Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to some researchers. The rapidly growing impacts of global heating being seen around the world suggest not, meaning political action will be needed.
An investigation commissioned by the government, explains the damage the current food and farming system inflicts upon the environment, as well as our health. It is the biggest destroyer of nature and a major source of climate warming, it says. The Climate Change Committee report recommends that meat consumption is cut by 30% within a decade. The suggested 30% target can be met by “nudges” to behaviour and replacement of meat by plant-based alternatives. It ruled out a meat tax. Food is deeply embedded in culture, and lecturing people on their diets is the wrong approach.
“Our current appetite for meat is unsustainable,” it says. “85% of farmland is used to feed livestock and we need some of that land back.”
85% of land provides only 32% of the calories we eat, it says: “By contrast, the 15% of farmland that is used to grow plant crops for human consumption provides 68% of our calories.”
The report also tackles the myth that grass-fed livestock is greener, saying: “The more intensively you rear some animals, the more carbon-efficient they tend to be.”
Many other scientific studies have concluded much higher cuts in rich, western nations are needed if the climate crisis is to be halted.
One major analysis concluded Europeans and North Americans need to cut meat eating by 80% for their diet to be both climate-friendly and healthy.
Another said a 90% cut in beef eating was required to beat global heating.
Marco Springmann, at the University of Oxford, said: “The report shies away from recommending decisive policies that would help citizens reduce their meat consumption by highlighting the public opposition to meat taxes. However, its own polling indicated that 75% of respondents either supported or were not opposed to taxes on some meats.” He pointed out that “Behavioural science suggests targeted dietary changes are unlikely to be achievable without comprehensive measures, including fiscal incentives and mandates,” he said, alongside clear recognition from policymakers of the damage that meat causes.
Change is happening anyway, with most people already accepting they should eat less meat, be that for environmental, health or animal welfare reasons. Public sector caterers serving billions of meals a year in schools, universities, hospitals and care homes pledged in April 2020 to cut the amount of meat they serve by 20%.