Study Reveals Potential for Significant Reduction in Grocery-Related Emissions Through Informed Food Choices

A study by The George Institute for Global Health and Imperial College London, published in Nature Food, reveals that choosing more environmentally friendly food and drink options can significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions. Small changes within the same product category could reduce household grocery emissions by 26%, while more substantial swaps, such as opting for vegetarian lasagne instead of meat, could lead to a 71% reduction.

The research emphasizes the need for on-pack greenhouse gas emission labels on packaged foods to help consumers make informed choices. This analysis, one of the most detailed to date, examined greenhouse gas emissions and sales data for thousands of supermarket products typical of Western diets.

Lead author Dr. Allison Gaines stressed the importance of changing dietary habits in high-income countries to meet global emissions targets. Despite increased awareness, consumers often lack reliable information to identify sustainable options.

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Researchers used data from 7,000 Australian households, employing the FoodSwitch database and global impact datasets, to estimate annual grocery emissions for over 22,000 products. They found that small changes within sub-categories could reduce emissions by 26%, equating to removing 1.9 million cars from the road. More significant changes within minor categories could achieve a 71% reduction.

Dr. Gaines noted that these switches would not compromise food healthiness and could reduce the purchase of ultra-processed foods. The study showed meat products, which made up only 11% of purchases, contributed nearly half of all emissions, while fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, comprising 25% of purchases, were responsible for just 5% of emissions.

Food and agriculture account for about one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with annual health and environmental costs estimated at $10-14 trillion. Transitioning to low-emission diets could prevent over 12 million deaths per year.

Professor Bruce Neal, Executive Director at The George Institute Australia, highlighted the need for a standardized framework to regulate the food supply’s climate impacts. In response, The George Institute developed the ecoSwitch app, which helps users check a product’s emissions score by scanning barcodes. The institute plans to expand the app’s environmental indicators and introduce it in other countries.

Professor Neal concluded that while ecoSwitch is a crucial first step in providing environmental transparency, the goal is a mandatory, standardized sustainability rating system for all supermarket products.


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