Protein efficiency per unit energy and per unit greenhouse gas emissions: Potential contribution of diet choices to climate change mitigation
The production, transport and processing of food products have significant environmental impacts, some of them related to climate change. This study examined the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production and transport to a port in Sweden (wholesale point) of 84 common food items of animal and vegetable origin. Energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for food items produced in different countries and using various means of production were compared. The results confirmed that animal-based foods are associated with higher energy use and GHG emissions than plant-based foods, with the exception of vegetables produced in heated greenhouses. Analyses of the nutritional value of the foods to assess the amount of protein delivered to the wholesale point per unit energy used or GHG emitted (protein delivery efficiency) showed that the efficiency was much higher for plant-based foods than for animal-based. Remarkably, the efficiency of delivering plant-based protein increased as the amount of protein in the food increased, while the efficiency of delivering animal-based protein decreased. These results have implications for policies encouraging diets with lower environmental impacts for a growing world population.
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