Shoppers slash emissions by grabbing greener groceries

Climate-conscious consumers can help slash greenhouse gas emissions by 70 per cent through choosing more environmentally friendly groceries, according to an Australian study.

Analysts calculated the projected emissions of more than 22,000 items bought by 7000 Australian households, in what the George Institute for Global Health described as “the most detailed analysis of the environmental impacts of Australia’s food purchasing patterns”.

Researchers found choosing a pumpkin soup over a bacon and steak-flavoured one was better for the environment, while swapping out a frozen meat lasagne for the vegetarian option could also curb emissions.

Switching higher-emission products for ‘very similar’ lower-emission products could reduce emissions by 26 per cent, while choosing ‘less similar’ lower-emission products could lead to a 71 per cent reduction, the paper said.

The study found around 31 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions were the result of products consumed at home in 2019, with meat and meat products contributing to almost half of that.

Lead author and epidemiologist Allison Gaines, who led the analysis over four years, said simple consumer changes can make a big difference.

“Food and beverage consumption patterns, particularly in higher-income countries like Australia, need to change significantly if we are to meet global emissions targets,” Dr Gaines said.

“Ingredients are really the core of what’s contributing to greenhouse gas emissions in the food and agriculture sector.”

But Dr Gaines said the research was limited by the information available across the products analysed.

“Brands are different, they give different information, there’s only a certain level of information that’s required,” she said.

The research also informed an app called ecoSwitch that consumers can use to choose packaged food with a lower environmental impact.

“People can, at the point of sale, find out comparative information about the greenhouse gas emissions of different food products,” said the institute’s program director of food policy Simone Pettigrew.

Australia is taking too long to improve the sustainability of the food system, endangering the prospect of the country reaching its target of net-zero emissions by 2050, according to Professor Pettigrew.

“The app empowers consumers to make better choices, but the data underlying the app will enable more speedy, more effective choices by government and industry as well,” she said.

The app allows shoppers to scan a product barcode to check its “planetary health” with a star rating based on its measure of emissions.

The institute also wants front-of-pack information that provides a summary of the food’s sustainability.

“The rating must be science-based, unbiased, and endorsed by reputable entities (e.g. government, independent research institutes) and must be displayed prominently on all their products to be effective,” it said.

The institute plans to add other environmental indicators to the ecoSwitch app such as land and water use, and biodiversity, and to introduce the tool to other countries.

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


Liv Casben
(Australian Associated Press)


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