UN report concludes Europeans should cut meat and dairy consumption by half

Posted on the 28th April 2014

A new report commissioned by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has found that if Europeans reduced their consumption of meat and dairy by half, it would cut nitrogen pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by around 40 per cent, as well as benefit our health.

‘Nitrogen on the Table: The influence of food choices on nitrogen emissions and the European environment’, which is to be published next month, notes that animal farming is a major source of ammonia, nitrates and other nitrogen-based compounds that pollute our air and water. Therefore halving our consumption of animal products and switching to more plant-based agriculture would significantly cut nitrogen pollution rates. As animal farming is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions (14.5 per cent globally) it goes on to say that halving meat and dairy consumption would be a significant step towards meeting climate change targets.

The report also points out that reducing meat and dairy consumption by half would bring European diets much closer in line with dietary recommendations from bodies such as the World Health Organization and World Cancer Research Fund, based on intakes of saturated fat and red meat. This means it would not only be good for the environment, but benefit public health too.

A shift towards a more plant-based diet would also free up huge areas of agricultural land currently being used to grow feed for animals. This land, the report states, could be used to grow more cereal crops for export, as well as bioenergy crops, thus reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. The EU could also cut imports of soya beans by around 75 per cent, the cultivation of which is a leading cause of deforestation around the world.

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