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Environment: Junk food scores on energy-efficiency

Meat eaters and junk-food addicts are more politically correct than healthy vegetarians when it comes to helping the environment, it was claimed yesterday. A survey of energy used to produce and distribute food found that meat, sweets, ice cream, potato chips and white bread were among the most efficient and least polluting. Salad vegetables, tomatoes, high-ibre cereals, fruit, white fish, tea and coffee, were more harmful to the environment.

David Coley and colleagues at the Centre for Energy and the Environment at Exeter University analysed how much energy from fuel was used in the production cycle of food in a typical shopping basket, New Scientist magazine reported. Taking into account the manufacture and application of fertilisers and other chemicals, harvesting, processing, packaging, transport and waste disposal, the diets of more than 2,000 people used 18,000 megajoules (MJ) of energy each year - almost six times the energy locked in the food itself. The most energy-wasteful item was coffee, which required 177 MJ of energy to produce one MJ of food intake. Typical salad vegetables required 45 MJ and white fish 36, compared with just 8 ML for beef and burgers, 7 for chicken, and 6 for lamb. While fresh fruit consumed between 10 and 22 MJ, sweets, crisps, white bread and ice cream were right at the bottom of the table using less than one MJ each. "Food is a large part of an individual's impact on the greenhouse effect," Mr Coley said.