News, Sustainability

Swapping foods can cut grocery emissions by a quarter, says study

Switching to more environmentally friendly food and drink options could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from household groceries by over 26 per cent, according to new study.

The study published in Nature Food was conducted by the George Institute for Global Health and the Imperial College London.

The study underscores the need for on-pack labelling of greenhouse gas emissions for all Australian foods to enable informed consumer choices.

The findings revealed that meat products, although only 11 per cent of total purchases, contributed almost half of all greenhouse gas emissions.

In contrast, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and legumes accounted for 25 per cent of purchases but only 5 per cent of emissions.

“Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the food system and are willing to make sustainable choices, but they need reliable information to identify the greener options,” said lead author and epidemiologist Dr. Allison Gaines.

Gaines emphasised the necessity for significant changes in food and beverage consumption, particularly in higher-income countries like Australia, to meet global emissions targets.

In 2019, food-related greenhouse gas emissions in Australian homes totalled over 31 million tonnes.

This amount was equivalent to emissions from more than six million cars driving an average of 22,500 km per year.

The food and agriculture sector are responsible for approximately one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with combined health and environmental costs estimated at 10-14 trillion USD annually.

The study outlined that transitioning to healthy, low-emission diets could prevent over 12 million deaths per year.

Program director of Food Policy at The George Institute for Global Health, Professor Simone Pettigrew, stressed the urgency for Australia to improve food system sustainability to achieve a net-zero future.

“There is currently no standardised framework for regulating the climate or planetary health parameters of our food supply, but by using studies like this, we can develop innovative ways to help consumers make informed choices and create a movement for positive change,” said Pettigrew.

To facilitate this, The George Institute has launched a free app, ecoSwitch.

The app allows shoppers to scan product barcodes and check a ‘Planetary Health Rating,’ which measures emissions from half a star (high emissions) to five stars (low emissions).

The institute plans to expand the ecoSwitch algorithm to include other environmental indicators such as land and water use and biodiversity, and to introduce the tool in other countries.

“Incorporating environmental sustainability indicators into packaged food labels can help consumers make informed purchases and encourage manufacturers to produce lower-emission products.

“Our vision is for a single, standardised sustainability rating system to bring transparency to the environmental impact of packaged foods,” said Pettigrew.

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