Consumers’ food choices can help reduce greenhouse emissions

HARTFORD, Conn. and BOSTON (June 7, 2018)—Changes in diet have been proposed as a way to reduce carbon emissions from the food system. But there has been little research on the affordability and feasibility of low-carbon food choices in the U.S. and how these choices could affect diet and climate change.

A new study that provides the latest, most comprehensive estimate of greenhouse gas emissions generated by U.S. consumer food purchases suggests that, if Americans directed their food purchases away from meats and other animal proteins, they could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We found that households that spend more of their weekly food budget on beef, chicken, pork and other meats are generating more greenhouse gas emissions. Our study shows that encouraging consumers to make food choices that are lower in greenhouse gas emissions can make a real difference addressing climate change,” said Rebecca Boehm, the study’s lead author and a University of Connecticut Postdoctoral Fellow with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and the Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy, who initiated this work at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Altering food consumption could be a key area for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as food purchases accounted for 16 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, according to the study. By comparison, commercial/residential activity accounted for 12 percent and industrial activity accounted for 21 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The study, published today in the journal Food Policy, was conducted by researchers with the UConn Rudd Center and the Zwick Center, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, the University of Missouri, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

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