Research shows that if everyone in the UK were to become vegetarian, it would have the same effect on the environment as taking half of the country’s cars off the road. So Charlotte Reid asks, should we stop eating meat?
The total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that come from food eaten in the UK is 167 million tons, whereas a vegetarian diet could cut greenhouse gas emissions from food by 22 to 26%. This is according to research carried out by Small World Consulting, which has calculated the carbon footprint of food.
The research found that the worst offenders are meat, which has a carbon footprint of 17kg of carbon dioxide per kilogram, and cheese, with a carbon footprint of 15kg of carbon dioxide.
Professor Nick Hewitt, who was involved in the research, said in the Independent, “Our analysis shows that informed dietary choices can make a significant difference to greenhouse gas – reducing food-related emissions by around a quarter with additional health benefits”.
The environmental impact of meat has been looked into before. Back in 2006, the Food and Agricultural Organisation, part of the United Nations (UN), released a report called Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. It said that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems”.
The report also said that meat production accounts for almost a fifth of global greenhouse emissions. This figure took into account the animal’s emissions throughout its life cycle and a lot was put down to the amount of methane cows produce.
However, it is not as simple as meat bad, vegetables good.
The Small World Consulting research also found that exotic vegetables and mushrooms have a high carbon footprint because of freight and hothouse heating costs. So a big factor to consider is that our groceries are flown across the world before they arrive on the supermarket shelves.
However, Blue & Green Tomorrow’s in-depth report into ethical shopping revealed that consumers are trying to find the local option when it comes to food.
But when it comes to changing our diet, the UN advised back in 2008 that people should have one meat free dinner a week to help tackle climate change. Dr Rajendra Pachauri, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said people should try to “give up meat for one day [a week] initially and decrease it from there”.
But Pachauri emphasised that there are changes to be made in all aspects of life that would be beneficial to the environment. He said, “We really have to bring about reductions in every sector of the economy”.
And this brings us to why cows should not be judged too harshly for the impact they have upon the environment, because us humans have had a role to play in climate change too.
But you can help to fight this by finding out more about the environmental choices when it comes to shopping. We recommend reading either The Good Shopping Guide or the Ethical Consumer to learn more about which brands and shops are the greenest.
And if you want to buy something then we recommend taking a look at the Ethical Superstore.
Picture source: Peter Pearson