How healthy eating can help mitigate climate change

Published 21 September 2012

A free public lecture in Armidale will explain how thoughtful shopping and healthy eating can help reduce carbon emissions.

“Not over-eating, following a healthy diet, and minimising waste are the most important measures you can take to reduce the climate-change impacts of the food you eat,” according to Professor Annette Cowie.

Professor Cowie, the Director of Rural Climate Solutions – a partnership between the University of New England and the NSW Department of Primary Industries – will present her lecture in the Armidale Town Hall at 6.30 pm on Wednesday 3 October.

“While the transport component of the carbon footprint is fairly small, it still makes sense to eat local produce. It’s also important to avoid long-term storage by eating what’s in season,” she said. “And shopping with reusable bags, not cooking more than can be eaten, sensible use of any leftovers (including those brought home from the restaurant in a ‘doggy bag’), composting, and eating local produce are all simple measures you can take to contribute to the mitigation of climate change.”

Annette Cowie’s lecture, titled “Cutting the carbon footprint of food”, will be her Inaugural Lecture within the wider New England community as a UNE Professor.

She will discuss the work of Rural Climate Solutions aimed at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases in agricultural production.  “This includes projects on reducing methane emissions from livestock, reducing the amount of nitrous oxide released from fertilisers, and increasing the sequestration of carbon in soil and trees,” she said. “Food consumption comprises 20-30 per cent of a household’s carbon footprint. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production is one way in which we can take significant action to help meet the challenge of climate change.”

“The agricultural component of a processed food product accounts for between 30 and 70 per cent of its carbon footprint,” she explained. “But, in unprocessed foods such as steak, it can account for up to 80 per cent. However, including red meat in the diet – in the amounts recommended in health guidelines – shouldn’t be regarded as ‘sinful’. We need to put the role of ruminants in the farming system into perspective: they eat grasses and other plants that we can’t eat, grown on land that’s unsuitable for cropping – and meat represents very high-value protein.”

Professor Cowie is the Australian representative on an ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) Working Group developing an international carbon footprint standard, and a member of the International Biochar Initiative Advisory Committee. She is also the Australian representative on – and co-leader of – the International Energy Agency’s Bioenergy Task on greenhouse gas balances of biomass and bioenergy systems.

Her lecture will be followed by drinks and canapés, and everyone is welcome.