Friday, June 01, 2018

Meat (Mostly) off the Menu

New research shows that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet. Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world.  Even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

While meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions...Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy...Converting grass into meat is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” Poore said.

Nevertheless,  Poore said, the global population need not become vegan. If the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based food, this still delivers about two-thirds of the benefits of getting rid of all meat and dairy production. "These impacts are not necessary to sustain our current way of life. The question is how much can we reduce them and the answer is a lot.”

Prof Tim Benton, at the University of Leeds, UK, said: "The way we produce food, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective. Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets – eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit – has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier.”

Dr Peter Alexander, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, noted: “There may be environmental benefits, eg for biodiversity, from sustainably managed grazing and increasing animal product consumption may improve nutrition for some of the poorest globally. My personal opinion is we should interpret these results not as the need to become vegan overnight, but rather to moderate our meat consumption.”

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