A recent investigation into the environmental impact of different diets has revealed that eating fruit and vegetables is much healthier for the planet than diets consisting of animal products.
The experts also determined that organic food contributes to the green benefits of plant-based diets, but does not have the same influence with diets which are only moderately plant-based.
The Food and Agriculture Organization is just one of many groups that are emphasizing an urgent need for sustainable diets, including reduced consumption of animal products.
Livestock farming has a high energy demand and largely contributes to harmful greenhouse gas emissions while also posing a significant threat to the planet’s biodiversity.
Organic food production is considered to be much more eco-friendly than other methods. This study is the first to investigate the environmental impacts of both dietary choices and farm production systems.
“We wanted to provide a more comprehensive picture of how different diets impact the environment,” said co-author Louise Seconda. “In particular, it is of considerable interest to consider the impacts of both plant-based foods and organic foods.”
The research team analyzed data on the organic food consumption and food intake of over 34,000 French adults. The experts estimated the environmental impact of both farm-based and plant-based food production, and then compared this data to the dietary preferences derived from the surveys.
“Combining consumption and farm production data we found that across the board, diet-related environmental impacts were reduced with a plant-based diet – particularly greenhouse gas emissions,” said Seconda.
“The consumption of organic food added even more environmental benefits for a plant-based diet. In contrast, consumption of organic food did not add significant benefits to diets with high contribution from animal products and only moderate contribution from plant products.”
The study authors pointed out that production systems may be impacted by other influences besides the environment, such as climate, farm management, and soil types.
“We didn’t look at other indicators such as pesticide use, leaching and soil quality which are relevant to the environmental impacts of productions systems,” explained Seconda. “Therefore future studies could also consider these as well as supply chain and distribution impacts of food production.”
The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.