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A blueprint to slash farming's staggering environmental toll

Cattle feedlot in Kansas.
Cattle feedlot in Kansas. Credit: Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Producing food for the world's 7.6 billion people creates about 13.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions per year, plus other major environmental effects. A new study published in Science attempts to take stock of the global food system's environmental footprint, and proposes how to reduce it.

Between the lines: The study makes the point that greater gains can be made by altering human dietary habits than by changing food production practices. If people were to switch to plant-based diets, we would reduce food's emissions by up to 70% and slash the amount of land devoted to agricultural use by about three-quarters.

"This says something new — it will always be better to consume vegetable proteins/milks, rather than trying to purchase sustainable animal products"
— study co-author Joseph Poore of the University of Oxford