What is the environmental impact of food in Singapore? [Report]
Globally, the food we eat is responsible for almost a third of planet-warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that humans produce in a year. Red meat - in particular, beef - has the biggest carbon footprint per kilogram of protein. However, the environmental impact of our food is also affected by where our food comes from, and consumption trends locally.
For example, Singapore imports over 90% of its food. The transportation of food by air significantly increases its environmental impact. However, most existing studies on the environmental impact of our food systems are either US or Europe-centric, and do not consider unique export-import pairs.
This study by A*STAR and Deloitte quantifies the global environmental impact of 13 key food items in Singapore. It takes a life-cycle approach to quantify the GHG emissions, energy consumption and water consumption associated with a given food item in three stages: production, processing and transportation. The report also offers pathways which could meaningfully reduce the environmental impact of our food.
This report will provide insights for different stakeholders; policy makers, businesses and consumers:
- How does a basic necessity like food contribute to climate change?
- How can our food choices reduce environmental impact?
1. Consumption patterns affect Singapore-level environmental impact of food
- Environmental impact of meats (specifically pork, mutton and beef) is the most severe, although rice has the highest water consumption (per kg basis).
- 367 kg of food is consumed per capita annually. This results in GHG emissions of 954 kg CO2-eq per capita for food consumed in Singapore.
- Although red meats represent ~11% of consumption per capita by weight annually, they contribute ~ 40% of GHG emissions.
- Notably, while pork accounts for ~6% of food consumed by weight, it accounts for ~28% of food GHG emissions.
2. Air transport, and energy sources used in production and processing have significant impact on GHG emissions
- Less than 10% of food items imported are transported into Singapore by air. However, these items contribute to more than half of the GHG emissions in the transportation stage, for the 13 food items considered in this study.
- For frozen food items transported by land or sea, distance from import source does not significantly impact GHG emissions due to lower emission of land and sea transportation methods.
- Sourcing food from countries with cleaner and renewable sources of electricity generation, and transporting them by sea or land, can meaningfully reduce environmental impact.
3. There are several pathways that could meaningfully reduce the environmental impact of our food
- Sourcing from countries that use cleaner and renewable sources of electricity reduces GHG emissions at the food production and processing stages.
- Choosing frozen meat over chilled meat. Chilled meat needs to be air transported due to its shorter shelf-life and to maintain freshness, and hence generally has higher GHG emissions. Where chilled or fresh meat is preferred, choose those from countries closer to Singapore; the shorter distance travelled by air means lower GHG emissions.
- Producing locally reduces the need to transport the food to Singapore and hence reduces GHG emissions. Singapore also has cleaner energy sources as compared to some of the countries from which we import certain food items.
- Substituting 25% of red meats with plant-based meats could lower GHG emissions per capita from food consumption by ~7% from the business-as-usual scenario.