The Guardian reports on a new study out of the University of Oxford:
Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.
The new research shows that 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.
Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
…even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.
“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.
“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” he said. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”
The comparison of beef with plant protein such as peas is stark, with even the lowest impact beef responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and 36 times more land.
Subsidies for sustainable and healthy foods and taxes on meat and dairy will probably also be necessary.
One surprise from the work was the large impact of freshwater fish farming… [Not a surprise for those who have been paying attention to previous analyses.]
The research also found grass-fed beef, thought to be relatively low impact, was still responsible for much higher impacts than plant-based food. [Also not a surprise for those who have been paying attention to previous analyses.] “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” Poore said.
The new research has received strong praise from other food experts. Prof Gidon Eshel, at Bard College, US, said: “I was awestruck. It is really important, sound, ambitious, revealing and beautifully done.”
Prof Tim Benton, at the University of Leeds, UK, said: “This is an immensely useful study. It brings together a huge amount of data and that makes its conclusions much more robust. 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.”
Indeed, Plato noted 2,500 years ago that the best way to plague a city with inflammation, disease, disputes, and warfare is to ensure it has plenty of animals to eat. In a dialogue between Glaucon and Socrates, Plato wrote:
Socrates: “[I]f you wish us also to contemplate a city that is suffering from inflammation …. We shall also need great quantities of all kinds of cattle for those who may wish to eat them, shall we not?”
Glaucon: “Of course we shall.”
Socrates: “Then shall we not experience the need of medical men also to a much greater extent under this than under the former regime?”
Glaucon: “Yes, indeed,” he says.
Socrates goes on to say that this luxurious city will be short of land because of the extra acreage required to raise animals for food. This shortage will lead the citizens to take land from others, which could precipitate violence and war, thus a need for justice.
Furthermore, Socrates writes, “when dissoluteness and diseases abound in a city, are not law courts and surgeries opened in abundance, and do not Law and Physic begin to hold their heads high, when numbers even of well-born persons devote themselves with eagerness to these professions?”
In other words, in this luxurious city of sickness and disease, lawyers and doctors will become the norm.
The Independent adds that the
Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to 73 per cent.