IT SEEMS a surprising suggestion. Can it be true that what we put on our dinner plates could have an effect on global warming. It appears so.
A new report is to warn the livestock industry generates 8 per cent of all UK greenhouse gas emissions — but that eating some meat is good for the planet. It will also say organic farming may be no better than intensive methods for reducing emissions, though organic practices have other advantages.
The report, which aims to be the most comprehensive study of the subject yet completed, claims a vegetarian diet including cheese, butter and milk would probably not noticeably reduce carbon emissions because dairy cows are a major source of the biggest greenhouse gas pollution from livestock — the methane released when cattle burp.
A vegan diet would be better, but it would ignore some benefits of rearing grazing animals, said Tara Garnett, from the Food Climate Research Network at Surrey University in southern England, who wrote the report.
"A little bit of livestock production is probably a good thing for the environment," she said. "Livestock provide a very important service in terms of maintaining landscape and soil quality and maintaining biodiversity: you get different animals grazing at different levels and if you didn't have them you'd have a very different landscape."
Garnett said further research was needed to work out how much less meat should be eaten, but the report suggested it would be 'considerably less'.
Next year Compassion in World Farming, an animal welfare group, will launch a fresh campaign urging people to eat less meat.
The growing environmental concerns about meat come at a time of rising health worries: as well as warnings of an epidemic of obesity, the World Cancer Research Fund recently said eating red meat even in small quantities can increase the risk of several cancers.
Vegetarians and some environmentalists have warned for years about the environmental benefits of eating less or no meat, but as incomes have grown the average Briton eats 50 per cent more meat than four decades ago and global consumption is forecast to double by 2050, says Compassion.
Earlier this year, the Vegetarian Society claimed livestock generate nearly one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than transport. However, there is disagreement on the benefits of giving up meat: the figures, measured in 'carbon dioxide equivalent' to allow comparison of different greenhouse gases, range from a difference of 0.4 tonnes between a diet high in meat and vegetarian diets, to several times that figure, said Dave Hampton, a carbon reduction expert.
The UK's Meat and Livestock Commission said there could be other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of meat eating, including using more locally produced food which did not have to be transported as far and changing the diet of cows, which could reduce methane output by half.
The Vegetarian Society said it wanted to draw attention to the benefits of eating less meat, but it also recommended people chose seasonal, local and organic products to have the biggest impact.
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