Cut meat to tackle climate, says government committee

A shift in diets towards government nutritional guidelines would improve health and help meet climate change targets, according to a new report.

Reductions in the consumption of high carbon emitting foods such as beef, lamb and dairy products, coupled with increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, pulses and legumes, are needed to help reduce agricultural emissions in the UK, according to the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC).

In 2016, cattle and sheep directly accounted for around 58% of agriculture emissions, while there are additional emissions associated with growing their feed.

The CCC report said that grasslands and rough grazing could reduce by around 4 million hectares by 2050 (26-36%) through the adoption of healthier diets, reduced food waste and increased grazing intensity.

But it warned that if land continues to be used as it has been in the past, the countryside will not be able to support future demand for new housing or maintain current per capita food production; nor will the UK be prepared for the warming climate.

The CCC said that dietary change should be one element of an agricultural emissions reduction plan along with other measures such as converting agricultural land to forests, restoring peatlands, and producing biomass for energy.

Following the government’s Eatwell Plate would have significant impacts on the average adult diet compared with current eating patterns, according to the report. There would be a large reduction in the consumption of red meat, by 89% for beef and 63% for lamb, together with a 20% decline in dairy products. The amount of plant based food in the diet would increase, with meat protein being replaced with more pulses and legumes (up by 86%). Consumption of fruit and vegetables would also increase by around 54%.

The CCC’s analysis found that diet change away from the most carbon-intensive feedstocks would reduce dairy, beef and lamb numbers by up to 46% and increase lower-emitting poultry and pigs by around a quarter.

It added that measures that could incentivise moves towards healthier diets include information provision and ‘nudge’ strategies.

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