The argument between which is healthier – butter or margarine has raged on for ages. Finally, we have a scientific verdict. After researchers said that butter was responsible for a whole host of medical problems, the butter industry financed a huge report which claimed that butter was healthy and indeed, very good for you. They even scored a TIME magazine front page. But things have taken a very significant turn with this new report.
Experts analysed the carbon footprint of 21 butters and 212 non-dairy spreads, furthermore they found that dairy products had greater climate, land and water impacts. The problem was cattle who are responsible for the most significant proportion of emissions. Cows release methane, a gas that is 80 percent more portent than carbon monoxide.
Butter has been found to produce three-and-a-half times more carbon dioxide than plant-based spreads like margarine — and burping and farting cows are to blame.
Experts analysed the carbon footprints of 212 plant-based margarines and spreads sold across European and North America in comparison to 21 dairy butter products.
The researchers found that, on average, the margarines resulted in the emission of 3.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent for every kilogram produced.
In contrast, dairy butter was responsible for an average of 12.1 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent for every kilogram produced.
The production of milk — the key ingredient in butter — was responsible for the majority of these emissions, with 40 percent of this coming from cows.
In fact, just one 250 gram pack of butter equates to 1 kilogram of emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent from cows alone — before that from packaging, etc.
Methane — the gas emitted by cows — is around 80 percent more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and accounts for 25 percent of global warming.
In their study, sustainability expert Xun Liao of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and colleagues assessed margarine products made by Upfield — the Dutch firm behind such brands as Stork, Flora and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!
The researchers found that the spreads produced between 0.98–9.63 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent for every kilogram produced — in contrast to the 8.08 to 16.93 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent for the 21 dairy butter products.
The findings suggest that the majority of margarine and plant-based products have a lower climate impact than their butter counterparts — in contrast to assumptions about the environmental benefits of using locally-sourced produce.
The most significant emissions contributions from the dairy spreads resulted from cattle feed production and livestock rearing — including from cow burps and wind as well as manure management.
However, the team also found that eight percent of the emissions from plant-based spreads came from their packaging, compared to only one percent for butter, which is often wrapped in paper or foil rather than a plastic tub.
The so-called life cycle assessment of the products — the largest of its type to date — also concluded that margarines and plant-based spreads have lower impacts than butter in terms of climate, water and land.
The analysis considered the full life cycle of each of the products — from such production to transport, packaging, refrigeration and waste or recycling.
Assessments like these form part of the growing scrutiny of the environmental impacts of the foods we eat — especially meat and dairy — and increasing consumer uptake of plant-based foods.
‘In order to achieve emissions targets designed to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2050, there needs to be a fundamental transformation of our food system,’ said Upfield’s head of sustainability, Sally Smith.
‘In Western countries especially, we currently rely too heavily on meat and dairy. A shift to regenerative agricultural practices will be key for both arable and dairy farmers,’ she added.
‘Robust life cycle assessments help ensure that our approach is data-driven and grounded on the latest scientific evidence.’
The report come in the wake of a separate study by sustainability researcher Hannah Ritchie of the University of Oxford, who argued that the ‘eating local’ mantra was a ‘misguided piece of advice’ when discussing climate change.
Her study found that transport emissions are often a very small percentage of food’s total carbon footprint — at around 6 percent for EU products, for example.
Original Source: https://www.animalagricultureclimatechange.org/