Vegetarians welcome call to eat less meat

The vegetarian lobby has seized on the Cabinet Office's suggestion that an environmentally responsible diet should contain less meat and dairy products.

In its report on government food policy - 'Food Matters: Towards a Strategy for the 21st Century' - the Cabinet Office states that if the food industry is to remain sustainable, people must start eating less meat and prices should rise to reflect the environmental costs of meat production.

The Vegetarian Society has welcomed the recommendation, describing it as a "wake-up call" on the environmental impact of eating meat. Annette Pinner, chief executive of the Vegetarian Society, said: "We are encouraged that the government has finally woken up to the devastating impact of livestock farming on the environment.

"However, it is hardly surprising that the public is unaware of the link, when the government's own flagship website, ActonCO2, fails to make a single reference to the carbon impact of a meat-based diet.

"We now need to ensure that meat and dairy reduction are part of a co-ordinated strategy to reduce our carbon emissions, individually and globally."

The report, commissioned by PM Gordon Brown, does recognise the nutritional benefits of meat consumption and the crucial role of livestock farming in sustaining biodiversity in the UK. However, it points out that more must be done to control agricultural emissions, which do not currently fall under emissions trading schemes.

"Almost half of the UK food chain's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from agriculture," states the report. "There is no equivalent to a carbon price on emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, which account for around 80% of the global warming potential of farming's greenhouse gas emissions. This is not sustainable or efficient in the long term."