The Carbon Footprints Of Different Foods

Below, we’ve outlined the potential carbon footprints different foods, edible crops, and also beverages/drinks.

This guide might be complementary to a separate guide we put together on the carbon footprint of everyday products and things.


Summary – Carbon Footprint Of Foods, Crops & Drinks/Beverages

Carbon Footprint Of Different Foods

We go into the specifics of which foods have the highest and lowest carbon footprints according to individual/different indicators in the guide below

However, some of the general results from the data might be:

– Animal meats tend to have the biggest carbon footprint, and plant based foods the smallest


– Amongst animal meats, beef has one of the largest carbon footprints, along with lamb

Fish meat and poultry (like chicken) can have some of the smallest 

Additionally, when looking at the total weight of meat produced compared to the % of all livestock emissions that each meat contributes to in some countries, beef might have one of the worst ratios of all meats (low total weight to high % of total emissions). This might change on a country by country basis though.


– Other animal based food products like dairy can vary in their carbon footprint

Foods like cheese and butter can have larger footprints, whilst some yogurts and milks may have lower footprints


– Although plant based foods tend to have smaller carbon footprints than other foods, there can be some exceptions

We go into those exceptions in the guide below


– In terms of types of diets, meat heavy diets might have larger carbon footprints, and vegan and vegetarian diets lower footprints


Other Variables & Relevant Points About The Carbon Footprint Of Different Foods

We identify and discuss a range of variables and relevant points about the carbon footprint of different foods in the guide below

Some examples of these variables and points include but aren’t limited to:

– How the measurement of carbon emissions used can impact the footprint for each food

We use measurements like per unit of weight, per serving, per calorie, per unit of protein, and others

However, per dollar of economic value produced, and per unit of other nutrients are others we haven’t been used, but could be used

Consider too that not all proteins or fats are the same. For example, there’s full proteins and partial proteins. And, there’s omega fats, and other types of fats.

So, nutrition needs accurate comparisons in this regard.


– How the farming or production methods plays a role in the carbon footprint


– How there can be various challenges to consider with growing or eating some plant based foods for some agricultural producers and people


– How indirect emissions may add to the carbon footprint of food 


What % Food Makes Up Of An Individual’s Total Carbon Footprint

Some estimates say food makes up between 17% to 20% of an individual’s total carbon footprint.

But, indirect emissions could push that number higher


Most Sustainable Foods, & Most Sustainable Meats

The information in the guide below may also be complementary to our guides on what the most sustainable animal meats might be, and what the most sustainable overall foods and diets might be.

The carbon footprint is only one measurement of sustainability – some vegetables and fruits for example are very water hungry, or have other environmental side effects (such as contributing to pollution in some way, or contributing to resource depletion).


Carbon Footprint Of Foods – Per Unit Of Weight Produced

Per unit of weight produced (i.e. kilo of food produced):

Meats generally have the highest carbon footprint, and plant based foods the least

Lamb and beef specifically have the highest carbon footprints of all meats, with tuna, chicken and turkey having the least

Lamb and beef specifically have the highest carbon footprints of all foods, with lentils and fruit having the least

Plant based foods generally have lower carbon footprints, with asparagus being a potential exception to this

Dairy products like cheese and butter may have higher carbon footprints than other dairy products like milk or yogurt


Carbon Footprint Per KG Of Food

From (with figures by the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eater’s Guide and the EPA’s Guide to Passenger Vehicle Emissions):

The following numbers show the greenhouse gas emissions produced by one kilo of each food:

Lamb – 39.2 CO2 Kilos Equivalent (91 car miles equivalent)

Beef – 27 C02e

[Followed by Cheese at 13.5 C02e, Pork at 12.1 C02e, Farmed Salmon at 11.9C02e, Turkey at 10.9 C02e, Chicken at 6.9 C02e, Tuna at 6.1 C02e, Eggs at 4.8 C02e, Potatoes at 2.9 C02e, Rice at 2.7 C02e, Peanut Butter at 2.5 C02e, Nuts at 2.3 C02e, Yogurt at 2.2 C02e, Broccoli at 2 C02e, Beans/Tofu at 2 C02e, Vegetables at 2 C02e, Milk at 1.9 C02e, Fruit at 1.1 C02e, and Lentils at 0.9 C02e (2 car miles equivalent)]

[In the report used and cited, they explain the production Life Cycle Analysis for each food type]

[The numbers above include all the emissions produced on the farm, in the factory, on the road, in the shop and in your home.]



The kg of CO2e emitted per kilo of food produced for different foods are:

Beef – 26.5 (kg of C02e emitted per kilo produced)

Lamb – 22.9

[Followed by Butter at 11.9, Shellfish at 11.7, Cheese at 9.8, Asparagus at 8.9, Pork at 7.9, Veal at 7.8, Chicken at 5.1, and Turkey at 5.1]


Carbon Footprint Of Foods – Per Serving

Per serving:

Meat and dairy generally has the highest emissions list, whilst plant based foods are found towards the bottom of the list

Beef has the highest individual emissions (higher than pork and poultry amongst meats), with potatoes having the least, followed by carrots, legumes, and rice (in that order)

Cheese interestingly has a higher carbon footprint than pork and poultry 



The following foods produce the following amounts of pounds of CO2 per serving:

Beef – 6.61 (lbs of CO2 per serving)

Cheese – 2.45

Pork – 1.72

Poultry – 1.26

Eggs – 0.89

Milk – 0.72

Rice – 0.16

Legumes – 0.11

Carrots – 0.07

Potatoes – 0.03


Carbon Footprints Of Foods – Per Calorie

Per calorie, meats may have a larger carbon footprint than plant based foods due to inefficient energy conversion


Meat products have larger carbon footprints per calorie than grain or vegetable products because of the inefficient transformation of plant energy to animal energy (


Carbon Footprints Of Foods – Per Unit Of Protein 

When measuring by units of protein produced:

Beef has the highest carbon footprint per kg of protein produced when comparing most meats, with chicken having the lowest, followed closely by pork. Factory farming of chickens and pigs may contribute to this.

Per gram of protein produced, ruminants like cattle, sheep and goats might be the top emitters for meat, compared to fisheries, aquaculture, pork, and poultry. Plant based foods may be the lowest emitters


Carbon Footprint Per KG Of Protein

According to

… the greenhouse gases associated with the production of a kilo of protein by different animals:

Up to 1,000kg for cattle/beef

24kg for pork

3.7kg for chicken

… The more efficient ratios for chicken and pigs come about because they are kept in factory farms.


Carbon Footprint Per Gram Of Protein


[One set of data puts GHG emissions per gram of protein produced for different meats (from most to least) at – ruminant meat (62 CO2e), recirculating aquaculture (30), trawling fishery (26), non recirculating aquaculture (12), pork (10), poultry (10), non trawling fishery (8.6).]

[Eggs, starchy roots, wheat, maize, and legumes all rate low on the list.]


Carbon Footprint Of Different Food Diet Types

There are different types of diets to consider, such as those high in meat, those high specifically in fish, vegetarian, vegan, and so on

High meat based diets might have the largest carbon footprint

Vegan diets might have the smallest carbon footprint, followed by vegetarian with the second smallest, and then fish based diets with the third smallest


CO2e Per Day Of Different Diet Types


Average dietary greenhouse-gas emissions per day in 2014 (in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent) [for different types of diets] were:

7.19 for high meat-eaters

5.63 for medium meat-eaters

4.67 for low meat-eaters

3.91 for fish-eaters

3.81 for vegetarians

2.89 for vegans


Carbon Footprint Of Meat – Per Unit Of Weight Produced

Lamb might have the largest carbon footprint on a per unit of weight basis, followed closely by beef

Tuna might have the lowest carbon footprint, and chicken the second lowest 


All Meats

From (with figures by the Environmental Working Group’s Meat Eater’s Guide and the EPA’s Guide to Passenger Vehicle Emissions):

[The CO2 per kilogram of different meats is (including all the emissions produced on the farm, in the factory, on the road, in the shop and in your home)]

Lamb – 39.2 (CO2 per one kilogram)

Beef – 27.0

[Followed by Pork at 12.1, Farmed Salmon at 11.9, Turkey at 10.9, Chicken at 6.9, and Tuna at 6.1]


Lamb & Beef Specifically

A close second to lamb, beef production releases the equivalent of driving about 6 ½ miles in your car for every four oz. consumed ( indicates that ‘Farming cattle releases five times more greenhouse gases and uses six times as much nitrogen as the average of other animal products’


Read more about the carbon footprint and sustainability footprint of beef in this guide.


Red Meat Specifically

If you’re eating 444 calories a day of red meat (the equivalent of about one 8-ounce steak sirloin), your annual meat-related carbon footprint is 0.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide (


Carbon Footprint Of Meat – % Of Total Greenhouse Gases vs Total Weight Of Meat Produced

The rearing of cattle as livestock may produce a far higher % of total greenhouse gases compared to the amount of beef produced (in tonnes), compared how much pork and poultry are produced from farming pigs and chickens and the associated greenhouse gases emitted as a % of total emissions.


According to

Cattle account for 77% of the greenhouse gases produced by livestock for 59m tonnes of beef each year.

Pork and poultry produce 10% of the greenhouse gases, but 215m tonnes of meat.


Carbon Footprint Of Plant Based Foods

Plant Based Foods vs Animal Based Foods

From the data above, the trend is that plant based foods generally produce less emissions than animal meats and animal based foods, on a per unit of weight basis.


Exceptions Where Plant Based Food May Have Higher Emissions

Plant based foods may have higher emissions in the following circumstances:

– When specific units of measurement are used, such as measuring per gram of protein or fat produced


– Plant based foods grown in dry or hotter climates, or locations where extensive irrigation is required

More energy is required to supply water to these crops and foods in this instance


– Plant based foods grown in greenhouses using fossil fuels for lighting and other electricity requirements 


– Plant based foods like some varieties of rice that are grown in anaerobic or waterlogged conditions that produce emissions 

Interestingly, various sources say that rice cultivation is a major methane emitter in China (which may be due to various factors such as conditions, but also the sheer quantity of rice cultivated)


– As outlined by, how food is grown at an individual farm or ranch level matters for emissions, so, these variables are important


Separating The Carbon Footprint Of Tofu & Beef When It Comes To Soy Production

There should be a distinction made between plant based crops grown for livestock feed, and plant based food crops that get used for direct human consumption.

When we do this for soy production (and soybeans), beef, and tofu, we see that majority of soy goes to livestock, and beef has a much larger carbon footprint than tofu. Cattle obviously are part of the livestock that eat soy based feed.



Around 70% of the global soy production is fed directly to livestock [as opposed to going to tofu].

Beef [has] 105kg of Co2e per 100g, while tofu produces less than 3.5kg.


The Role Of Fertiliser In The Carbon Footprint Of Some Types Of Bread

It can also be important to know where emissions come from for some types of plant based foods.

This applies to the different types of bread.

For a loaf of bread for example, a large amount of emissions may come from the fertilizer used to grow wheat used in white bread, whereas oats and barley used in other types of bread may have smaller carbon footprints



Most of the emissions from staples such as bread come from the fertiliser used to grow wheat [about 43% according to some estimates]

Cereals used in bread, such as oats and barley, have smaller carbon footprints than typical wheat used in white loaves, as well as rye.


Carbon Footprint Of A Cheeseburger

[A Large cheeseburger has a carbon footprint of 2.5kg CO2e] (


Carbon Footprint Of Cheese 

Making a 1 kg hard cheese generates 12 kg of CO2 (the same amount of CO2 as a car travelling for 6 km) (


However, different types of cheese may have different carbon footprints.


Carbon Footprint Of Milk

If you consume a litre of milk a day, that’s 527 kg of carbon emissions per year (


However, this may be specifically for regular milk (white, whole milk).

There’s different types of milk to consider, such as white milk vs skim milk, dairy milk vs almond milk, and so on.

Different types of milk may have different carbon footprints.


Carbon Footprint Of Chocolate

Different types of chocolate may have different carbon footprints.


The average 40-gram bar of milk chocolate will carry with it a carbon footprint of around 200 grams (or upwards of 5 kilograms per kilogram of chocolate) [and this increases for dark chocolate]


Adding the sourcing of cocoa beans and land use changes to the lifecycle assessment can increase the carbon footprint substantially


Read more about the carbon footprint and sustainability footprint of chocolate in this guide.


Carbon Footprint Of Butter & Margarine

Read more about the carbon footprint and sustainability footprint of butter and margarine in this guide.


Carbon Footprint Of Carrots

[One 1kg of carrots generates about 1kg of CO2] (


Carbon Footprint Of Organic Food

Organic farming of organic foods may result in less energy use, but there may be several negative tradeoffs to consider.



Organic systems require 25% to 110% more land use, use 15% less energy, and have 37% higher eutrophication potential than conventional systems per unit of food.


Potential Issues With Plant Based Diets & Foods

Although plant based foods may generally have a lower carbon footprint, there may be several issues with the practicality of plant based foods to consider.

We outline several of those potential issues below …


Plant Based Agriculture May Not Be Practical Everywhere

Plant based agriculture can have a number of challenges in different locations, and can even be less sustainable in some instances.

For example:

– Plant based agriculture may not be practical or effective in dry or hot climates (due to growing conditions)

– Plant based agriculture may be less sustainable in dry and hot climates

– Some crops may not grow on certain types of land, or in certain types of soil (due to issues like the soil not being fertile enough, or, it just not being compatible soil with what’s being grown)



The best diet depends on the farming method and the conditions, land, climate and other local factors for agricultural production.

It’s a case by case basis for sustainability – not a one size fits all approach.

[This same applies to the practicality and profitability of farming and agriculture – it’s a case by case basis in each geographic location, and in different markets and economies]


Plant Based Diets May Not Be Healthy For Everyone

Plant based diets may not be healthy for various reasons, such as different individuals having different dietary requirements, or different health condition considerations (like intolerances).


Plant Based Diets May Not Be Practical In Other Ways

Additionally, if we take fruits and vegetables as an example of perishable food items, they may not be suitable for people who need food that lasts longer.

Cost can even be an issue for some people who need more affordable food.


Different Production Processes Might Result In Different Carbon Footprints For The Same Food Product

The carbon footprint for the same type of agricultural product can vary, depending on how and where the food is grown or produced.

For example, the carbon footprint of cattle reared in one country using one predominant method of farming, might different to the carbon footprint of cattle reared in another country using another predominant methods of farming.


Different Factors & Variables

Examples of the different factors and variables that might contribute to different carbon footprints for the same agricultural product might be:

– The farming/production methods and processes used

Factory farmed vs traditional pastoralism for example

Factory farms may lead to more efficient and lower carbon footprints compared to animals raised on pastures. But, a tradeoff may be the rights and welfare of the animals. So, different production and farming methods have different tradeoffs


– Feed conversion efficiency

How much feed it takes to produce X amount of meat


-How long an animal spends on a farm or ranch

How many months


– The farming conditions

Climate, soil, water available, etc.


– Efficiency and productivity

Yield, how the land is being used, etc.


– The climate

Whether it’s more dry and hot, or wet and cold


– The types of inputs and resources used

Fertilizer, pesticides, feed, and other agricultural inputs and chemicals used


+ other variables


An Example

Below is an example of emissions from cattle farmed using traditional pastoralism vs cattle farmed on dry rangelands …



[For cattle] traditional pastoralism [can produce higher emissions due to the low quality, and inefficiency of feed]

Cattle on dry rangelands produce 100 times as much greenhouse gases as cattle in America or Europe for the same amount of protein.


What % Food Might Make Up Of An Individual’s Total Carbon Footprint

Some estimates say food makes up between 17% to 20% of an individual’s total carbon footprint.

However, the % could be even higher if deforestation from agriculture is taken into account.

Read more about the different aspect of an individual’s carbon footprint in this guide.


… the food we buy can add up to 20% of our carbon footprint … And this is just at first glance, because if we count up the related damage of deforestation from big agriculture, this brings the impact up to 30% (


In the US, each household produces 48 tons of greenhouse gases [and] Food produces about 8 tons of emissions per household, or about 17% of the total (


Potential Indirect Emissions From Food & Beverages

What may also not be included in the initial carbon footprint of food is the associated indirect emissions.

Indirect emissions might include things like food packaging, landfill emissions (from decomposing organic material), emissions from food stores (for lighting, cooling/refrigeration, and so on), and so on.

So, the footprint could be higher when adding together all direct and indirect emissions.


How Might An Individual Decrease Their Food Carbon Footprint?

Obviously an individual should see a qualified health professional before making changes to their diet.

So, this is not professional advice, or a substitute for professional advice.

Individuals should make sure they are eating a safe, healthy and nutritionally adequate diet.


But, based on the data above, a few things that may decrease an individual’s food diet carbon footprint might be:

– Reducing the intake of animal meats, especially beef and lamb

– Substituting a certain % of beef, lamb and pork with chicken and/or tuna

– Reducing the intake of other animal products, like dairy products, especially cheese

– Substituting a certain % of animal meats and products with plant based foods

– Considering a plant based diet in general (vegan or vegetarian), as opposed to a meat or seafood based diet 

– Replacing processed beverages with water

– Reducing or eliminating food waste


Case Study On Lowering Food Environmental Footprint Through Diet

The report listed in the sources list (at the bottom this guide) has a case study on lowering the environmental footprint in one person’s diet

Our paraphrased summary of that report is: 

The writer notes that 85 percent of the GHG emissions and 90 percent of the agricultural land use associated with the average American diet come from animal meat and dairy, and about half of the emissions and land use are from beef alone.

The land required for this food and the greenhouse gas emissions produced (for an average American diet) is nearly twice as high as the world average.

Shifting from beef to chicken, and cutting meat, dairy, fish and egg consumption by half – will decrease your environmental impact of your diet by 15%, and almost 50% respectively.

The author doesn’t mention though factors like how much food each person consumes in total, food waste, and so on.


Additional Information To Consider


Meat, Dairy Products, & Poultry, Fish, Seafood and Eggs are all responsible for a large majority of the greenhouse gases [in the average diet]

Vegetables, fruits, grain products, sugars, sweeteners, oil, fats, and other food groups make up less than 20% of the average food consumption greenhouse gases


Potential Limitations In Relying Of Carbon Footprints Of Food

Carbon footprints might be taken as a general tool only, and not anything definitive, or anything to solely rely on.

Some of the key reasons for this might be:

– We’ve already outlined that some individual plant based foods are higher in emissions, and the individual processes and factors that go into agriculture and food production impact emissions.


– There’s also the nutrition in each food to consider – both in terms of emissions per nutrition unit, and nutrition for the individual eating the food.

Not all nutritional units are equal too – some have full proteins and some have partial proteins – this needs to be taken into account.


– Also consider that carbon is only on measure of sustainability – there’s many more.


– Additionally, food has economic and social considerations, and not just environmental considerations





























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