Many questions surround the carbon-intensity of people’s diets, and a big one that comes up is consumption of beef and dairy. Undoubtedly, ruminant livestock are responsible for a significant level of greenhouse gas emissions.
However, not all livestock systems are the same – they vary wildly from intensive feedlots chucking out GHG’s through un-responsible feed production and manure/slurry handling, to lighter, grass-fed systems where some carbon is sequestered in soils.
It’s important to highlight the mechanisms for this: GHGs for cattle and dairy farming largely come from enteric fermentation (cows belching), manure, growing pasture or feed crops, and on farm power energy use.
While not being strictly low-carbon, purchasing organic, grass-fed UK animal products is a slightly climate-friendlier option where meat is concerned, due to reductions in transport emissions but also because permanent pasture locks carbon in the ground. Also, organic ensures a range of environmental farming benefits that safeguard water, air, and biodiversity.
However, if you’re not a fan of getting hung up on technical details, read on and follow these simple rules for a carbon-friendly diet:
• Eat mostly vegetables, fruits and whole grains
• Buy less tropical fruit and enjoy more of what’s available in the UK – apples, pears, soft fruits
• Try to purchase British grown plant protein i.e. beans and pulses from companies like Hodmedods
• Limit meat and dairy products to once a day, or only a few times a week, or less…
• Avoid processed food – it’s far more likely to have a high embodied energy/carbon footprint from processing, storage, and transport, as well as being subject to poorly sourced ingredients such as palm oil/un-responsibly produced soy
Zac Goodall is the author of Riverford’s first sustainability report, published in June 2020.