Abstract: Agriculture is a major contributor to air pollution, the largest environmental risk factor for mortality in the United States and worldwide. It is largely unknown, however, how individual foods or entire diets affect human health via poor air quality. We show how food production negatively impacts human health by increasing atmospheric fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and we identify ways to reduce these negative impacts of agriculture. We quantify the air quality–related health damages attributable to 95 agricultural commodities and 67 final food products, which encompass >99% of agricultural production in the United States. Agricultural production in the United States results in 17,900 annual air quality–related deaths, 15,900 of which are from food production. Of those, 80% are attributable to animal-based foods, both directly from animal production and indirectly from growing animal feed. On-farm interventions can reduce PM2.5-related mortality by 50%, including improved livestock waste management and fertilizer application practices that reduce emissions of ammonia, a secondary PM2.5 precursor, and improved crop and animal production practices that reduce primary PM2.5 emissions from tillage, field burning, livestock dust, and machinery. Dietary shifts toward more plant-based foods that maintain protein intake and other nutritional needs could reduce agricultural air quality–related mortality by 68 to 83%. In sum, improved livestock and fertilization practices, and dietary shifts could greatly decrease the health impacts of agriculture caused by its contribution to reduced air quality.
No conflicts were declared.