New climate research shows that ‘clean eating’ is more complicated than we thought

For a while now, climate-conscious consumers have embraced plant-based diets as a way to avoid the emissions-heavy meat industry. However, new research suggests a low-carbon diet is more complicated than it seems.

The global transportation of food produces up to 7.5 times more greenhouse-gas emissions than previously estimated, according to a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nature Food. More than one-third of those emissions are generated by the international trade of fruits and vegetables, nearly twice what’s produced by growing them, according to the paper.

Demand by wealthy countries for year-round fresh fruits and vegetables, plus other agriculture products, is responsible for 46% of “food-mile” emissions even though those nations account for only 12.5% of the global population. 

The study complicates carbon calculations around plant-based diets. While livestock raised for meat is responsible for the bulk of agricultural production emissions, fruits and vegetables are particularly carbon-intensive to ship due to their bulk and the need for refrigeration during transport, according to the researchers.



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