LEAP: Could low meat diets be the solution to CO2 emissions?

New research from the University of Oxford Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) highlights how low meat diets could positively impact CO2 emissions

Assessing the environmental impact of different diets - high and low meat, pescetarian, vegetarian and vegan - Oxford Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) found that the dietary impacts of vegans were rough;y a third of those that are higher meat eaters. 

Taking into account greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, land use, water use, water pollution, and biodiversity, researchers linked data from more than 55,000 individuals with data on the environmental impacts of the food they eat. The researchers also took into account the variation in environmental impact based on how and where food is produced and included this variation in their results. 

“This is important as it ensures that the results are based on all the available data about the environmental impact of foods, as opposed to focussing on specific food production methods which can obscure the relationship between animal-based food consumption and environmental impact,” noted LEAP.

A 30% difference between high and low meat diets

Despite substantial variations in how food is produced, there is a clear relationship between environmental impact and animal-based food consumption. A significant difference can even be seen between high and low meat diets of 30%. 

As such LEAP calls for policy action to reduce meat production and consumption.

Key findings from the report:

  • In 2015 direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions of the global food system with a third of total emissions for that year
  • The food system is estimated to be responsible for 70% of the world’s freshwater use, and 78% of freshwater pollution
  • 75% of ice-free land area of the planet has been affected by human use primarily for agriculture and land use change such as deforestation
  • Past research shows plant-based diets are substantially lower than meat based when it comes to environmental measures 
  • The impact of vegans was 25% of high meat eaters for GHG emissions and land use, 27% for water pollution, 46% ofr water use, and 34% for biodiversity

“Our dietary choices have a big impact on the planet. Cherry-picking data on high impact plant-based food or low impact meat can obscure the clear relationship between animal-based foods and the environment. Our results, which use data from over 38,000 farms in over 100 countries, show that high meat diets have the biggest impact on many important environmental indicators, including climate change and biodiversity loss. Cutting down the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can make a big difference to your dietary footprint,” commented Professor Peter Scarborough, of the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford University (Lead author).

'Vegans, vegetarians, fish-eaters and meat-eaters in the UK show discrepant environmental impacts'

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