Going Vegan Has Half Climate Change Impact of One Transatlantic Flight


Tyne Morgan, FarmJournal's Pork

August 8, 2019


Media reports sent a flurry of headlines Thursday suggesting consumers should eat less meat. These reports claimed a study from the United Nations suggested consumers should eat less meat in order to curb climate change. The report–from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPPC)– looked into ways to reduce the impact on climate change.


Frank Mitloehner with University of California-Davis is frustrated with the media coverage so far, which he said started with news outlets in the United Kington. He said while the IPPC report focused on land use and land use change, it didn’t tell consumers to eat less meat.


“The IPCC said that we do need to visit our agricultural practices, we need to be more sustainable overall globally in how we grow food, and I totally agree with that,” Mitloehner says. “There are certain land use practices that are not sustainable. So, we have to think about how we do a better job. Where I differ in the reporting in them saying, ‘we need to change what we eat in order to curb climate change,’ they are putting us on the wrong path for solutions.”


He says by focusing on eating less meat, consumers are being misled on what’s really attributing to greenhouse gas emissions.


“If you were to switch from an omnivore diet to a vegan diet for one year, that would be half the impact of one flight from the United States to Europe with respect to carbon emissions,” he says. “Going vegan for one year is half the impact of one transatlantic flight. So, what I'm saying here is not there's no impact, there certainly is an impact, but it is other day to day life choices that we make that are way more environmentally harmful.”


He thinks by the media focus on eating fewer burgers or eating less meat as a whole, it’s giving the other factors a “get out of jail free card” when it comes to lowering the impact on climate change.


“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the United States, of all greenhouse gases, the livestock sector emits a little bit less than 4%,” he says. “Contrast that to the 80% of those industries that consume very heavily fossil fuels: that's transportation, power production that you use, and industries such as the cement industry. “


Mitloehner says what confuses people are when global numbers are used versus statistics from the U.S. He says those figures can be misleading. While the U.S. livestock industry emits less than 4%, globally livestock produces 14.5% of greenhouse gases. He says those claiming livestock is what’s causing climate change uses the international number, because it sounds more extreme or scary...


more, including links, video report [7:44 min.]   




Vegan food’s sustainability claims need to give the full picture


Maartje Sevenster, Research Scientist Climate Smart Agriculture, CSIRO

Brad Ridoutt, Principal Research Scientist

via The Conversation - August 8, 2019


The IPCC special report, Climate Change and Land, released last night, has found a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the “land”: largely farming, food production, land clearing and deforestation.


Sustainable farming is a major focus of the report, as plants and soil can potentially hold huge amounts of carbon. But it’s incredibly difficult as a consumer to work out the overall footprint of individual products, because they don’t take these considerations into account.


Two vegan brands have published reports on the environmental footprint of their burgers. Impossible Foods claims its burger requires 87% less water and 96% less land, and produces 89% fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than a beef version. Additionally, it would contribute 92% less aquatic pollutants.


Similarly, Beyond Meat claims its burger requires 99% less water, 93% less land, 90% fewer greenhouse emissions and 46% less energy than a beef burger.


But these results have focused on areas where vegan products perform well, and do not account for soil carbon or potential deforestation. This might change the picture.


How do you measure an environmental footprint?


Vegan and vegetarian “meat alternatives” have become increasingly popular. Often in the form of burgers, the products are meant to emulate the taste, nutritional value, “mouthfeel” and even the cooking experience of a meat burger. The aim is to provide the consumer with products that are like meat in all respects except one: their environmental impact.


Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have each published “life-cycle assessments” (LCA), which measure environmental aspects of products over the supply chain. As is clear from the figures quoted above, both claim their burgers use a fraction of the resources of traditional beef burgers.


These results sound impressive, but LCA results can be misleading when taken out of context. Looking at the underlying reports for Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger it becomes clear that statements such as “less water” and “less land” mean different things in practice.


There are significant differences between the two studies in the calculations of land and water use for the beef burger, and the final results are not expressed in the same units. This does not necessarily mean either of the studies is invalid, but it does mean the statements on the websites are simplified and don’t allow for clear interpretation.


Both studies justify their choice of indicators by saying they are the most common used in beef footprint studies. But are they the most relevant indicators for vegan burger production?


By making the comparison only for the environmental aspects most important for meat products, the results may look extra positive for the vegan alternatives, as other aspects might have shown a less favourable result. The results as presented may be true, but they are not the whole truth.


Importantly, the studies compare the results for the vegan burgers with a beef burger produced in the United States. To be precise, it is produced from cattle from average, conventional US production systems.


This is a valid choice, because this is the default burger meat in the US market. But results may be very different for other animals, for beef in other countries, or for unconventionally farmed beef.


Unconventional beef ...


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