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Home / Nutrition and Wellness

To curb climate change, eat less meat, drink less milk

Nutrition And WellnessBy Mactilda Mbenywe | Tue,Nov 02 2021 17:21:32 UTC | 3 min read


Milk in containers [Courtesy]

Meat and dairy products are responsible for increased greenhouse gases and environmentalists are advising a switch to plant-based diet to help fight climate change.

Livestock accounts for around 14.5 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gases according to a report by UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which note that beef and lamb have the biggest climate footprint per gram of protein as opposed to plant-based foods which have the smallest impact. Pork and chicken are in the middle.

IPCC thus recommends eating less meat, milk, cheese and butter besides insulating homes, taking trains and buses instead of planes and using teleconferencing instead of business travel.

The contribution of livestock is roughly the same as emissions from all the cars, trucks, planes and ships combined.

The study indicated that use of animals for meat is causing twice the pollution of producing plant-based foods and the entire system of food production, including use of farming machinery, spraying of fertiliser and transportation of products, causes 17.3billion metric tonnes of greenhouse gases a year, according to the report published this September in Nature Food.

This enormous release of gases that fuel the climate crisis is more than double the entire emissions of the US and represents 35 per cent of all global emissions, the report states in part.

The study indicates that raising animals for food is far worse for the climate than growing and processing fruits and vegetables.

The researchers profiled 171 crops and 16 animal products, drawing data from more than 200 countries. They found that South America has the largest share of animal-based food emissions, followed by south and south-east Asia and then China. Food-related emissions have grown rapidly in China and India as increasing wealth and cultural changes have led younger people there adopting meat-based diets.

The climate crisis is also itself a cause of hunger, with a recent study finding that a third of global food production will be at risk by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current rate.

Scientists have consistently stressed that if dangerous global heating is to be avoided, a major rethink of eating habits and farming practices is required. Meat production has expanded such that there are now about three chickens for every person on earth. 

Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at Columbia University who was not involved in the research termed the paper a “damn good study” that should be given “due attention” at the COP26 Climate Talks in Glasgow, Scotland as a “fundamental unknown in global agriculture is its impact on greenhouse gas emissions.” 

Cutting meat and dairy products could thus reduce an individual's carbon footprint from food by two-thirds, according to the Oxford study, published in the journal Science.

 "What we eat is one of the most powerful drivers behind most of the world's major environmental issues, whether it's climate change or biodiversity loss," study researcher Joseph Poore told BBC News adding that changing dietary habits can save water, reduce pollution and the loss of forests as “it reduces the amount of land required to produce your food by about 75 per cent, a huge reduction, particularly if you scale that up globally.”

Replacing flying with other forms of transport may also have a bigger impact on the carbon footprint than changing diet as is switching from petrol to an electric car.

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