Ecological footprint of USA

Environmental footprint of vegan and vegetarian diets 30% lower than non-vegetarian diets, say researchers: ‘We have to drastically cut consumption of meat and dairy’
January 25, 2016 – 01:57 pm

By Elaine Watson, Loma Linda, CaliforniaElaine Watson, Loma Linda, California , 28-Feb-2013
Last updated on 01-Mar-2013 at 21:10 GMT

If the evidence that plant-based diets are better for human health is compelling, the evidence that they are better for the planet is indisputable, delegates at the 6th International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition were told.

Indeed, if we are to have any hope of feeding 9bn people by 2050, they will have to be on a predominantly vegetarian diet, said successive speakers at day three of the event, which was held at Loma Linda University in California.

While a lot of studies have made assumptions about the environmental benefits of plant-based diets based on theoretical models, researchers at Loma Linda have been able to provide clear evidence of these benefits by analyzing real-world data on dietary patterns from the AHS-2 cohort of 96, 000 seventh day Adventists living in the US and Canada, said Dr Samuel Soret, Assistant Professor and Chair - Department of Environmental Health and Geoinformatics Sciences, at the University’s school of Public Health.

Vegans’ GHG emissions were 41.7% lower than non-vegetarians’, while lacto-ovo vegetarians’ emissions were 27.8% lower

According to recent estimates, 80% of greenhouse gas emissions of all food production arises from livestock, claimed Samuel Soret, PhD, Professor of Environmental Health and Geoinformatics Sciences at Loma Linda University School of Public Health

Analysis of the cohort - which was divided into hardcore vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians (who eat dairy), pesco vegetarians (who eat fish), semi-vegetarians (who eat some meat), and non-vegetarians - showed conclusively that those consuming a vegan diet were responsible for the lowest greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, followed by the lacto-ovo vegetarians, then pesco-vegetarians and so on, with those on the non-vegetarian diet generating the largest environmental footprint, he said.

And for the first time*, he said, researchers also looked at the relative health outcomes of the five groups and saw a corresponding pattern, with the vegans having the lowest risk of chronic disease and the non-vegetarians the highest, providing compelling evidence that healthier diets are also more sustainable.

“It’s one of the first studies I am aware of that assesses the impact of reduced meat scenarios on GHG emissions and health outcomes in real world conditions.

“Vegans’ GHG emissions [calculated using SimaPro7 life cycle assessment software ] were 41.7% lower than the non-vegetarians, lacto-ovo vegetarians’ emissions were 27.8% lower, pesco-vegetarians’ were 23.8% lower and semi-vegetarians were just under 20% lower.”

Combined, the vegans and vegetarians generated 30% fewer GHG emissions than meat eaters, he told FoodNavigator-USA:

"The differences we have estimated are based on the AHS-2 non-vegetarian population as the reference or benchmark group. The consumption of animal products by this non-vegetarian population is less than that of the general population. This means that if we compared our vegetarian population against the average American diet, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be even more dramatic."

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