Mediterranean Diet and greenhouse gas emissions

Mediterranean Diet can improve public health also contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (greenhouse gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide and similar) related to the production of foods, especially meat (the 4/5 emission related to agriculture resulting from the livestock sector).
Population is growing, will exceed 7 billion by 2012 and according to forecasts will reach 9 billion by 2046. This growth is also accompanied by increased meat consumption per capita: it is estimated that population growth by 2030 will cause an increase in meat production by 85% compared to 2000, mainly by the growing demand from countries with transition economies. From the environmental point of view this is an extremely dangerous phenomenon because greenhouse gas emissions from livestock sector exceeds that due to transport (18% versus 14% of total) and is second only to energy production (21% of total).

Greenhouse gas emissions and cattle farming

Analyzing in detail the greenhouse gas emission from cattle farming (the main culprit of the emissions in the livestock sector):

  • about 40% comes from the loss of annual plants, grasses and trees that covered the land where the crop is grown (much of CO2 derives from deforestation);
  • 32% from the methane emissions of animal waste, and by the animals themselves as a result of digestion;
  • 14% for fertilizers to grow feed grain (used 16 pounds of grain fodder for every kilogram of meat consumed);
  • the remaining 14% from agricultural production generally.

By comparing greenhouse gas emissions from the production of various foods (it is considered portions of 225 g) with those from a gasoline car with an efficiency of 1 liter per 12 kilometers numbers speak for themselves:

  • potatoes = 0.17 miles – 300 meters or 59 grams of CO2 equivalent
  • apples = 0.2 miles – 320 meters 68 grams of CO2 equivalent
  • asparagus = 0.27 miles – 440 meters 91 grams of CO2 equivalent
  • chicken = 0.73 miles – 1.17 kilometers 249 g of CO2 equivalent
  • pig = 2.52 miles – 4.1 kilometers 862 grams of CO2 equivalent
  • beef = 9.81 miles – 15.8 kilometers 3.36 kg of CO2 equivalent

So eating 225 grams of beef we are jointly responsible for releasing to the atmosphere of an amount of greenhouse gases almost 13 times greater than that released if consumed an equal amount of chicken and even 57 times greater if we consider potatoes.
As another example, to produce 41 pounds of beef annually consumed by the average American it generates the same amount of greenhouse gas of a car traveling 3000 kilometers.


Mediterranean Diet is characterized by the prevailing consumption of foods of plant origin such as vegetables, legumes, cereals and extravirgin olive oil while it reduced meat consumption, especially red. From the above it is evident the less greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impact, and the consequent public health benefits linked to it, of Mediterranean Diet than other diets where meat consumption, especially red, is considerably greater.

And then the individual person should carefully examine his diet not only for its direct consequences on himself but also for the planet and then back on itself.


Fiala N. Hamburger a effetto serra. Le scienze. Dicember 2009

Friel S., Dangour A.D., Garnett T., Lock K., Chalabi Z., Roberts I., Butler A., Butler C.D., Waage J., McMichael A.J. and Haines A. Public health benefits of strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: food and agriculture. Lancet 2009;374:2016-25. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)61753-0

Sachs J.D. Non superare i limiti del pianeta. Le scienze Aprile 2009

Seattle Food System Enhancement Project. Greenhouse Gas Emission Study

Subak S. Global environmental costs of beef production. Ecol. Econom. 1999;30:79-91. doi:10.1016/S0921-8009(98)00100-1

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Transportation Energy Data Book. U.S. Department of Energy, 2008

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