Halve meat and dairy intake, urges UN report

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A study on nitrogen assessment has concluded that people in Europe should reduce their consumption of meat and dairy by 50%, in order to tackle both pollution and agricultural emissions, and reduce the intake of saturated fats.

The study, which will be published next month by the UN Economic Commission for Europe, calls for people living in Europe to adopt a ‘demitarian’ diet, by halving the intake of meat and dairy for health and environmental reasons.

The study focuses on nitrogen in particular, released by fertilisers and animal manure, which is a powerful greenhouse gas and can pollute water and the soil. Nitrogen emissions from agriculture represent around 80% of the overall nitrogen emissions, with around 88% of EU nitrogen emissions coming from livestock.

According to the study, by halving the consumption of animal products, nitrogen emissions could be reduced by 25-40%.

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    Prof Mark Sutton, one of the authors of the study, said that a change of dietary habits in Europe could have remarkable repercussions elsewhere, for example in China, where meat consumption is rising as a result of economic growth.

    I would posit a hypothesis that if Europe were to make such a change that would have such cultural ripples that it would have interactions with other parts of the world,” he said.

    Nobody can tell the Chinese or anybody else what they should be doing but if we were to change our culture that would have a ripple, it would be an incredible sea change.”

    A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commented, “We’re working with farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we recently launched a £4.5m initiative to help farmers become more environmentally sustainable. We’re also four years into an ambitious £12m research programme to improve our understanding of how we can reduce the impact of agriculture on emissions.”

    Recent studies that have focused on the impact of animal agriculture have come up with different suggestions, including taxing meat and encourage a mostly vegetarian diet to cut greenhouse gas emissions of the sector.

    Photo: Peter aka anemoneprojectors via flickr

    Further reading:

    FAO: agricultural emissions have doubled in 50 years

    Tax meat to tackle climate change, say scientists

    Study outlines possibility of sustainable livestock

    Eat less meat and dairy to dodge climate disaster, urges study

    Government should be ‘reinforcing a sense of urgency’ on sustainable food