July 18/Washington/Huffington Post -- A report published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization, claims to provide a comprehensive "cradle-to-grave" assessment of 20 popular protein-packed foods. The group took into account the environmental impact of production, processing, transportation, cooking and waste (20% of edible meat winds up in landfills), before reaching a relatively familiar conclusion: people should eat less meat and dairy. In particular, the EWG points to lamb, beef, pork, cheese and farmed salmon as the protein-packed foods that take the largest toll on the environment.

“Although this issue has been reported on for a long time, Americans continue to have really high rates of meat consumption, particularly children,” said Kari Hamerschlag, senior analyst at EWG and author of the new report. "As a country, we're producing and consuming 60% more meat per person than Europeans.”

Such splurging has had detrimental effects on human health, including increased rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity, but we aren't just harming ourselves when we choose a hamburger and milkshake, noted Hamerschlag. The production of meat and dairy requires the use of large amounts of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water, he opines, and it releases greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into our air and water.

While the environmental consequences of eating meat are frequently discussed, the fact that cheese is also one of the top climate culprits may come as a surprise to many. It takes 10 pounds of milk to make one pound of cheese, Hamerschlag explained. That equates to a lot of methane and manure from dairy cows.

“We’re not advocating that people stop eating meat and cheese, we’re just suggesting that people consider eating less,” said Hamerschlag. "Ultimately, we need better policies and stronger regulations to reduce the environmental impacts of livestock production. But personal shifting of diets is an important step."

The report estimates that if each American cuts meat and cheese from their diet for one day a week it would be equivalent to taking 7.6 million cars off the road.

From the July 19, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.