Canadians’ food creates six per cent of GHG output

Spending on food and non-alcoholic beverages in 2003 resulted in almost 46,000 kilotonnes of greenhouse gases, according to the first comprehensive national estimate of food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Canada.

This was equivalent to 6.4 per cent of total national GHG emissions that year, Statistics Canada said in a release Tuesday.

This national estimate was the result of integrating the most recent detailed data on the structure of the economy with data on energy use and GHG emissions.

Almost one-quarter (23 per cent) of these food-related GHG emissions was attributable to the production of fresh and frozen meat, while fish products contributed two per cent. Beef alone accounted for 15 per cent of all GHG emissions resulting from household spending on food in 2003, StatsCan said.

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Looking at the amount of energy required to produce food shows another dimension of the environmental impact of the food system. More energy was used in the production of prepared foods than any of the other food groups, reflecting the energy inputs required for processing these foods. Prepared foods accounted for 19 per cent of food-related energy use, while dairy and eggs accounted for 18 per cent, and fresh and frozen meat accounted for 14 per cent.

Farmers influence energy use through their choice of land management practices. The proportion of land prepared for seeding using no tillage increased from six per cent of total area in 1991 to 46 per cent in 2006. The share of land under conventional tillage fell from 69 per cent to 28 per cent.

In 2006, spending on fuel per hectare by farmers who used no tillage was about one-third that of spending by farmers who used conventional tillage. This reduction in fuel use also reduces air pollution and GHG emissions.

People are purchasing more food and beverages than they used to. Since 1976, the average number of calories available per person per day has increased nine per cent from 3,118 to 3,384 kilocalories. A lot of this food is not eaten. Waste occurs from spoilage and other losses in stores, restaurants and in the home.

In 2007, an estimated 38 per cent of solid food available for retail sale was wasted, the equivalent of 183 kg per person. A decrease in food waste would reduce negative environmental impacts associated with food production, processing, distribution and services.

Canadians, who represent about 0.5 per cent of the global population, produce about 1.5 per cent of the food in the world and consume about 0.6 per cent of world food production.

According to the Survey of Household Spending, Canadians allocated 15 per cent of their household income to food in 2005, a lower proportion than in other countries. For example, Americans allocated 16 per cent of their income to food, while people in France allocated 24 per cent and the Chinese, 41 per cent.

Note: This release is based on the feature article “Food in Canada” published today in Human Activity and the Environment: Annual Statistics. The article assesses the impact of the food system on the environment. Data used in the section on energy and greenhouse gas emissions involved in the production of food for households were derived from Statistics Canada’s Material and Energy Flow Accounts.

These accounts integrate environmental data with economic data from Canada’s System of National Accounts. One of the main components of the National Accounts are the input-output accounts, which produce highly detailed production and consumption statistics for 303 industries, 719 goods and services and 170 categories of final demand.

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