We’ve challenged Australia’s best minds in sustainability to give us one simple tip each week that can help our readers make a difference to the environment.
Before you add a slice of cheese to your sandwich, or drop a sausage on the barbecue, it's important to remember our food choices are having a massive impact on the environment.
When it comes to habitable land, agriculture uses about half, and it’s also responsible for around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.
Water too is being squeezed, with most regions on Earth using 70 per cent of their fresh sources on food production.
With the world’s population expected to grow from 7.9 billion to 9 billion people by 2050, that impact could worsen, meaning we need to start acting smarter when it comes to using resources.
Given this frightening situation, it’s easy to understand why food policy analyst Eva Perroni is passionate about tackling agriculture's footprint.
She is particularly concerned about industrial methods of production, which she says consume too many natural resources without replenishing them.
“That even includes the very resources on which it depends, like healthy soil, clean water and fresh air,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
“How food is farmed and produced can really have a significant impact on both the health of our environment and the health of people.”
Animal agriculture singled out for impacting the planet
Of all the mammals left on Earth, humans and livestock make up 96 per cent, and just four per cent are wild animals.
Seventy per cent of birds are chickens and other poultry, meaning just 30 per cent are parrots, owls, eagles and other free flying species.
Animal agriculture contributes between 15 and 18 per cent of global emissions, but that figure does not take into account the sector's total footprint.
Large scale animal agriculture impacts on ecosystems beyond the sheds where they're raised, as crops like soya beans and corn must be grown to feed them.
Forest is routinely cleared in order to grow these crops, with the felling of trees, which store greenhouse gases, releasing even more emissions into the atmosphere.
Animal effluent is another concern Mr Perroni wants us to be aware of, because if it's not disposed of correctly, it can leach into water systems and cause “dead zones” through nitrification.
“This is a major environmental problem as it can effectively kill off ecosystems in that water,” she said.
“It kills off anything that survives like fish and other creatures.”
Key animal agriculture statistics
Milk and beef cattle are species responsible for 65 per cent of livestock emissions
Fossil fuels account for 20 per cent of the sector’s emissions
Pigs only contribute around nine per cent of emissions, which chickens are slightly less at eight per cent
Methane makes up the largest share of livestock emissions at 44 per cent.
Tip to reduce the impact of your food on the environment
While the livestock industry is working on innovative ways to reduce its impact on the environment, the sector remains relatively harmful when compared to other types of food.
Ms Perroni believes that one simple thing Australians can do to help the environment is to rethink how many animal-based products they need to eat.
She isn’t advocating for everyone to necessarily become vegan or vegetarian, but her call is to instead focus on reduction.
“One simple thing people can do is to just reduce the number of nights a week where they consume meat,” she said.
“So, for example having one or two meat-free nights a week,” she said.
Keen for more easy steps to help save the planet?
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