A new study is claiming that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables rather than meat could actually be doing more damage to the environment.
According to researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) lettuce is more than three times worse in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than bacon, after they analysed the impact per calorie of different foods in terms of energy cost, water use and emissions.
The study, reported by The Independent and published in the Environment Systems and Decisions journal, flies in the face of current mainstream thinking which has called for people to try and eat less meat as part of the effort to tackle climate change. However, the researchers do concede that livestock is one of the single biggest contributing factors in global emissions, accounting for up to 51 per cent according to some studies.
Surprisingly they discovered that eating only the recommended ‘healthier’ foods suggested by the US Department of Agriculture actually increased a person’s impact on the environment even when overall calorie intake was lower.
Paul Fischbeck, co-author of the study said:
Lots of common vegetables require more resources per calorie than you would think. Eggplant, celery and cucumbers look particularly bad when compared to pork or chicken.
However not all experts are in complete agreement with the conclusions they are drawing. Anthony Froggatt is a senior research fellow at Chatham House, an independent think-tank which is currently running a project examining the link between meat consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
He told the Independent:
It is true lettuce can be incredibly water and energy intensive to produce. We usually look at proteins rather than calories, and as a general rule it is still the case that reducing meat consumption in favour of plant-based proteins can reduce emissions.
Mr Froggatt also feels it is important to look at both the environmental and health impacts at the same time, and to take into account how meat consumption is set to increase in the next century. “We do know there is global overconsumption of meat, particularly in countries such as the US,” he said. “Looking forward that is set to increase significantly, which will have a significant impact on global warming.”
So don’t all sign up for the Atkins Diet just yet.