Food and climate – how are they connected?
Was this how you thought things were or was there something that surprised you? The ways in which the different foods affect the climate are listed below the graph.
Beef is the meat with the greatest climate impact. Cows are ruminants and emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas when they digest their feed. When fodder is grown, greenhouse gases are released from the soil, and burning fossil fuels in tractors and transport vehicles adds to the carbon dioxide load. Emissions of greenhouse gases also occur when manure is stored and spread over fields. However, cattle grazing on natural pastures [RV1] contribute to increased biological diversity because they keep meadows and paddocks open. This helps the species that live there and that depend on the everchanging landscape that these natural pastures constitute. Here’s how to choose the right beef to buy: look for the Svenskt Sigill Naturbeteskött (Swedish Seal) or KRAV labels.
The North Sea shrimp lives on soft sediment bottoms at a depth of 50–500 metres. All North Sea shrimps begin their lives as males. When they reach a certain size, they change sex and become females. Shrimps mate in the autumn and the female carries the fertilized eggs, the roe, between her legs all winter. Shrimp often have a high climate impact because trawling the seabed requires a lot of fuel. In itself trawling is a fuel-intensive fishing method that is heavy on fuel. By avoiding fishing on depleted stocks and in shrimp-poor waters, you can reduce the number of fishing trips and the length of each trip. MSC or KRAV certified North Sea shrimp are the best choices.
Cheese has a smaller climate impact than beef and lamb because dairy animals produce milk throughout their lifetimes and are not raised purely for slaughter. However, the climate impact of cheese is greater than that of eggs, chickens, and pigs for the same reason as it is for beef: most dairy animals are ruminants and as we know this gives rise to a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. Locally sourced and organic cheeses are always the best choices.
Pig is one of the types of meat we eat the most in Sweden. Its climate impact is lower than that of beef and lamb but higher than that of chicken. The biggest greenhouse gas emissions from pig production are caused by the release of nitrous oxide from the soil when fodder for the animals is cultivated, and through the extensive use of fossil fuels in tractors and other machinery. Emissions of greenhouse gases also occur during storage and when spreading manure.
Salmon mainly eat crustaceans, insects, and other fish. Salmon are migratory fish that spawn in fresh water but that live and mature in the sea. Due to the expansion of hydropower, the natural conditions required for salmon reproduction have been lost in almost all of Sweden’s rivers. Today, viable stocks exist only in a few of the original salmon rivers around the Baltic coast. Practically all salmon sold in Sweden is farmed in Norway. The climate impact of salmon lies somewhere between chicken and pig, but this largely depends on what the fish are given to eat. As with many animals farmed for their flesh, salmon can eat soy, and this may be problematic because high demand for soy feed increases the demand for new agricultural land, which in turn can lead to deforestation. ASC or KRAV certified salmon are the best choices.
Poultry production generates low emissions of greenhouse gases per kilogram of meat, if emissions caused by growing soy for feed are excluded. Soy is mainly grown in South America, where the use of pesticides is prevalent. High demand for soy as animal feed increases the demand for new agricultural land, which can lead to deforestation.
Compared to other cereals rice is a resource-demanding crop. Its climate impact is unusually high for a grain. This is because methane is released from the soil as the rice matures in water-covered paddies. In addition, rice may be irrigated intensively, which may have a significant impact on water resources in surrounding areas.
Eggs are a climate-smart way of obtaining nutrients and protein. Hens are raised free-range or in cages and are fed grain and soy. Greenhouse gas emissions come primarily from fodder cultivation, where nitrous oxide is formed in the soil, and the use of fossil fuels in e.g., tractors with attendant carbon dioxide emissions. Greenhouse gases are also emitted during storage and the spreading of manure in the fields and from energy use in stables.
The pasta we eat in Sweden is usually made from wheat, especially durum wheat. Wheat and durum wheat, like most other grains, are climate-smart crops that do not require a lot of land to cultivate. Organic pasta is grown without chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Swedish pasta can also have a slightly lower climate impact than imported pasta.
Beans and lentils
Both canned and dried lentils and other legumes that you prepare at home have a very low climate impact and are resource-smart! It is best to cook legumes at home because the climate impact from preservation and transport is about four times higher compared to home preparation. The roots of legumes capture nitrogen found in the air and soil and convert it into nutrients – for this reason legumes need less fertilizer than many other crops.
Potatoes and root vegetables
Just like other root vegetables, potatoes have a low climate impact, and their cultivation does not require much land. However, potatoes are sprayed a lot – even in Sweden, even though the legislation around pesticides is stricter in Sweden than in other countries. So even if potatoes and root vegetables are extremely climate-smart, it is wise to choose eco.