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June 11, 2018
Industrial beef production is one of the most costly to the environment, a new study shows.JacquelinNix/Istock/Thinkstock
Which food type is more environmentally costly to produce — livestock, farmed seafood, or wild-caught fish?
The answer is, it depends. But in general, industrial beef production and farmed catfish are the most taxing on the environment, while small, wild-caught fish and farmed mollusks like oysters, mussels and scallops have the lowest environmental impact, according to a new analysis.
Growing oysters at a farm in Thailand. jomkwan/Istock/Thinkstock
The study appears online June 11 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, and its authors believe it is the most comprehensive look at the environmental impacts of different types of animal protein production.
“From the consumer’s standpoint, choice matters,” said lead author Ray Hilborn, a University of Washington professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. “If you’re an environmentalist, what you eat makes a difference. We found there are obvious good choices, and really obvious bad choices.”
The study is based on nearly a decade of analysis, in which the co-authors reviewed hundreds of published life-cycle assessments for various types of animal protein production. Also called a “cradle-to-grave” analysis, these assessments look at environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product’s life.
Of the more than 300 such assessments that exist for animal food production, the authors selected 148 that were comprehensive and not considered too “boutique,” or specialized, to inform their new study.
As decisions are made about how food production expands through agricultural policies, trade agreements and environmental regulations, the authors note a “pressing need” for systematic comparisons of environmental costs across animal food types.
“I think this is one of the most important things I’ve ever done,” Hilborn said. “Policymakers need to be able to say, ‘There …