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Center for a Livable Future

 

March 7, 2016

Setting the record straight: meat and dairy, not vegetables, are the real dietary culprits in climate change

Last year, bacon-lovers rejoiced as articles touted the notion that lettuce is worse for the environment than bacon. This was faulty and misleading science translation at work, and regrettably coincided with the COP21 climate change summit. While researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) were fighting to raise awareness about livestock’s contributions to climate change (1), the media was having a field day with attention-grabbing headlines that flew against the evidence.

In a new letter to the editors published in Environment Systems and Decisions (2), CLF researchers explain where the results of the original study (3) got lost in translation. Contrary to the media’s misinterpretation of the science, the climate impact of pork is over four times higher per serving than vegetables (4). Dairy’s impact is over five times higher, and the impact of meat from ruminant animals (e.g., beef) is over 23 times higher. “We hope our letter helps set the record straight,” says Brent Kim, lead author on the letter. “Replacing meat and dairy with grains, legumes, and vegetables is the right choice for the environment.”

  1. Kim B, Neff R, Santo R, Vigorito J. The Importance of Reducing Animal Product Consumption and Wasted Food in Mitigating Catastrophic Climate Change. Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future; 2015.

  2. Kim BF, Nachman KE, Neff RA, Spiker ML, Santo RE. Concerns re: interpretation and translation of findings in Energy use, blue water footprint, and greenhouse gas emissions for current food consumption patterns and dietary recommendations in the US. Environ Syst Decis. 2016;36(1):104–5.

  3. Tom MS, Fischbeck PS, Hendrickson CT. Energy use, blue water footprint, and greenhouse gas emissions for current food consumption patterns and dietary recommendations in the US. Environ Syst Decis. Springer US; 2015;1–12.

  4. Tilman D, Clark M. Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health. Nature. 2014;515(7528):518–22.