenefits of dietary change. Proc Natl Acad Sci
Stehfest EBL, van Vuuren DP, den Elzen MGJ, Eickhout B, Kabat P (2009) Climate benefits of changing diet.
Climate Change 95:83102
Stern N (2007) The economics of climate change: the Stern review. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and
New York
Teague WR, Apfelbaum S, Lal R, Kreuter UP, Rowntree J, Davies CA, Conser R, Rasmussen M, Hatfield J,
Wang T, Wang F, Byck P (2016) The role of ruminants in reducing agricultures carbon footprint in North
America. J Soil Water Conserv 71:156164
UNEP (2011) The emissions gap report: are the Copenhagen Accord pledges sufficient to limit global warming
to 2 °C or 1.5 °C? A preliminary assessment. United Nations Environment Programme
UNFCCC (2015) Conference of the parties. Twenty-first session. United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change. Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015
USCB (2014) Unites States Census Bureau. 2014 National Population Projections: Summary Tables. Table 1.
Projections of the Population and Components of Change for the United States: 2015 to 2060. Available at:
USDA (2011) Cropland, 19452007, by State: the sum of cropland used for crops, cropland idled, and cropland
used for pasture. Dataset. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Available at:
USDA (2012a) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service, Livestock and Poultry: World
Markets and Trade, annual. Table 1376. Meat Production by Type and Country: 2009 and 2010. In: U.S.
Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012. See also <
USDA (2012b) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service, Livestock and Poultry: World Markets
and Trade, annual. Table 1377. Meat Consumption by Type and Country: 2009 and 2010. In: U.S. Census
Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012. See also <>
USDA (2012c) Vegetables and pulses. Dry beans. United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research
Climatic Change
USDA (2015a) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 27. Basic Report: 13498, Beef,
ground, 70% lean meat / 30% fat, raw. United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research
USDA (2015b) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 27. Basic Report: 16014, Beans,
black, mature seeds, raw. United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service
USDS (2010) United States Department of State. U.S. Climate Action Report 2010. Washington: Global
Publishing Services, June 2010
Climatic Change
... Regardless of this, agricultural policies have been centred mostly on the supply side (Caron et al., 2018), neglecting food consumption and the effect it has on the emissions of GHG (Bajželj et al., 2015;Harwatt et al., 2017). Indeed, the main focus of most policies is to combat hunger and undernutrition by increasing food production (Ingram, 2017). ...
... Instead of meat and other animal-based products, the consumption of cereals, fruits and vegetables is promoted as a part of the diet for various health and environmental reasons (ibid). Following that, the significant potential of a shift from animal-based to plant-based foods has been discussed in many recent studies with most confirming that it would lead to less environmental pressures from food production due to GHG emissions reductions and less land being cleared for farming purposes (Foley et al., 2011;Harwatt et al., 2017;Hedenus et al., 2014;Swain et al., 2018;Tilman & Clark, 2014). For example, switching from beef to beans would lead to GHG reductions up to 74 percent in United States (US) and would spare up to 42 percent of US cropland (Harwatt et al., 2017). ...
... Following that, the significant potential of a shift from animal-based to plant-based foods has been discussed in many recent studies with most confirming that it would lead to less environmental pressures from food production due to GHG emissions reductions and less land being cleared for farming purposes (Foley et al., 2011;Harwatt et al., 2017;Hedenus et al., 2014;Swain et al., 2018;Tilman & Clark, 2014). For example, switching from beef to beans would lead to GHG reductions up to 74 percent in United States (US) and would spare up to 42 percent of US cropland (Harwatt et al., 2017). ...
Global food system poses an increasing threat to environmental stability and to public health and it has become evident that systemic changes concerning both food production and food consumption are urgently needed. Even though transnational cooperation is imperative when trying to modify current food system, it is still necessary for individual countries to do their fair share at the national level of governance. In Slovenia, current food consumption patterns are not sustainable in environmental nor in health terms. Moreover, there is an evident lack of political measures and public discourse concerning this field in the country. This research intends to address this gap by providing a comprehensive set of strategies, the implementation of which could lead towards urgently needed systemic changes in the field of food consumption in Slovenia. First, the needed changes in the structure of Slovenian food consumption are determined by a quantitative analysis. Following that, the combination of document analysis and four semi-structured expert interviews is employed to identify possible mechanisms that could lead towards more sustainable food consumption and also fields of influence in Slovenia. Lastly, main findings are derived in the form of four strategies, made of aggregated mechanisms which address selected fields of influence - Strategic Planning and Regulation, Supra-sectoral Operation, Information, Awareness Raising and Education, and Fiscal Measures. First of all, healthy and environmentally sustainable food consumption should be established as a national strategic goal, and reflected in the updated regulatory framework. Following that, a thorough revision of the current institutional system should be undertaken, which would lead to recognition and division of competences by relevant sectors of public administration, while maintaining cross-sectoral cooperation. More emphasis should be given to the national dietary guidelines which ought to be updated, and to advertising healthier and environmentally sustainable food products. Education of both consumers and farmers is essential, and it should involve disseminating knowledge about good practices from elsewhere as well. Lastly, current agricultural subsidy distribution system should be altered, and the public procurement system of food and catering services adjusted. Implementing these suggested measures could lead to important changes by lowering environmental and health impacts from current food consumption patterns. In this way, Slovenia could set an example to the other countries or regions, which would follow by applying similar changes, and consequently contribute to tackling the global issue of unsustainable food systems.
... Specifically, ruminants have been identified as a significant source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the removal of red meat from diets has been suggested as a mitigation of anthropogenic GHG option (Harwatt et al., 2017;Springmann et al., 2018). Consumers also have become increasingly more willing to buy animal products associated with husbandry practices that enhance animal wellbeing and welfare (Napolitano et al., 2010). ...
Full-text available
The objective of the outlined research was to determine how a fermented seaweed extract (SWO) and seaweed plus terrestrial plants (SWP) extract influenced ruminant health, productivity, environmental impacts (i.e. enteric methane and urinary N excretions), and the foraging ecology of young livestock. This was conducted over seven experiments. Chapter 3 implemented an in vitro methodology to determine the dose effect of SWO on fermentation parameters. The lowest dose implemented, which would relate to 5-mL/hd/d, reduced ammonia production by 6%, which may indicate lower urinary N excretions in vivo. Chapter 4 applied the determined dose (5-mL/d) to dairy cows during the last third of gestation with either SWO, SWP, or water (CON), and then the dose was increased to 100-mL per d after calving during the early lactation portion of the experiment. It was determined that the cows receiving SWO and SWP had reduced oxidative stress prior to calving and lower oxidative and metabolic stress 3-d after calving compared with the CON cows. Cows provided SWP after calving had 18% lower urinary N excretion, which is described in chapter 5. In chapter 6, pregnant ewes were either provided no supplement (CON-) or a grain based supplement with no plant extracts (CON+), with SWO (10-mL/hd/d), or SWP (10-mL/hd/d). At peak lactation (28 days-in-milk) grain supplementation (CON+) increased oxidative stress compared with CON-, and this effect was negated by SWO and SWP. Grain supplementation has been shown to induce oxidative stress in several animal models at peak lactation. In chapter 7, ewes were managed to lamb as yearlings, with their offspring precluded from consuming the same treatment supplements as in chapter 6. While SWO and SWP showed no benefit to oxidative stress of the ewes, possibly due to the low metabolic stress experienced, the lambs whose dams were provided SWO and SWP had lower oxidative stress one day after weaning. This indicates a greater maternal transmission of antioxidants from the SWO and SWP dams providing defense against oxidative stress induced from the physiological stress associated with weaning. The ram lambs born during chapter 6 continued to receive the supplement treatments of their dams until the start of the experiment described in chapter 8. The ram lambs were allocated to spatially separated strips sown to ryegrass (Lolium perenne), chicory, plantain, lucerne, and dock. Previous exposure to SWP reduced dietary neophobia, whereas the SWO and CON lambs exhibited substantial dietary neophobia to chicory and plantain. For chapter 9, the lambs born during chapter 7 were placed in the same paddocks as the ram lambs used in chapter 8. Similar to chapter 8, it was determined that lambs born to ewes provided SWP showed less dietary neophobia to chicory and lucerne compared with the lambs born to ewes provided SWO and CON. This chapter determined that dietary experience was obtained either from in utero or maternal milk exposure. Collectively, these experiments show the benefit of fermented plant extracts to improve animal health, reduce environmental impacts, and how foraging decisions of ruminants can be manipulated by previous exposure.
... A study estimating the difference in dietary GHG emissions between self-selected meat-eaters, fisheaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK found that the mean "dietary GHG emissions for meateaters (results reported for women and then men) were 46 % and 51 % higher than for fisheaters, 50 % and 54 % higher than for vegetarians and 99 % and 102 % higher than for vegans" (Scarborough et al. 2014). Harwatt et al. (2017) estimated for the US that substituting beans for beef would achieve up to 74% of the reductions needed to meet the 2020 GHG reduction goal. ...
Full-text available
In this article, we review an array of positions in the contemporary literature that concern the moral reasons for vegan consumerism. We situate veganism within the broader field of ethical consumerism, present a variety of motivations and justifications for veganism and discuss criticisms of vegan consumerism. The arguments presented in the article ultimately pertain to the question of whether concerns for animals, human rights or climate justice entail strong moral reasons to adopt a vegan lifestyle. Additionally, we address issues of particular relevance for political philosophy, such as whether organized vegan consumer campaigns are a politically legitimate means to strive for structural change. We hope to show that there are anthropocentric as well as animal-centred reasons that speak in favour of radically reformed human-animal relations, including diets that are at least predominantly plant-based.
... How different food choices affect water, soil health, pollinators, carbon emissions, and so on is hard to ascertain, even for experts. Eating beans instead of grain-fed beef might be a clear environmentally beneficial choice in most circumstances, but apart from that, much is deeply unclear about the environmental effects of food choices (Harwatt et al. 2017). While some small-scale agriculture systems, such as permaculture or regenerative agriculture, seem less clearly linked to grave flaws, whether they can be scaled up is debatable. ...
Many people argue that we should practice conscientious consumption. Faced with goods from gravely flawed production processes, such as wood from clear-cut rainforests or electronics containing conflict minerals, they argue that we should enact personal policies to routinely shun tainted goods and select pure(r) goods. However, consumers typically should be relatively uncertain about which flaws in global supply chains are grave and the connection of purchases to those grave flaws. The threat of significant uncertainty makes conscientious consumption appear to be no better, or even worse, than an overlooked option. This overlooked option is consumption with relinquishment: disregarding each product’s possible connections with upstream grave flaws and using the time, money, and energy saved in this way to address grave flaws directly.
... With respect to climate breakdown, the agricultural sector is responsible for 25-33% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, half of which is caused by livestock (Edenhofer 2015;Gerber et al. 2013;Steinfeld et al. 2006;Tubiello et al. 2014). Most of these emissions originate from animal feed production and the form in which ruminants digest their food (Berners-Lee et al. 2012;Harwatt et al. 2017;Herrero et al. 2016;Westhoek et al. 2014). Grazing systems, for example, produce only 13% of the cattle meat and 6% of the cattle milk produced by the food industry but generate approximately 20% of all emissions assigned to livestock, upon factoring in land use change-related impacts (Garnett et al. 2017;Gerber et al. 2013). ...
Full-text available
This paper explores how to deliberate about food choices from a Stoic perspective informed by the value of environmental sustainability. This perspective is reconstructed from both ancient and contemporary sources of Stoic philosophy. An account of what the Stoic goal of “living in agreement with Nature” would amount to in dietary practice is presented. Given ecological facts about food production, an argument is made that Stoic virtue made manifest as wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance compel Stoic practitioners to select locally sourced, low resource input, plant-based foods whenever circumstances allow.
... 68 Replacing animal source foods with plant-based foods, through guidelines provided to patients and changes made in the food services provided at cancer treatment facilities, would confer both environmental and health benefits. 62,69 Although some may view these issues as beyond the scope of responsibility of the nation's cancer treatment facilities, one need look no further than their mission statements, all of which speak to eradicating cancer. Climate change and continued reliance on fossil fuels push that noble goal further from reach. ...
... The LCA has also been extensively applied to evaluate the environmental burdens generated in the food industry. The life cycle environmental impacts of beer production (Amienyo and Azapagic, 2016), corn production (Mohammadi et al., 2015), milk production (Castanheira et al., 2010), beef (Harwatt et al., 2017) and chicken (L opez-Andr es et al., 2018) production were evaluated by using LCA. But less attention has been put to the life cycle environmental impact of food seasoning products such as MSG. ...
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is one of the most commonly used seasonings in daily life and food industry. This study provides an initial Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of maize-based MSG production in 2018 to determine the life cycle environmental impact of MSG production in China. The environmental performance of several cleaner production measures in the MSG industry were also analysed and evaluated using LCA. Results show that when producing 1 t maize-based MSG without any cleaner production measures, the global warming potential, aquatic ecotoxicity, aquatic acidification, and aquatic eutrophication are 6.26 t CO2eq, 848 t TEG watereq, 83.5 kg SO2eq, and 5.04 kg PO4 P-limeq. Energy consumption, direct emission in the MSG production process, and maize production are identified as the most significant contributors to the life cycle environmental impact in MSG production. Scenario analysis of different production measures, namely cogeneration, co-production and the hybrid scenario integrating the two listed measures, showed that the hybrid scenario, which represents the mainstream cleaner production technology level of the MSG industry of China, is the optimal option for environmental impact reduction of MSG production. In the hybrid scenario, the global warming potential, aquatic ecotoxicity, aquatic acidification, and the aquatic eutrophication decreased 13.90%, 7.19%, 64.29%, and 80.00% compared with the non-cleaner production scenario. Two major directions to further improve the environmental performance of the MSG production are improving energy use efficiency (and/or using cleaner energy) and modifying the production process to maximise material use efficiency.
... Because reducing economic subsidies for beef production or regulating beef production and consumption is politically unpalatable in many parts of the world, relying on government policy to tackle the problem may be unrealistic (Dagevos & Voordouw, 2013). In the absence of policy changes, effective strategies to change consumer choices-for example, switching to plant-based protein sources (Harwatt, Sabaté, Eshel, Soret, & Ripple, 2017) or to other meat products with lower biodiversity footprints (e.g., pork, chicken, and sustainably sourced fish)-are required. Understanding how to most effectively influence individual behaviors that have the greatest impact on biodiversity has been identified as an important aspect of conservation science (Schultz, 2011), yet conservation behavior change research into the demand side of the drivers of biodiversity loss is still an emerging field (Selinske et al., 2018). ...
Full-text available
Beef production is a major driver of biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions globally, and multiple studies recommend reducing beef production and consumption. Although there have been significant efforts from the biodiversity conservation sector toward reducing beef‐production impacts, there has been comparatively much less engagement in reducing beef consumption. As a first step to address this gap and identify leverage points, we conducted a policy Delphi expert elicitation. We asked 16 multidisciplinary experts from research and practitioner backgrounds to propose interventions for reducing beef consumption in the United States. Experts generated and critiqued 20 interventions, creating a qualitative dataset that was thematically analyzed to allow the interventions to be prioritized. Effective, feasible interventions included changing perceived social norms, targeting food providers, and increasing the availability and quality of beef alternatives. This work introduces a conservation research agenda for reducing beef consumption and explores a structured process for prioritizing behavioral interventions.
Full-text available
Background: Dietary patterns affect both human health and environmental sustainability. Prior research found a ten-unit course on food systems and environmental sustainability shifted dietary intake and reduced dietary carbon footprint among college students. This research evaluated the impact of a similar, more scalable one-unit Foodprint seminar taught at multiple universities. Methods: We used a quasi-experimental pre-post nonequivalent comparison group design (n = 176). As part of the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, research was conducted at three university campuses in California over four academic terms. All campuses used the same curriculum, which incorporates academic readings, group discussions, and skills-based exercises to evaluate the environmental footprint of different foods. The comparison group comprised students taking unrelated one-unit courses at the same universities. A questionnaire was administered at the beginning and end of each term. Results: Students who took the Foodprint seminar significantly improved their reported vegetable intake by 4.7 weekly servings relative to the comparison group. They also reported significantly decreasing intake of ruminant meat and sugar-sweetened beverages. As a result of dietary shifts, Foodprint seminar students were estimated to have significantly decreased their dietary carbon footprint by 14%. Conclusions: A scalable, one-unit Foodprint seminar may simultaneously promote environmental sustainability and human health.
Intensive agriculture and meat-based westernized diets have brought a heavy environmental burden to the planet. Legumes, or pulses, are members of the large Fabaceae (Leguminosae) family, which comprise about 5% of all plant species. They are ancient crops whose popularity both for farmers and consumers has gone through several stages of acceptance, and in recent years, legumes have regained their luster. This is due to a global understanding that: (1) farming systems need to promote biodiversity, (2) biological nitrogen fixation is an important tool to reduce the application of external chemical inputs, namely in the form of nitrogen fertilizers, and that (3) plant-based foods have fewer adverse environmental effects per unit weight, per serving, per unit of energy, or per protein weight than do animal source foods, across various environmental indicators. Legumes play a key role in answering these three global challenges and are pivotal actors in the diversification and sustainable intensification of agriculture, particularly in light of new and urgent challenges such as climate change. In this chapter, we showcase the importance of legumes as contemporary agents of change, whose impacts start in the field, but then branch out into competitive global economies, modernized societies, and ultimately, improved food security and human health.
Full-text available
What we eat greatly influences our personal health and the environment we all share. Recent analyses have highlighted the likely dual health and environmental benefits of reducing the fraction of animal-sourced foods in our diets. Here, we couple for the first time, to our knowledge, a region-specific global health model based on dietary and weight-related risk factors with emissions accounting and economic valuation modules to quantify the linked health and environmental consequences of dietary changes. We find that the impacts of dietary changes toward less meat and more plant-based diets vary greatly among regions. The largest absolute environmental and health benefits result from diet shifts in developing countries whereas Western high-income and middle-income countries gain most in per capita terms. Transitioning toward more plant-based diets that are in line with standard dietary guidelines could reduce global mortality by 6-10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29-70% compared with a reference scenario in 2050. We find that the monetized value of the improvements in health would be comparable with, or exceed, the value of the environmental benefits although the exact valuation method used considerably affects the estimated amounts. Overall, we estimate the economic benefits of improving diets to be 1-31 trillion US dollars, which is equivalent to 0.4-13% of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2050. However, significant changes in the global food system would be necessary for regional diets to match the dietary patterns studied here.
Full-text available
Owing to the methane (CH4) produced by rumen fermentation, ruminants are a source of greenhouse gas (GHG) and are perceived as a problem. We propose that with appropriate regenerative crop and grazing management, ruminants not only reduce overall GHG emissions, but also facilitate provision of essential ecosystem services, increase soil carbon (C) sequestration, and reduce environmental damage. We tested our hypothesis by examining biophysical impacts and the magnitude of all GHG emissions from key agricultural production activities, including comparisons of arable- and pastoral-based agroecosystems. Our assessment shows that globally, GHG emissions from domestic ruminants represent 11.6% (1.58 Gt C y-1) of total anthropogenic emissions, while cropping and soil-associated emissions contribute 13.7% (1.86 Gt C y-1). The primary source is soil erosion (1 Gt C y-1), which in the United States alone is estimated at 1.72 Gt of soil y-1. Permanent cover of forage plants is highly effective in reducing soil erosion, and ruminants consuming only grazed forages under appropriate management result in more C sequestration than emissions. Incorporating forages and ruminants into regeneratively managed agroecosystems can elevate soil organic C, improve soil ecological function by minimizing the damage of tillage and inorganic fertilizers and biocides, and enhance biodiversity and wildlife habitat. We conclude that to ensure longterm sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems, agricultural production should be guided by policies and regenerative management protocols that include ruminant grazing. Collectively, conservation agriculture supports ecologically healthy, resilient agroecosystems and simultaneously mitigates large quantities of anthropogenic GHG emissions. Copyright
Full-text available
Key Risks at the Global Scale Freshwater-related risks of climate change increase significantly with increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations (robust evidence, high agreement). {3.4, 3.5} Modeling studies since AR4, with large but better quantified uncertainties, have demonstrated clear differences between global futures with higher emissions, which have stronger adverse impacts, and those with lower emissions, which cause less damage and cost less to adapt to. {Table 3-2} For each degree of global warming, approximately 7% of the global population is projected to be exposed to a decrease of renewable water resources of at least 20% (multi-model mean). By the end of the 21st century, the number of people exposed annually to the equivalent of a 20th-century 100-year river flood is projected to be three times greater for very high emissions (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5)) than for very low emissions (RCP2.6) (multi-model mean) for the fixed population distribution at the level in the year 2005. {Table 3-2, 3.4.8}.
Full-text available
Greenhouse gas emissions from global agriculture are increasing at around 1% per annum, yet substantial cuts in emissions are needed across all sectors. The challenge of reducing agricultural emissions is particularly acute, because the reductions achievable by changing farming practices are limited,3 and are hampered by rapidly rising food demand,5. Here we assess the technical mitigation potential off�ered by land sparing—increasing agricultural yields, reducing farmland area and actively restoring natural habitats on the land spared. Restored habitats can sequester carbon and can o�set emissions from agriculture. Using the UK as an example, we estimate net emissions in 2050 under a range of future agricultural scenarios. We find that a land-sparing strategy has the technical potential to achieve significant reductions in net emissions from agriculture and land-use change. Coupling land sparing with demand-side strategies to reduce meat consumption and food waste can further increase the technical mitigation potential—however, economic and implementation considerations might limit the degree to which this technical potential could be realized in practice.
This article was submitted without an abstract, please refer to the full-text PDF file.
De Oliveira Silva et al. (2016) model beef production in the Brazilian Cerrado, and conclude that – if accompanied by tight deforestation control – increasing production could lower emissions by incentivising better pasture management. While their analysis is valuable in identifying the conditions under which increasing meat consumption could be compatible with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we believe that there is little chance of such conditions occurring in practice. Overall, increasing beef consumption and production is unlikely to be an effective lever for reducing emissions, and is more likely to exacerbate deforestation. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
The livestock sector supports about 1.3 billion producers and retailers, and contributes 40-50% of agricultural GDP. We estimated that between 1995 and 2005, the livestock sector was responsible for greenhouse gas emissions of 5.6-7.5 GtCO2 e yr â'1. Livestock accounts for up to half of the technical mitigation potential of the agriculture, forestry and land-use sectors, through management options that sustainably intensify livestock production, promote carbon sequestration in rangelands and reduce emissions from manures, and through reductions in the demand for livestock products. The economic potential of these management alternatives is less than 10% of what is technically possible because of adoption constraints, costs and numerous trade-offs. The mitigation potential of reductions in livestock product consumption is large, but their economic potential is unknown at present. More research and investment are needed to increase the affordability and adoption of mitigation practices, to moderate consumption of livestock products where appropriate, and to avoid negative impacts on livelihoods, economic activities and the environment.
Recent debate about agricultural greenhouse gas emissions mitigation highlights trade-offs inherent in the way we produce and consume food, with increasing scrutiny on emissions-intensive livestock products. Although most research has focused on mitigation through improved productivity, systemic interactions resulting from reduced beef production at the regional level are still unexplored. A detailed optimization model of beef production encompassing pasture degradation and recovery processes, animal and deforestation emissions, soil organic carbon (SOC) dynamics and upstream life-cycle inventory was developed and parameterized for the Brazilian Cerrado. Economic return was maximized considering two alternative scenarios: decoupled livestock–deforestation (DLD), assuming baseline deforestation rates controlled by effective policy; and coupled livestock–deforestation (CLD), where shifting beef demand alters deforestation rates. In DLD, reduced consumption actually leads to less productive beef systems, associated with higher emissions intensities and total emissions, whereas increased production leads to more efficient systems with boosted SOC stocks, reducing both per kilogram and total emissions. Under CLD, increased production leads to 60% higher emissions than in DLD. The results indicate the extent to which deforestation control contributes to sustainable intensification in Cerrado beef systems, and how alternative life-cycle analytical approaches result in significantly different emission estimates.