(Source of information here)

As you can see, cheese has the third highest carbon footprint. Only beef and lamb have a higher footprint.

Several other sources (such as this) corroborate this.

Why is it so high? You would expect it to be due to the milk production, but milk itself it one of the lowest on the chart.


4 Answers 4



The chart is misleading since it compares carbon imprint by mass instead of a measure of how much a human needs to survive.


The chart you link contains false comparisons. They are comparing mass of foods against each other. However, you don't eat for mass, you eat for calories (or protein or nutriment, or whatever). A better comparison would be to multiply each 1 kg of food by the calories in that food.

I got my numbers from here, with data sourced from USDA. The numbers in my chart below are kilograms carbon per 1000 calories:

Lamb         20.85
Beef         13.78
Turkey        5.83
Broccoli      5.71
Tuna          5.26
Salmon        5.15
Cheese        4.47
Pork          4.45
Yogurt        3.49
Chicken       3.37
Milk          3.17
Eggs          3.06
Rice          2.08
Potatoes      1.46
Beans         1.40
Tomato        1.39
Tofu          1.38
Lentils       0.78
Peanut Butter 0.42
Nuts          0.39

I used the cooked option of each food when available. For the numbers with some options, I used whole milk, pinto beans, plain lowfat yogurt, almonds for the nuts, and part-skim mozarella cheese.

My first conclusion, is that Cheese doesn't have such a high footprint after all. It is just a little higher than Yogurt, which is just a little higher than Milk, which is about even with eggs. All the animal products dominate the top of the list.

My other conclusions are that this is kind of a garbage comparison anyways. Broccoli doesn't provide calories, but it has more vitamin K than everything else on the chart combined. The peanut butter and nuts are really calorie efficient, but so what? If you try to live on peanut butter instead of rice you'll die of heart disease because you are getting 70% of your calories from fat and three times the recommended saturated fat dosage.

  • 2
    I've awarded a bounty to this answer because you did the work to compute the interesting numbers AND gave a good hint how relevant it actually is.
    – mart
    Apr 5, 2017 at 13:46
  • 3
    Interesting answer, and fully agree with your last comment. It is probably better to compare food on a diet level (the footprint of an assortment of foods supplying calories and all sorts of nutrients in a healthy range) rather than product-by-product. See e.g. wwf.org.uk/eatingfor2degrees, for research on dietary level.
    – BartDur
    Jan 16, 2018 at 13:57
  • I estimated that canola (rapeseed) oil is >= 0.1 kg CO2 per 1,000 calories. There 0.4 kg CO2 per kg of canola seed, and 44% of canola seed = oil, so that's 0.4 / 0.44 = 0.91 kg CO2 per kg canola oil, which has 8,824 calories, so that's at least 0.10 kg CO2 per 1,000 calories. Need to add transit! Sources: 44%: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canola_oil#Production_process, seed per CO2: research.canolacouncil.org/research-summaries-details/15/…, 8,824 calories from google.com/search?q=calories+in+1+kg+canola+oil%3F
    – Ward W
    Jan 8, 2020 at 2:25
  • @wardw123 Best of luck to you on your rapeseed based diet :)
    – kingledion
    Jan 8, 2020 at 2:42
  • Good answer. Thinking about what role foods play in the diet, metrics like gCO2e per g protein or per g fat are also relevant (i.e. for each of the major macronutrients). I don't suppose there would be many surprises: for a low-carbon diet get your carbs from grains and pulses; your protein from pulses, nuts and seeds; and your fats from nuts and seeds. And eat lots of varied veg for micronutrients.
    – aucuparia
    Mar 4, 2020 at 13:03

1kg of cheese takes around 10kg of milk to produce (more for some cheeses - e.g. parmesan is around 1:16; less for softer cheeses). So the carbon footprint of cheese is going to be at least that factor higher than that for milk (there will be a little extra from any heat/energy input into the cheesemaking process but this will be small).




  • 5
    The difference between cheese mass and milk mass is water. You get teh same nutriment from 1 kg of cheese as 10 kg of milk. Comparing 1kg of cheese to 1 kg of milk is like comparing apples and orange gatorade. Not the same thing at all.
    – kingledion
    Mar 31, 2017 at 21:02
  • I wouldn't say that "this will be small", as cheese still has on average over twice the CO2 cost per proteins compared to milk. While energy wise it's also not proportional.
    – sinekonata
    Mar 25, 2021 at 23:04
  • @sinekonata: “this will be small” applies to the extra energy consumed by the cheesemaking process. I think perhaps that is clear to you, but you (like aucuparia) give no figures to back up your claim (contradicting theirs).
    – PJTraill
    Aug 30, 2022 at 22:10

Also worth noting that these figures are based on a "high productivity" Wisconsin farm. I've got nothing against Wisconsin, the problem is the huge reliance on results from a single farm.

A large part of the dairy related emissions are in the form of methane .. and dairy farmers in NZ appear to have achieved significantly lower emissions by changing the diet of their stock. E.g. see this article about goats' cheese: https://www.odt.co.nz/business/dairys-footprint-measured


Cow-milk cheese has a high carbon footprint because raising cows has several negative effects on climate changing factors.

  • A lot of cows are not only fed on grass – this would not have such a bad effect, aside from the deforested land needed – they need extra proteins from soya: this causes major deforestation in Brazil for example.
  • A cow’s digestion produces a considerable amount of methane, which has a huge greenhouse effect.

On the other hand, good cheese should not be eaten in large quantities: always eat your cheese on a piece of bread!

And consider eating goat cheese: raising goats is known to have a smaller greenhouse effect.

  • 3
    This explains why dairy has a high carbon footprint, but not why cheese is higher than milk.
    – LShaver
    Mar 15, 2017 at 2:43

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