Detailed analysis finds plant diets lead to 75% less climate-heating emissions, water pollution and land use than meat-rich ones
Damian Carrington, The Guardian, July 20, 2023
Eating a vegan diet massively reduces the damage to the environment caused by food production, the most comprehensive analysis to date has concluded.
The research showed that vegan diets resulted in 75% less climate-heating emissions, water pollution and land use than diets in which more than 100g of meat a day was eaten. Vegan diets also cut the destruction of wildlife by 66% and water use by 54%, the study found.
The heavy impact of meat and dairy on the planet is well known, and people in rich nations will have to slash their meat consumption in order to end the climate crisis. But previous studies have used model diets and average values for the impact of each food type.
In contrast, the new study analysed the real diets of 55,000 people in the UK. It also used data from 38,000 farms in 119 countries to account for differences in the impact of particular foods that are produced in different ways and places. This significantly strengthens confidence in the conclusions.
However, it turned out that what was eaten was far more important in terms of environmental impacts than where and how it was produced. Previous research has shown that even the lowest-impact meat – organic pork – is responsible for eight times more climate damage than the highest-impact plant, oilseed.
The researchers said the UK should introduce policies to help people reduce the amount of meat they eat in order to meet the nation’s climate targets. Ministers have repeatedly said they will not tell people what to consume, despite the precedent of, for example, taxes on high-sugar drinks.
Prof Peter Scarborough at Oxford University, who led the research, published in the journal Nature Food, said: “Our dietary choices have a big impact on the planet. Cutting down the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can make a big difference to your dietary footprint.”
The global food system has a huge impact on the planet, emitting a third of the total greenhouse gas emissions driving global heating. It also uses 70% of the world’s freshwater and causes 80% of river and lake pollution. About 75% of the Earth’s land is used by humans, largely for farming, and the destruction of forests is the major cause of the huge losses in biodiversity.
Prof Neil Ward at the University of East Anglia said: “This is a significant set of findings. It scientifically reinforces the point made by the Climate Change Committee and the National Food Strategy over recent years that dietary shifts away from animal-based foods can make a major contribution to reducing the UK’s environmental footprint.”…
[… Read more at The Guardian]
See original study: Scarborough et al, “Vegans, vegetarians, fish-eaters and meat-eaters in the UK show discrepant environmental impacts,” Nature Food 4 (565–574), 2023