[Marxism] To Cut Global Warming, Swedes Study Their Plates
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Fri Oct 23 05:22:43 MDT 2009
To Cut Global Warming, Swedes Study Their Plates
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
Published: October 22, 2009
STOCKHOLM — Shopping for oatmeal, Helena Bergstrom, 37, admitted that
she was flummoxed by the label on the blue box reading, “Climate
declared: .87 kg CO2 per kg of product.”
“Right now, I don’t know what this means,” said Ms. Bergstrom, a
pharmaceutical company employee.
But if a new experiment here succeeds, she and millions of other
Swedes will soon find out. New labels listing the carbon dioxide
emissions associated with the production of foods, from whole wheat
pasta to fast food burgers, are appearing on some grocery items and
restaurant menus around the country.
People who live to eat might dismiss this as silly. But changing one’s
diet can be as effective in reducing emissions of climate-changing
gases as changing the car one drives or doing away with the clothes
dryer, scientific experts say.
“We’re the first to do it, and it’s a new way of thinking for us,”
said Ulf Bohman, head of the Nutrition Department at the Swedish
National Food Administration, which was given the task last year of
creating new food guidelines giving equal weight to climate and
health. “We’re used to thinking about safety and nutrition as one
thing and environmental as another.”
Some of the proposed new dietary guidelines, released over the summer,
may seem startling to the uninitiated. They recommend that Swedes
favor carrots over cucumbers and tomatoes, for example. (Unlike
carrots, the latter two must be grown in heated greenhouses here,
They are not counseled to eat more fish, despite the health benefits,
because Europe’s stocks are depleted.
And somewhat less surprisingly, they are advised to substitute beans
or chicken for red meat, in view of the heavy greenhouse gas emissions
associated with raising cattle.
“For consumers, it’s hard,” Mr. Bohman acknowledged. “You are getting
environmental advice that you have to coordinate with, ‘How can I eat
Many Swedish diners say it is just too much to ask. “I wish I could
say that the information has made me change what I eat, but it
hasn’t,” said Richard Lalander, 27, who was eating a Max hamburger
(1.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions) in the shadow of a menu
board revealing that a chicken sandwich (0.4 kilograms) would have
been better for the planet.
Yet if the new food guidelines were religiously heeded, some experts
say, Sweden could cut its emissions from food production by 20 to 50
percent. An estimated 25 percent of the emissions produced by people
in industrialized nations can be traced to the food they eat,
according to recent research here. And foods vary enormously in the
emissions released in their production.
While today’s American or European shoppers may be well versed in
checking for nutrients, calories or fat content, they often have
little idea of whether eating tomatoes, chicken or rice is good or bad
for the climate.
Complicating matters, the emissions impact of, say, a carrot, can vary
by a factor of 10, depending how and where it is grown.
Earlier studies of food emissions focused on the high environmental
costs of transporting food and raising cattle. But more nuanced
research shows that the emissions depend on many factors, including
the type of soil used to grow the food and whether a dairy farmer uses
local rapeseed or imported soy for cattle feed.
Business groups, farming cooperatives and organic labeling programs as
well as the government have gamely come up with coordinated ways to
identify food choices.
Max, Sweden’s largest homegrown chain of burger restaurants, now puts
emissions calculations next to each item on its menu boards.
Lantmannen, Sweden’s largest farming group, has begun placing precise
labels on some categories of foods in grocery stores, including
chicken, oatmeal, barley and pasta.
Consumers who pay attention may learn that emissions generated by
growing the nation’s most popular grain, rice, are two to three times
those of little-used barley, for example.
Some producers argue that the new programs are overly complex and
threaten profits. The dietary recommendations, which are being
circulated for comment not just in Sweden but across the European
Union, have been attacked by the Continent’s meat industry, Norwegian
salmon farmers and Malaysian palm oil growers, to name a few.
“This is trial and error; we’re still trying to see what works,” Mr.
Next year, KRAV, Scandinavia’s main organic certification program,
will start requiring farmers to convert to low-emissions techniques if
they want to display its coveted seal on products, meaning that most
greenhouse tomatoes can no longer be called organic.
Those standards have stirred some protests. “There are farmers who are
happy and farmers who say they are being ruined,” said Johan Cejie,
manager of climate issues for KRAV.
For example, he said, farmers with high concentrations of peat soil on
their property may no longer be able to grow carrots, since plowing
peat releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide; to get the organic
label, they may have to switch to feed crops that require no plowing.
Next year KRAV will require hothouses to use biofuels for heating.
Dairy farms will have to obtain at least 70 percent of the food for
their herds locally; many previously imported cheap soy from Brazil,
generating transport emissions and damaging the rain forest as trees
were cleared to make way for farmland.
The Swedish effort grew out of a 2005 study by Sweden’s national
environmental agency on how personal consumption generates emissions.
Researchers found that 25 percent of national per capita emissions —
two metric tons per year — was attributable to eating.
The government realized that encouraging a diet that tilted more
toward chicken or vegetables and educating farmers on lowering
emissions generally could have an enormous impact.
Sweden has been a world leader in finding new ways to reduce
emissions. It has vowed to eliminate the use of fossil fuel for
electricity by 2020 and cars that run on gasoline by 2030.
To arrive at numbers for their company’s first carbon dioxide labels,
scientists at Lantmannen analyzed life cycles of 20 products. These
take into account emissions generated by fertilizer, fuel for
harvesting machinery, packaging and transport.
They decided to examine one representative product in each category —
say, pasta — rather than performing analyses for fusilli versus penne,
or one brand versus another. “Every climate declaration is hugely
time-intensive,” said Claes Johansson, Lantmannen’s director of
A new generation of Swedish business leaders is stepping up to the
climate challenge. Richard Bergfors, president of Max, his family’s
burger chain, voluntarily hired a consultant to calculate its carbon
footprint; 75 percent was created by its meat.
“We decided to be honest and put it all out there and say we’ll do
everything we can to reduce,” said Mr. Bergfors, 40. In addition to
putting emissions data on the menu, Max eliminated boxes from its
children’s meals, installed low-energy LED lights and pays for
Since the emissions counts started appearing on the menu, sales of
climate-friendly items have risen 20 percent. Still, plenty of people
head to a burger restaurant lusting only for a burger.
Kristian Eriksson, 26, an information technology specialist, looked
embarrassed when asked about the burger he was eating at an outdoor
“You feel guilty picking red meat,” he said.
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