Diet and The Impact on Climate Change

Balancing the diet to make it a healthy one is a constant challenge, what more when considering the issue of climate change.

By Corina Tan

In a world that tries to be more environmentally conscious, many people agree that we all need to do our part to curb the effects of climate change by reducing our carbon footprint.  Doing this can be as simple as making small, strategic changes to everyday routines like switching from traditional to energy-efficient LED light bulbs, driving hybrid cars, and even recycling.  There is however one way that most people probably hadn’t thought of, and that would be swapping meat and poultry for plant-based meat.


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Livestock produces 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, takes up 83 percent of farmland, eats 34 percent of crops grown globally and drinks over 50 percent of freshwater supply.  Studies have shown that it takes between 7,000 to 30,000 litres of water to produce 500 grams of beef, while in contrast, it takes only about 1000 litres to produce 500 grams of tofu.


Large forests have been slashed and burned to create more room for raising farm animals, and that includes 15 percent of the ever-shrinking Amazon rainforest.  As such, replacing farmed meat diets with plant-based substitutes could free up cropland to feed more people, and provide ecological reforestation.  A study in sustainable food suggests that plant-based meat uses less land than fish farming, pig farming, poultry or cattle, and do not generate any manure pollution.  Additionally, plant-based meat’s greenhouse gas emissions were lower than farmed fish, poultry, pigs, beef from dairy cows or cattle.


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Having said this, plant-based meat isn’t perfect and all production requires resources.  Farming is only one part of the total climate equation, and more information is still required about the supply-chain production of plant-based meat.  Water usage and operational factors associated with the industry need to be more forthcoming in order to gain a better perspective concerning real carbon footprint impact.


A major concern for most people about plant-based products is their association with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  It is no secret that genetically engineered crops are needed to produce plant-based meat.  In spite of GMO controversies, they still have a key part to play in the fight against climate change and the immediate benefits may outweigh the negatives.  One consolation is that alternatives made from GMO soy is still ten times better than factory-farmed meat in terms of carbon emissions that cause air pollution.


Healthwise, whether meals containing plant-based meat is better than animal products, still depend on the way they are cooked.  A steamed chicken breast may be worse for the planet, but is better for the body than a triple-decker vege-meat burger, and yet the vege-meat burger would be better than a thick slab of beef.


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Plant-based meat can be a good source of fibre, folate and iron, but they also contain more salt and less protein.  Balancing the diet to make it a healthy one is a constant challenge, what more when considering the issue of climate change and the responsibility we all have towards the environment.  Mindful choices will enable us to do both, and plant-based foods do not necessarily mean GMO plant-based meat alone.  A variety of plant-based choices are available for both the health and environmentally conscious, and making the right choice is a continued effort for us all.

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