Eating oysters and sardines is better for the environment than most land-based food

A new study examines the overall environmental effects of eating different kinds of foods, comparing the energy required, greenhouse-gas emissions produced, release of nutrients harming water quality, and compounds causing acidification; and also looking at freshwater demands, and the use of pesticides and antibiotics. The review examined 148 life cycle analysis documents that cover the complete impacts of each food production source from start to finish. Overall, the food production with the lowest impact is fisheries on small schooling species like sardines and anchovies, and the aquaculture of mollusks such as oysters and clams, which feed naturally in the ocean and can be caught using little fuel. The highest impact on the environment came from the production of beef and the culture of catfish, which require substantial fertilizer, fuel and water use. One surprising finding is that a selective diet of oysters and sardines can even have a lower environmental impact than previous studies have found for vegetarian or vegan diets. The research by SAFS professor Ray Hilborn, SAFS researcher Jeannette Banobi, former SAFS PhD student Timothy Walsworth, and their coauthors, appears in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment and is highlighted in UW News.

The environmental effects of different kinds of food production: (a) energy required in mega-joules (MJ), (b) greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalents), (c) polluting nutrients including phosphate (PO4), and (d) acidifying agents such as sulfur dioxide (SO2).
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