Environmentally conscious consumers may be already aware that beef consumption contributes to deforestation, fish farms pollute the water, and almonds are a water-intensive crop. However, a study published on Monday takes a much broader and deeper approach, providing a new framework for assessing the overall ecological effects of crops, livestock, and seafood.
Researchers gathered information on food production’s effects on the planet, such as disruptions to the habitats of wild animals, water use and pollution, and contribution to global warming. Their research identifies the regions and food production practises that have the biggest impacts.
According to the study’s lead author, Ben Halpern, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, it offers a new way to assess what to eat and how to feed the world as looked at nearly 99% of all food production on land and sea as reported to the United Nations in 2017.
“We need to be thinking about the multiple ways that food affects the environment,” Halpern, who directs UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, told the Washington Post. “The results we’ve presented show how you can use more information about these multiple stressors and the global scale of our food production consequences to influence your individual choice.”
Food harvested by hunters and in backyard gardens was not included, nor were non-food crops like coffee, tea, and tobacco. However, they looked at effects of displacing ecosystems for cropland and destroying seafloor habitat with fishing gear, as well as water used by crops and livestock, nutrient pollution of waterways from fertiliser-tainted runoff and concentrated faecal matter, and greenhouse gas emissions from farming equipment and boat engines, fertiliser and pesticide production, as well as livestock flatulence and manure.