‘Ration meat and save the world’

People will have to be rationed to four modest portions of meat and one litre of milk a week if the world is to avoid runaway climate change, a major new report warns.

The report, by the Food Climate Research Network, based at the University of Surrey in Britain, also says total food consumption should be reduced, especially “low nutritional value” treats such as alcohol, sweets and chocolates.

It urges people to return to habits their mothers or grandmothers would have been familiar with: buying locally in-season products, cooking in bulk and in pots with lids or pressure cookers, avoiding waste and walking to the shops — alongside more modern tips such as using the microwave and internet shopping.

The report goes much further than any previous advice after mounting concern about the impact of the livestock industry on greenhouse gases and rising food prices. It follows a four-year study of the impact of food on climate change.

Tara Garnett, the report’s author, warned that campaigns encouraging people to change their habits voluntarily were doomed to fail and urged the government to use caps on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon pricing to ensure changes were made.

“Food is important to us in a great many cultural and symbolic ways, and our food choices are affected by cost, time, habit and other influences,” the report says. “Study upon study has shown that awareness-raising campaigns alone are unlikely to work, particularly when it comes to more difficult changes.”

The report’s findings are in line with an investigation by the October edition of the Ecologist magazine, which found that arguments for people to go vegetarian or vegan to stop climate change and reduce pressure on rising food prices were exaggerated and would damage the developing world in particular, where many people depend on animals for essential food, other products such as leather and wool, and for manure and help in tilling fields to grow other crops.

Instead, it recommended cutting meat consumption by at least half and making sure animals were fed as much as possible on grass and food waste which could not be eaten by humans.

“The notion that cows and sheep are four-legged weapons of mass destruction has become something of a distraction from the real issues in both climate change and food production,” said Pat Thomas, the Ecologist‘s editor.

The Food Climate Research Network found that measured by production, the UK food sector produces greenhouse gases equivalent to 33-million tonnes of carbon. Measured by consumption the total rises to 43,3-million tonnes. Both figures work out at under one- fifth of UK emissions, but they exclude the indirect impacts of actions such as clearing rainforest for cattle and crops, which other studies estimate would add up to 5% to 20% of global emissions.

The report found the meat and dairy sectors together accounted for just over half of those emissions; potatoes, fruit and vegetables for 15%; drinks and other products with sugar for another 15%; and bread, pastry and flour for 13%. —

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