What Common Food Pollutes The Most?

By Ryan McCready, May 07, 2021

Food Pollution Data Story

A lot of people have been having a cow lately about beef potentially disappearing from their lives.

Americans love beef and it is starting to become popular in other developing countries as well.

But it is really one of the worst foods you can eat if you care about your environmental impact.

So let’s look at how bad beef really is.

 

What type of foods pollutes the most?

If you read the introduction to this Data Story, you probably already know that beef is one of the worst polluters.

But a lot of people really don’t realize how bad it is for the environment.

For every kilogram of beef produced, there are 60 kilograms of greenhouse gases emitted. That is a staggering number when you look at other protein sources.

Food Pollution Data Story

No other food really comes close to that figure, with other popular protein sources producing less than half as many greenhouse gases.

A lot of people are going to be surprised at the volume of greenhouse gases produced by coffee and chocolate too.

To put this in perspective, you could produce 10 kilograms of poultry before you would match the greenhouse gasses emitted by 1 kilogram of beef.

Food Pollution Data Story

A majority of the greenhouse gases come from methane that the cows actually produce and emissions from farming.

Processing, transportation and other things make up a pretty small percentage of total emissions.

 

What protein sources should you eat instead?

There really isn’t an emission-free protein source, but there are a lot of other options that pollute less.

Most of those protein sources are actually non-animal-based products like tofu and nuts.

Food Pollution Data Story

You could produce 16,600 grams of protein from nuts before you would match pollution for 100 grams of beef protein!

But according to experts, eating less meat on the whole is better than eating meat that produces fewer greenhouse gases.

 

25% of greenhouse gases come from food production

About one-fourth of all emissions each year comes from food production, the full breakdown can be seen below:

Food Pollution Data Story

As you can see, the majority of that comes from livestock production and fishing. Bringing that number down is one of the best ways to fight against rising greenhouse emissions.

Now half of all land is currently used for production of food, but the majority of that land goes to housing and feeding livestock as well. Only 30% of that land is actually used for producing edible food.

Food Pollution Data Story

Beef production is also one of the biggest drivers of deforestation in tropical regions.

This stat about soybeans might have people swearing off tofu or other meat replacements, but 94% of soybeans are used for livestock feed. Only 6% of soybeans in that region are grown for human food.

Now how crazy does it sound to ban or reduce beef production?

Hopefully it’s a no-brainer.

 

Sources

 

 

About Ryan McCready

Ryan McCready went to the University of Arkansas and graduated with a degree in economics and international business. Now instead of studying the economy he writes about everything and enjoys stirring the pot.