Knowledge for better food systems

Restaurants, sweets and alcohol drive Japanese food GHGs

FCRN member Christian Reynolds has co-authored this paper, which finds that in Japan, differences in the carbon footprint of household food consumption are driven by what the paper describes as “unexpected” food categories: the households with higher food carbon footprints spend more on restaurant food, fish, vegetables, alcohol and confectionary.

The paper notes that many studies, including the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems, recommend reducing household dietary carbon footprints by shifting away from beef consumption towards white meat and vegetables. 

According to the paper, meat and dairy consumption produce around 30% of the average household dietary carbon footprint. Because meat and dairy consumption levels do not vary much between households (with annual beef and veal consumption being low in Japan compared to other OECD countries - 6.2 kg/capita in Japan versus 15.5 kg/capita OECD average), households with a high dietary carbon footprint do not tend to consume more meat than households with a low dietary carbon footprint. Instead, households with a higher dietary carbon footprint consume more fish, vegetables, alcohol, confectionary and restaurant food. 

Discussing their results, the authors note that the findings still support the conclusion that meat is a high-carbon food type, and that households could reduce their dietary carbon footprint by replacing meat consumption with lower-carbon foods. However, because meat consumption is not concentrated in a small number of households but spread fairly evenly across the whole population, it would be difficult for policies for reducing meat consumption to focus on a small group of people.



Many studies, including the EAT-Lancet Commission report, have argued that changing diets—in particular, shifting away from beef in favor of white meat and vegetables—can substantially reduce household carbon footprints (CFs). This argument implies that households with high CFs consume more meat than low-CF households. An observation of diet and CF across 60,000 households in Japan, a nation whose diet and demographics are in many ways globally indicative, does not support this. Meat consumption only weakly explains the difference between high- and low-CF households and is not localised to any particularly easily targeted group. We find that while nearly all households can reduce their CF by eating less meat, higher-CF households are not distinguished by excessive meat consumption relative to other households but rather have higher household CF intensity because of elevated consumption in other areas including restaurants, confectionery, and alcohol.


Kanemoto, K., Moran, D., Shigetomi, Y., Reynolds, C. and Kondo, Y., 2019. Meat Consumption Does Not Explain Differences in Household Food Carbon Footprints in Japan. One Earth, 1(4), pp.464-471.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource resource Which diets generate fewer GHG emissions and other environmental impacts?

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Asia is Earth's largest and most populous continent. It hosts many densely populated and large cities as well as enormous barely populated regions, which all together host over half of the human population. Agriculture as a source of income is of major importance in the region. In most Asian countries, agriculture is the biggest user of water and in some regions can be responsible for to 90% of total water consumption through irrigation.

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