Environmental Impact by Food Type (Calories)

Impact of various food products on land use, water use, and GHG emissions by calories consumed

  • Source: WRI

The Environmental Impact by Food Type (Calories) data set, produced by World Resources Institute in its 2018 World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future, illustrates the variations in impact of various food products on land use, freshwater use, and greenhouse gas emissions per million kilocalories consumed. Land use is separated into cropland use and pasture land use. Freshwater use is specified as either from rainwater or irrigation. Greenhouse gas emissions are categorized as occurring during land-use change (e.g., converting forested land to pasture or cropland) or during agricultural production. The impact is measured by the hectares used, thousand cubic meters of freshwater used, or tons of carbon dioxide equivalent produced per million of kilocalories consumed. Both plant-based and animal-based food products are examined in this data set. The plant-based products examined are sugar, rice, rapeseed and mustard seed oil, palm oil, maize, roots and tubers, wheat, soybean oil, fruits and vegetables, sunflower seed oil, and pulses; the animal-based products are pork, eggs, fish (farmed, includes all aquatic animal products), poultry, dairy, beef, and sheep and goat meat. The data set clearly illustrates that animal products overwhelmingly use more land and water, and produce greater quantities of greenhouse gas emissions, than plant-based products. The data used in this data set are global means for land use, water use, and GHG emissions and were derived from the GlobAgri-WRR model (land use and greenhouse gas emissions), authors’ calculations from Mekonnen and Hoekstra (2011, 2012) (freshwater consumption), and Waite et al. (2014) (farmed fish freshwater consumption). Freshwater use for farmed fish products is shown as rainwater and irrigation combined. Land use and greenhouse gas emissions estimates are based on a marginal analysis (i.e., additional agricultural land use and emissions per additional million calories or ton of protein consumed). Based on the approach taken by the European Union for estimating emissions from land-use change for biofuels, land-use change impacts are amortized over a period of 20 years and then shown as annual impacts. Land use and greenhouse gas emissions estimates for beef production are based on dedicated beef production, not beef that is a coproduct of dairy. Tons of harvested products were converted to quantities of calories and protein using the global average edible calorie and protein contents of food types as reported in the Food and Agriculture Organization's FAOSTAT (2017). Resource Watch shows only a subset of the data set. For access to the full data set and additional information, see the Learn More link.

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Environmental Impact by Food Type (Calories)


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Suggested citation

Searchinger, T. et al. 2018. World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A Menu of Solutions to Feed Nearly 10 Billion People by 2050. Synthesis Report. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Accessible at http://www.worldresourcesreport.org. Accessed through Resource Watch, (date). www.resourcewatch.org.


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