Veggie diet cuts carbon, scientists claim

A new study from Lancaster University has once again put meat consumption at the top of the carbon footprint league, with headline-grabbing results.

According to reports in The Independent, the study claimed that if everyone in the UK went vegetarian, it would have the “same environmental benefit as talking half of all cars off the road”.

The study looked at the carbon impact of 61 types of food, with meat and cheese coming top of the league in terms of production. It said that the combined greenhouse gas emissions from food topped 167m tonnes of carbon dioxide, and a switch to a vegetarian diet could cut this by between 22-26%.

In the paper, entitled The relative greenhouse gas impacts of realistic dietary choices, published in the journal Energy Policy, the authors, which included Professor Nick Hewitt of Lancaster University, said: “Taking the average GHG saving from six vegetarian or vegan dietary scenarios compared with the current UK-average diet gives a potential national GHG saving... equivalent to a 50% reduction in current exhaust pipe emissions from the entire UK passenger car fleet. Hence, realistic choices about diet can make substantial differences to embodied GHG emissions.”

According to the professor, a switch to vegetarian eating habits would cut 40m tonnes of carbon a year.

The study claimed that meat had a carbon footprint at the checkout of 17kg of carbon per kg of meat, cooked meats were 11kg and bacon 9kg.

Nick Allen, sector director for Eblex, said: “Quite frankly, cutting emissions through everyone becoming vegetarian is an unworkably simplistic solution to a complex and ongoing problem. It’s like saying we can make a 100% reduction in transport emissions by everyone walking everywhere.

“We need to feed a growing population. Whatever enterprise we employ to do that effectively, whether it is meat or vegetable production, inevitably has an environmental cost. What we need to be doing is looking at best use of available land to maximise food production with the lowest possible carbon footprint, but in a way that ensures profitability for the farmers involved. Increasing productivity and efficiency offer the best ways to reduce overall emissions.”

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