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How green is your breakfast?

Sella Oneko

18th April, 2011

From animal welfare concerns to pesticide-hungry cereals, eating breakfast isn’t always planet-friendly. Sella Oneko explains why

Google the word ‘breakfast’ and a whopping 384,000,000 results appear. Not only is breakfast a healthy way to start the day, it’s a hugely popular one too. Statistics underlining the usefulness of breakfast for everything from reducing obesity to fending off diabetes and heart disease abound.

Witness a recent study by The Environmental Health Journal, which found that children who eat breakfast have 15 percent less lead in their blood. But not all breakfasts are created equal and some, although good for you, should come with a health warning for the planet.

Take the classic English breakfast for example. With over 80 per cent of bacon sold in the UK sourced abroad, finding local, ethically raised bacon is easier said than done. In Denmark, the world’s biggest exporter of pig products, nine per cent of farms contain (a very intensive) 4,000 or more pigs while Danish Crown, the parent company of Danepak, runs a slaughterhouse called Horsens, the largest in the world, which dispatches an estimated 78,000 pigs per week. Eggs too have problems. Worldwatch Institute research has found that 68 per cent of the 29 million eggs eaten by UK consumers each day, are produced by battery hens. And that’s not all. Monocropping – a form of agriculture that requires heavy pesticide use – is responsible for most of the cereal crops such as wheat, barley and oats that turn up on our breakfast tables. And monocropping also has a huge carbon footprint. According to the Carbon Trust, a single packet of supermarket own-brand cornflakes has a carbon footprint of 94g.

So how can you make your breakfast a bit greener? Switching to organic is a good start, with organic eggs, meat and cereal all producing less carbon than their conventional equivalent. Farming watchdog, Compassion in World Farming, recommends choosing outdoor bred, free range bacon and eggs, as both require higher welfare standards. Choosing British, rather than cheap, imported Dutch and Danish meat, means fewer food miles and a reduced chance of discovering that your bacon came from a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).  With cereals and bread, organic is a good choice and there are some good, healthy options such as Alara’s organic muesli, £1.95 from Waitrose. You can also try making your own bread for toast, which not only reduces its carbon footprint but also costs you less overall. Another breakfast essential to try making yourself is jam, which can be made using foraged fruit as well as produce you’ve grown or picked yourself. Allotment.org.uk has an extensive recipes section, featuring plenty of tips on getting the most from your fruit.

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