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Climate change study: Cut 75% of meat from the diet

According to experts, if we want to save the world from climate change, we will have to eat a lot less meat. In fact, according to a new report, while we all don’t need to be vegetarians, we do need to cut our global meat consumption by at least 75%.

Demand for meat has grown significantly beyond people’s actual dietary needs for decades, the researchers say, despite poor living conditions on factory farms and the enormous impact of Meat industry for the environment.

“If all humans consumed as much meat as Europeans or North Americans, we would certainly miss international climate targets and many ecosystems would collapse,” said Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim at the University Bonn, an author of the report, said in a press release.

“Therefore, we need to significantly reduce meat consumption, ideally to 20 kg or less per year. The war in Ukraine and the shortage of grain in the international market also emphasize that it is advisable to allow animals eat less grains to support food security.”

This new study, published online on Monday in the journal Resource Economics Annual Review, examines the economics of the meat industry as well as the costs and benefits to the body and society. and our climate change, concluding that there is a need to dramatically reduce how much meat we consume as a planet.

Research says meat consumption per capita is highest in wealthy nations in North America, Oceania and Europe, and income and demographic projections suggest demand for meat will continue increase until 2050. Eating too much meat may be unhealthy and promotes chronic diseases, but even so, consumption seems unlikely to slow down.

The study’s authors argue that meat production has a huge impact on climate change, with meat production being associated with significantly higher emissions than plant-based food production, and also linked to increased deforestation and biodiversity loss, the study’s authors suggest.

According to the study, cows are the largest emitter of greenhouse gases of all livestock species, producing more than 10 times more emissions per kilogram of product than rice production.

“Therefore, increasing meat production and consumption follows the trends described [earlier] has the potential to lead to the collapse of certain functions of the global ecosystem on which humanity depends crucially,” the study suggested.

Farm animals also compete with humans for food to some extent – ​​although much of the forage produced for livestock is not consumed by humans (i.e. grasses, leaves, grains). cereals that cannot be digested by humans), but forage crops are still grown on some 560 million hectares worldwide, representing 40% of the available arable land.

Currently, about half of the grains produced worldwide are used for animal feed, Qaim said.

Research indicates that about a third of the arable land currently used to produce feed crops is likely to be converted to cropland for human crops.

GLOBAL CONSUMPTION OF PLANT NECESSARY BUT SUSTAINABLE CONSUMPTION

Do we all have to switch to a completely plant-based diet?

No, the study said.

When environmentalists advocate phasing out a high-meat diet, many assume this means a strict directive to go vegetarian or vegan. True to individual choice, switching to a vegetarian diet can be extremely beneficial for those who can, and the growing popularity of this lifestyle is helping to reduce the need for meat in general.

The study admits: “From a purely climate perspective, a vegetarian diet would be preferred over a meat-based diet.

However, it is not viable as a global solution. Research shows that there are areas where nothing but grassland can grow.

Dr Martin Parlasca, co-author of the study, said: “We can’t live on grass, but ruminants can. “So if pasture can’t be used in any other way, it makes perfect sense to raise livestock on it.”

Research also shows that meat produced in “extensive grazing systems” has a much lower water footprint than meat produced in “intensive meat production systems,” or indoor operations. machines where large numbers of pets gather in indoor facilities during their lifetime. life.

There are also many regions of the Earth where humans live that cannot grow crops with high quality proteins and nutrients, or grow them only for a short period of time without being able to sustain a complete population. These tend to be poorer regions.

“In such cases, animals are often the key element of a healthy diet,” says Parlasca. “For many people, they are also an important source of income.”

Livestock accounts for about 40% of the total value of agricultural production, with around 1.3 billion people working in these production chains, the study said.

Farming can also have a huge role to play in society – in some areas, owning livestock is one of the ways that women or poor households can achieve opportunity or their own economic independence. me.

“If dairy, egg and meat sales are lost, this could threaten their livelihoods,” Parlasca said.

Efforts to reduce global meat consumption should take into account the socioeconomic benefits of raising livestock in low-income areas, the researchers say, and instead target domestic livestock production. machine. The study found that “industrial meat production systems have less of a positive effect on social justice in general”, making it clear that the big issue here is large-scale meat production, not farming. small population in poorer areas where livestock production is an integral part of their daily lives. life, health and economic prospects.

The researchers suggest higher tariffs on meat products in countries in North America and Oceania as a way to help cut global meat consumption.

“That’s definitely unpopular, especially since a 10 or 20 percent surcharge probably won’t be enough, if it’s supposed to have a driving effect,” Qaim said. “However, meat has high environmental costs that are not reflected in current prices. It would be perfectly reasonable and fair for consumers to share more of these costs.”

They also mentioned that school curricula could be adjusted to include “sustainable consumption” guidelines to empower the next generation with a better idea of ​​how much meat should be part of the diet. their diets to keep global consumption at a reasonable level.

“We need to become more sensitive to the global impact of our decisions,” said Qaim. “This isn’t just true of food, it’s also true of the shirt we buy at the thrift store to wear for a single evening at a party.”

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