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Consumers can help curb greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the quantity of food they buy, serve and waste, a study says.
According to the study conducted at the University of Edinburgh, UK, some 360,000 tonnes of milk poured down kitchen sinks in Britain creates a carbon footprint equivalent to exhaust emissions of 20,000 cars annually, or 100,000 tonnes of CO2.
Researchers, however, not only identify the ways to reduce this carbon footprint but also suggest how food industry could reduce emissions by seeking more efficient ways to use fertilisers.
For instance, halving the amount of chicken consumed in the UK and other developed countries to levels eaten in Japan could cut greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 10 million cars off the road, the journal Nature Climate Change reports.
"Eating less meat and wasting less food can play a big part in helping to keep a lid on greenhouse gas emissions as the world's population increases," said David Reay from Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, who led the study, according to an Edinburgh statement.
Figures show that if average chicken consumption in developed countries fell from the current level of 26 kg each annually to the Japanese average of about 12 kg each by 2020, global emissions from poultry would fall below current levels, despite increased output from the developing world.
This would cut the predicted global output of nitrous oxide, a key greenhouse gas, from this source by almost 20 percent, based on current growth rates. Demand for food, particularly meat, is expected to increase over the next few decades as the world's population continues to grow and emerging countries consume more.
Agriculture is the biggest source of nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas that is emitted by soil and fertilisers. Producing meat causes more emissions than growing crops, as large amounts of cereals are grown to feed livestock.
Researchers arrived at their findings by examining data for global agricultural production of greenhouse gases together with consumption of food in various regions of the world. The study was carried out in collaboration with the University of Aberdeen and partners in Europe and the US.
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