Farmed seafood, wild-caught fish, or livestock: which one is the most environmentally costly to produce? A University of Washington-led study probed that question by scrutinizing 148 life-cycle assessments for animal protein production. Lead author Ray Hilborn, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences professor, said in a statement, “If you’re an environmentalist, what you eat makes a difference. We found there are obvious good choices, and really obvious bad choices.”

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The environmental costs of producing meat, seafood

Which food type is more environmentally costly to produce — livestock, farmed seafood, or wild-caught fish? New research from the University of Washington takes a comprehensive look at the environmental impacts of different types of animal protein production. Read more:

Posted by University of Washington News on Monday, June 11, 2018

Scientists drew on four metrics to compare environmental impacts of different animal proteins: greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, potential to add excess nutrients like fertilizer into the environment, and potential to emit substances that help cause acid rain. They used 40 grams of protein — around the size of an average burger patty — as their standard amount .

Related: Vegan diets deliver more environmental benefits than sustainable dairy or meat

Industrial beef production and farmed catfish were the most environmentally costly in general, according to the university. Farmed mollusks such as scallops, oysters, or mussels and small wild-caught fish were the least environmentally costly. The university said capture fish choices like pollock, the cod family, and hake also have relatively low impact, and farmed salmon performed well.

But there were differences across animal proteins — for example, the researchers said livestock production consumed less power than most seafood aquaculture as continual water circulation uses up electricity. Farmed tilapia, shrimp, and catfish used the most energy. Beef and catfish aquaculture generated around 20 times more greenhouse gases than chicken, farmed salmon, farmed mollusks, and small capture fisheries.

“When compared to other studies of vegetarian and vegan diets, a selective diet of aquaculture and wild capture fisheries has a lower environmental impact than either of the plant-based diets,” according to the university.

The journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment published the study this week. Four University of Washington scientists and one scientist from company Avalerion Capital contributed.

+ University of Washington

+ Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment

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