NHMRC Public Consultations

Skip Navigation and go to Content
Visit NHMRC website

Appendix to the Australian Dietary Guidelines: Dietary Guidelines through an environmental lens submission

This submission reflects the views of
Individual Background: 
Student – postgraduate
Personal Details
First Name: 
Last Name: 
General Comments

Australian Dietary Guidelines Through an Environmental Lens

Submission:  Karen Bevis

G1 – Background

The impact of animal agriculture in particular on climate change gases is huge and is often under-reported.  These impacts can be counted directly from the respiration of livestock, and indirectly from land clearing, transport, refrigeration and packaging, and has been estimated as contributing up to 51% of climate change gases (Goodland and Anhang, 2009) .

That nutritional recommendations need to take account of environmental consequences, has been recognised in the New Nutrition Science project, a joint initiative of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences and the World Health Policy Forum.  In the associated Giessen Declaration, it was stated that “… all relevant science, including that of nutrition, should and will be principally concerned with the cultivation, conservation and sustenance of human, living and physical resources all together; and so with the health of the biosphere”.  “Many planetary environmental indicators are deteriorating.  These include global climate change and the persistent depletion of stratospheric ozone; the depletion and degradation of topsoil; the accelerated loss of species and of fresh water and sources of energy, and increased use and of persistence of many chemical pollutants.  Recent and current modes of food production have made major contributions to such adverse changes” (in Cannon & Leitzmann, 2006)

Environmental impacts should also make mention of the effect of animal agriculture on biodiversity.  The land required to house livestock and grow feed for livestock displaces and decimates native species, as well as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions due to the release of carbon from cleared land.  The oceans should be included in this analysis, including species decimated via commercial fishing, both target species and ‘by-catch’, pollution from fish farming operations, and the considerable feed required to grow farmed fish, which is an inefficient form of protein conversion.

In reference to Figure G1, the impacts from the different components of agriculture are not even, as is represented by this diagram.  Animal agriculture requires more transportation, increased refrigeration and cooking, and increased packaging (Goodland and Anhang, 2009).  It should also be recognised that excess consumption has increased impacts in terms of pharmaceutical resources required to treat people who have developed chronic diseases as a result.

Water use is another issue.  It takes considerably more water to raise animals, with 50,000 litres to produce 1kg of beef, and only 2500 litres to produce 1kg of white rice (Meyer, 1998).  A plant based diet uses considerably less water per day, with around 3500 litres per day attributed to an average Australian diet, and only 1000 litres per day to a plant-based diet (Rutherford, 2008).

G3 – The Guidelines through an environmental lens

Guideline 2

According to Goodland and Anhang there is negligible difference in environmental impact between cattle, sheep, and any other animals used for food, including chicken (Goodland and Anhang 2009 – Sources & Resources).

Pushing people towards eating smaller animals as an alternative (ie from cows to chickens) leads to greater animal welfare concerns, and more individual animals being killed for human consumption.  Environmental impacts differ according to whether animals are factory farmed or free range, whilst no differentiation is made in this section however, in either situation, there are unnecessary environmental impacts attributed to animal agriculture.

Because of a booming population (worldwide) the push for people to eat more fish is not ethical or appropriate.  It is highly questionable if there is such a thing as sustainable ‘fish stocks’ in this environment.  Fish farming requires huge inputs.  The food fed to intensively farmed fish coming from large-scale cropping, and from other fish (wild caught).

The dairy section in Guideline 2 makes little sense.  Dairy products have as much environmental impact as meat products.  Advising people that consuming a mixture of milk, cheese and yoghurts “will help minimise the environmental burden” is nonsensical.  These are all dairy foods and their impact will be similar.  People should be advised to consider eating dairy alternatives such as soy products and other non-dairy ‘milks’, non-dairy yoghurts and non-dairy cheeses.  It would be helpful to suggest non-dairy sources of calcium that have less environmental impact than dairy foods.

In a 2009 report, a UK government agency recommended reducing consumption of meat and dairy products as one of three changes likely to have a significant and immediate impact on making diets more sustainable (Sustainable Development Commission).  Another report corroborates this, saying “A substantial reduction of (environmental) impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products” (United Nations Environment Program, 2010).

Australia needs to also take a lead and recommend substantial changes in dietary practices to reduce environmental and climate impacts.

G4 – Practical tips

Point 5 – consider the packaging of food

People should be encouraged to choose foods with less packaging or consider bulk-buying staples foods to minimise packaging.

G5 - Key references

Many of the references for this appendix in relation to the environmental impacts of animal industries are from studies undertaken or funded by those with vested interests – Meat and Livestock Australia and Dairy Australia.  This research can not be expected to be un-biased given the commercial interests of these industries in maintaining the status quo, or even in increasing consumption of their products.


Goodland, R., Anhang, J., November/December 2009. Livestock and climate change. What if the key actors in climate change were pigs, chickens and cows?  In: World Watch. Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 10–19.

Goodland, R, Anhang, J, Sources and Resources for “Livestock and Climate Change” at:  www.worldwatch.org/ww/livestock

Cannon & Leitzmann, 2006, The New Nutrition Science Project, Scandinavian Journal of Food and Nutrition 2006; 50 (1): 5-12

Goodland, R, Anhang, J, Comment to the Editor / Animal Feed Science and Technology 172 (2012) 252– 256

Meyer, Profesor W, CFIF, Water for Food – The continuing debate, 1998

Rutherford, I.  City people eat rivers: estimating the virtual water consumed by people in a large Australian city.  2008.

Sustainable Development Commission (UK), 2009 Advice to Government on Priority Elements of Sustainable Diets.

United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) (2010) Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials, A Report of the Working Group on the Environmental Impacts of Products and Materials to the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. Hertwich, E., van der Voet, E., Suh, S., Tukker, A., Huijbregts M., Kazmierczyk, P., Lenzen, M., McNeely, J., Moriguchi, Y.  Available from:  http://www.unep.org/resourcepanel/Portals/24102/PDFs/PriorityProductsAndMaterials_Report.pdf 

Page reviewed: 4 February, 2013