Food contributes almost one-third of Europe's total global warming potential (GWP), with meat and meat products having the highest environmental impact, according to a new study from the European Commission (EC).
If these findings are upheld, they could result in the introduction of new legislation to curb the environmental impact of meat and meat products - including that arising from processing.
The EC's draft report - Environmental impact of products: Analysis of the life cycle environmental impacts related to the total final consumption of EU25 - identifies the major influence that food and beverages have on energy use and GWP.
While food, beverages and narcotics were found to account for 31% of GWP of consumer products across the European Union, according to Tara Garnett, co-ordinator for the UK's Food Climate Research Network "narcotics don't account for much of this ... meat and dairy products do"
The analysis covers 'cradle-to-grave' life-cycle chains related to the products involved for goods consumed within Europe - but not exports.
"The estimated contribution of meat and meat products - including meat, poultry, sausage and similar to GWP, ranges from 4 to 12% of all products or 19 to 38% of the food category. The second important group of products is dairy," reported Garnett.
"There have been lots of studies which have indeed made the case for meat being very environmentally damaging in lots of ways - including its contribution to climate change," she added. "But it is a very complex issue and I am trying to untangle some of those issues."
Garnet continued: "There are all sorts of market mechanisms, so I don't think it's a question of killing off the beef industry. It's a question of adopting different approaches which can be less damaging and ensuring that we pay a proper price which reflects the [environmental cost]."
The EC is seeking comments on the draft by June 19 and these will feed in to a stakeholder meeting scheduled for July 13 in Brussels. Those interested in taking part in this meeting have until June 6 to contact DG Environment firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_self">email@example.com.