The vegan diet produces the lowestt greenhouse gas emissions. Photo: Gamene/flickr.com/CC BY
German diets have become more climate-friendly in the past twenty years, but there is great scope to reduce the carbon footprint from food consumption even more.
In the late 1980s the food consumption of the average German caused greenhouse gas emissions of 2.3 tonnes a year, in 2006 this figure had decreased to 2.1 tonnes, according to a recent study. The difference can be explained by a 20 kg a year drop in meat consumption.
The study has also estimated the carbon footprint of diets in line with the official recommendations of the German Nutrition Society and alternative recommendations from the Federation for Independent Health, as well as a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet and a vegan diet. They all have a lower carbon footprint than the average diet of 2006, and the vegan diet contributes the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, only 1 tonne a year.
Comparisons were also made between the ammonia emissions, primary energy, land, water and phosphorus use for the different diets. All indicators, except water, followed the same pattern as for greenhouse gas emissions, with the 1980s diet scoring the highest (=worst) and the vegan diet the lowest (=best). The vegan diet has however the greatest water footprint due to the high water consumption for producing nuts and seeds.
For 2006 the researchers also studied the difference between the diets of women and men. Women ate more in accordance with official recommendations, i.e. less meat and more vegetables and had thus a lower carbon footprint.
In the study all diets consist of 2000 calories a day and thus do not take into account the possibility of reducing the total calories consumed as a way to abate the environmental impact. Today most Europeans have a greater energy intake than recommended for health reasons.
Source: Environmental Impacts of Dietary Recommendations and Dietary Styles: Germany As an Example (2013) by Meier, T., O. Christen in Environment Science Technology 47 (2) http://www.nutrition-impacts.org/index.php/de/component/content/article/52