Landmark research by academics at Oxford University in 2018 found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73 percent.
Scientists say avoiding meat and dairy products from your diet is the single best way an individual can cut down their own impact on the environment and help tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis. Indeed, if everyone stopped eating these foods overnight, then global farmland use could be reduced by 75 percent - an area equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined.
Not only would this result in a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions (the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation found meat and dairy account for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions - the same as all cars, HGVs, aircraft, and shipping combined), it would also free up wild land lost to agriculture, one of the primary causes for mass wildlife extinction.
Jonathan Wells, professor of anthropology and paediatric nutrition, told The Independent: “Shifting to a much greater proportion of global dietary intake from plant foods is a key way to mitigate climate change and ecological degradation. Plant foods are more efficient per unit of land, and that would allow more land to be left wild."
“From my perspective, promoting an overall shift to plant-based diets at the population, and global, level is more important than whether individuals become fully vegan, or vegetarian, or simply stay an omnivore but consuming less animal-source foods.”
Transitioning away from meat and dairy is ultimately unavoidable, if the world is to meet climate targets, according to Dr Mike Clark, from Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Population Health, an expert on environmental, economic, and health impacts of food systems.
He said: “At a global scale, there is an abundance of evidence that suggests that consumption and production of meat and dairy need to reduce in order to promote health and meet environmental targets. This is particularly true in high-income economies like the UK, USA, Australia, EU with histories of high meat and dairy consumption.”
In 2019, scientists writing in the Lancet Planetary Health journal called for governments to implement a vast restoration of natural vegetation on land currently used for meat production. This, they said, was the “best option” for removing CO2 from the Earth’s atmosphere. World-class chefs are joining the fray too. A vegan restaurant in south-west France recently won a Michelin star, the first for an establishment serving only animal-free products.
Going vegan or reducing meat and dairy won’t be enough to prevent climate catastrophe on its own, but it is a vital step in the right direction, and people will need support from the state, companies, and other organisations to achieve this.