Greenhouse gas fear over increased levels of meat eating

Minced beef

Related Stories

Global consumption of meat needs to fall - to ensure future demand for food can be met and to help protect the environment - a study says.

Research from Cambridge and Aberdeen universities estimates greenhouse gases from food production will go up 80% if meat and dairy consumption continues to rise at its current rate.

That will make it harder to meet global targets on limiting emissions.

The study urges eating two portions of red meat and seven of poultry per week.

However that call comes as the world's cities are seeing a boom in burger restaurants.

The research highlights that more and more people from around the world are adopting American-style diets, leading to a sizeable increase in meat and dairy consumption.

It says if this continues, more and more forest land or fields currently used for arable crops will be converted for use by livestock as the world's farmers battle to keep up with demand.

Start Quote

Agricultural practices are not necessarily at fault here - but our choice of food is”

End Quote Lead researcher, Bojana Bajzelj

Deforestation will increase carbon emissions, and increased livestock production will raise methane levels and wider fertiliser use will further accelerate climate change.

The lead researcher, Bojana Bajzelj from the University of Cambridge, said: "There are basic laws of biophysics that we cannot evade."

"The average efficiency of livestock converting plant feed to meat is less than 3%, and as we eat more meat, more arable cultivation is turned over to producing feedstock for animals that provide meat for humans.

"The losses at each stage are large, and as humans globally eat more and more meat, conversion from plants to food becomes less and less efficient, driving agricultural expansion and releasing more greenhouse gases. Agricultural practices are not necessarily at fault here - but our choice of food is."

Yield gaps

The report says the situation can be radically improved if farmers in developing countries are helped to achieve the best possible yields from their land.

Another big improvement will come if the world's population learns to stop wasting food.

The researchers say if people could also be persuaded to eat healthier diets, those three measures alone could halve agricultural greenhouse gas levels from their 2009 level.

The study is the latest to warn of the planetary risks of eating intensively-produced meat and dairy produce. Scientists worried about climate change are increasingly making common cause with health experts concerned about the obesity pandemic.

But many people are voting with their wallets and their bellies - as burger bars expand, mushroom burgers are not yet top-selling items.

Follow Roger on Twitter: @rharrabin


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 735.

    I guess we can all do our little bit for a better world, whatever that may be. Good for Sir Richard Branson for giving up beef, Sir Paul McCartney for going vegetarian and exposing some of the cruelty that the meat industry / factory farming entail, and Venus and Serena Williams for taking it a step further and choosing a vegan diet ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    The obvious thing is to grow artificial animal muscle in labs; then you have all the meat without any fat, gas, ethical issues, biohazards, etc. Just 100% edible meat direct from the petri-dish

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    Rainforests are cut down to make space for farms to grow Soy. The Soy is then fed to cows amongst other chemicals and antibiotics. That meat is then sold cheap to wealthier nations. Something isn't quite right there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Anyone who has even a tiny knowledge of the muck fed to poultry and the conditions in which they are kept knows to avoid it like the plague. "Factory farming" needs to be seen for what it is - factory and implicitly, cruel, use of animals. Far better to concentrate on the massive waste - mostly in the shops - and ensure better education.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    How about UK stops exporting majority of UK's reared meat and then importing New Zealand lamb, Spanish pork, Argentina beef and Chinese chickens for ready meals? So actually use what we produce ourselves without the huge ship and road miles, that also create emissions.

    In term that might push the prices of meat up and we won't be buying as much?


Comments 5 of 7


More Science & Environment stories



Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.