Cut meat consumption to battle global warming, warn experts

By Aaron McDonald

- Last updated on GMT

Cutting meat may be difficult in China as consumption is linked to status
Cutting meat may be difficult in China as consumption is linked to status

Related tags Meat consumption Carbon dioxide

People need to alter their dietary habits on a global level in order to battle global warming, experts have warned.

A report, ‘Changing Climate, Changing Diets,’ published by Chatham House highlighted that the global agricultural sector is a major contributor towards climate change​. The report claimed that: “Globally, food systems are responsible for up to 30% of all human-driven greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.​”

An international study was carried out in 12 countries, with more detailed research taking place in four of the 12: the UK, the US, China and Brazil. One of the many aims of the online poll was to discover what the motivating factors behind meat and dairy consumption were, as well as testing people’s awareness of different causes of climate change.

One of the key conclusions from the study was that there was an education gap when it came to the relationship between GHG emissions and meat consumption. Rather, people highlighted the packing that food comes in as the biggest environmental concern in terms of meat. “When they were asked about the environmental considerations of food, people were talking packaging,”​ Antony Froggatt, co-author of the report alongside Laura Wellesley and Catherine Happer, told GlobalMeatNews.

'Deeper issues'

That is the most immediate and, in some cases, the only consideration that people were giving in relationship to the environment.​”

However, the issue lies much deeper than the packaging of products. The report underlined that animal and crop production alone contributed towards almost a third of global deforestation and associated carbon dioxide emissions – a main source of methane and nitrous oxide, two of the most effective GHGs.

In addition, emissions from livestock, in particular cattle and sheep but also chickens and pigs, were also identified as active suppliers of GHGs.

'We need to reduce GHGs' 

The paper noted that nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide were emitted throughout the complete production chain. This started with crops and the making of animal feed, and finished with the transportation of products to the consumer.

For me, the basic premise of the project is realising that, on the global level, we need to reduce global greenhouse emissions if we are to meet projected, internationally agreed targets,​” continued Froggatt.

It’s the recognition that agriculture and livestock needs to do its bit to both reduce its intermissions and, probably more importantly, in order to slow down the rate of growth of emissions that are expected given the fact that through to around 2050, the growth rate of the sector is expected to increase by 76%.​”

However, altering peoples eating habits may be easier said than done. In many areas of the world, the consumption of meat holds cultural importance.

Eating meat linked to 'status' 

Not to say you’re defined by what you eat, but it is part of who you are,​” explained Froggatt.

“Meat has particular significance. People said it is very American to eat meat, why would they want to change? In Brazil, the barbecue is a cultural event. In China, meat consumption is in some ways associated with development and status.

“All of these things mean that this is particularly a difficult area to address. It is important to recognise meat consumption has important cultural connotations with people,​” concluded Froggatt.

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