New research has shown avoiding meat and dairy products is the best way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.
Scientists have been analysing the damage farming does to the planet, and have discovered without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75 per cent.
This is an area equivalent to the USA, China, the European Union and Australia combined – and would still be enough to feed the world, The Guardian reports.
In farming, meat and dairy take up 83 per cent of land, and produce 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.
However, meat and dairy products provide only 18 per cent of calories and 37 per cent of protein in a non-vegan diet.
The research also shows 86 per cent of all land mammals are now livestock or humans, and loss of wild areas to agriculture is the main cause of current extinction of wildlife.
The study, published in Science, also said:
Most strikingly, impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change.
This means even the very lowest impact and most sustainable meat and dairy products still cause more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.
Joseph Poore, from Oxford University, who led the research, said:
A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth […] it is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.
Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.
The study looked at the impact of food as it goes from farms to consumers, its land use, greenhouse gas emissions and water and air pollution.
It took into account almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries, covering 40 food products which represent 90 per cent of all that is eaten.
Check out some vegan alternatives you could be enjoying:
Poore added how cutting down the environmental impact of all farming is, of course, not easy:
There are over 570m farms all of which need slightly different ways to reduce their impact. It’s an [environmental] challenge like no other sector of the economy.
He also stated there was an opportunity to reduce the harm caused by environmentally-unfriendly farming without everyone having to become a vegan, suggesting if the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based food, this would deliver around two-thirds of the benefits of getting rid of all meat and dairy production.
Of course, while reducing such an amount would be hugely beneficial, suddenly stopping a massive amount of farming would be a mammoth undertaking, affecting not only people’s livelihoods but economic sectors and global cooperation.
However, Poore added $500 billion is spent every year on agricultural subsidies, saying: ‘there is a lot of money to do something really good with’.
He suggested strategies such as labels which reveal the impact of certain products, subsidies for sustainable and healthy foods and even taxes on meat and dairy.
While we’re probably some way off from seeing meat and dairy farms reduced so dramatically, it’s definitely food for thought.
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Charlie Cocksedge is a journalist at UNILAD. He graduated from the University of Manchester with an MA in Creative Writing, where he learnt how to write in the third person, before getting his NCTJ. His work has also appeared in such places as The Guardian, PN Review and the bin.