Tuesday 22 August 2017

Red meat top source of gas emissions in our diet

A study revealed that two fifths of greenhouse gas emissions linked to the food we eat in Ireland comes from the red meat we consume. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A study revealed that two fifths of greenhouse gas emissions linked to the food we eat in Ireland comes from the red meat we consume. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Irish people's fondness for a slice of red meat at dinner time is our main dietary "sin" when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, according to new research.

A study revealed that two fifths of greenhouse gas emissions linked to the food we eat in Ireland comes from the red meat we consume.

The research by scientists in Teagasc, the agriculture and food advisory body, looked at the diets of 1,500 adults.

The study, which is the first of its kind, comes in the wake of recent controversial statements by former president Mary Robinson, who urged us to "eat less meat, or no meat at all", due to the toll its production takes on the environment.

However, the news is not all bad, because overall Irish greenhouse gas emission levels from daily food intake are below the EU average.

Greenhouse gases warm the air and sea, causing effects such as droughts, violent storms and heatwaves.

While the focus in the past has been on how many car or air miles we clock up, the spotlight is increasingly turning on to our diets.

The research said that our consumption of dairy products and starchy staples, including potatoes, contributed about a tenth each to the carbon footprint related to food. Other groups - such as fizzy drinks, fruit and vegetables, pulses, nuts and beans - make minimal contributions to overall emissions.

Read more: Comment: Ireland's position on climate change is one of hypocrisy - lots of hot air but no action

A food's carbon footprint is linked to various factors, including processing, transporting, storage and cooking.

Red meat is blamed for high emissions due to factors such as the tendency of sheep to belch methane - a strong greenhouse gas. Flatulence by cows also produces methane.

Some studies show a herd of 200 cows can produce annual quantities of methane roughly equivalent to driving a family car for more than 100,000 miles. Alcoholic drinks also contribute significantly to emissions, due to the impact of growing hops and malt and processing them into beer and whiskey.

The Teagasc study said the impact of what we eat on climate change could be included in official guidance from the Department of Health on overall healthy eating. Apart from behavioural change, there was a need to improve the efficiency of production at every stage of the food chain to provide more sustainable options.

However, a separate study also found that while the majority of Irish farmers agree that man-made greenhouse gas emissions contribute to global warming, there is a lack of awareness of the extent of the contribution made by agriculture.

Some 77.6pc of farmers said they would not accept an increase in production costs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5pc. And only 18pc would be willing to tolerate an increase in production costs of up to 5pc.

The study of 828 farmers said the findings suggested there was limited appetite among farmers to adopt changes.

A high number were unconvinced that climate change would impact much on farming.

Irish Independent

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