Sustainable Food Purchasing: Meat, Dairy and Eggs

The United Nations has estimated that 30 percent of the Earth’s productive land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production. While farmers are good stewards of their local environment and the natural resources that sustain their crops and animals, livestock production globally is, according to the UN and EPA, a major contributor to global warming, deforestation, and water pollution. A growing number of restaurants are looking at the environmental footprint of the foods they serve and are looking for ways to reduce that environmental impact.

Here are some general rules of thumb1 on steps you can take to reduce the environmental impacts of proteins served in your facility:

  1. Serve meals that are lower on the food chain. Some recent studies have suggested that shifting food consumption from red meat to chicken, fish, eggs, or a vegetable-based diet can achieve significant greenhouse gas reductions. As a dining manager or chef, you can do this by adding more vegetarian options to the menu, shifting from beef to alternative proteins, or using smaller meat portions.
  2. Go Antibiotic Free. In the U.S., an estimated 70% of all antibiotics are fed to healthy pigs, poultry and cattle – not to combat disease, but to compensate for crowded, unsanitary conditions. This non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in poultry and livestock contributes to drug resistance in humans. Help reduce this risk by choosing meat and poultry products that are antibiotic free.
  3. Reduce Transport GHGs. Follow our Food Transport best practices to reduce the environmental impact of shipping meat, dairy, and eggs to your facility. This includes sourcing food from farms that are close to your facility and choosing efficient modes of transportation.

1The environmental footprint of individual food items depends on several factors including the growing practices used on individual farms, modes of transport, travel distances, and how the food is processed and stored along the way. So while general rules of thumb are helpful, keep in mind that the environmental impact of any product may vary based on its unique set of production, distribution, processing, and retail inputs. Rigorous lifecycle analysis is a more precise method of determining the environmental impact of food products.