Eat less meat, advises UN

People should give up meat for one day a week to save the planet, a leading member of a world climate change committee has said.

Chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Rajendra Pachauri, told The Observer that people could make their own contribution to tackling climate change by having a meat free day once a week.

Dr Pachauri said: "In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity."

He added: "Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there."

A vegetarian himself, Dr Pachauri - who was re-elected as IPCC chair last week - said that meat consumption was only one of many small changes needed in people's lifestyles to help fight global warming.

"That's what I want to emphasise: we really have to bring about reductions in every sector of the economy," he said.

The National Beef Association (NBA) has slammed Dr Pachauri's comments, saying it is not surprised that the meat industry is under attack again. Attributing a statistic from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that 18% of the planet's total greenhouse gas emissions comes from meat production, NBA chairman, Christopher Thomas-Everard, said: "That 18% has been disproved many times since it was first invented in 2006 in a FOA report 'Livestock's Long Shadow.' It has little to do with UK beef farming."

Thomas-Everard said that in fact, the common practice of feeding cattle on grass was a more much environmentally-friendly method of meat production than any green alternative.

"Concerned consumers should know that grass-fed UK beef has a lower carbon footprint than any alternative," he said.

"Humans cannot eat grass, but ruminant livestock convert it into a food the British have been eating for thousands of years.

"The NBA endorses remarks made by Alan Titchmarsh in the recent BBC series 'The Nature of Britain,' when he described grazing cattle and sheep as "the unsung heroes of the British countryside" - a countryside of grazed upland habitats, a uniquely hedged landscape, and wide lowland biodiversity.

"Even if it were possible to plough our grasslands and moorlands and grow vegan food, the carbon release would be far greater than centuries of the exhalations of cattle and sheep."

Vegetarian groups have seized on Dr Pachauri's advice, however. Annette Pinner, Vegetarian Society chief executive, told The Scotsman that the Vegetarian Society had been campaigning on this very issue as far back as two decades ago, when it released a film narrated by Sir Paul McCartney highlighting the environmental damage of meat consumption.

"What we choose to eat is one of the biggest factors in the personal impact we have on the environment. A recent study showed plant-based diets were better for the environment than those based on meat."

In defence of meat consumption, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) communications director Louise Welsh said: "As always when simplistic solutions like this are put forward they actually create more problems than they solve," while adding that work done by farmers and the processing sector to its environmental responsibilities is being ignored.

QMS also warned that removing meat from the diet could have adverse effects.

"It's also worth highlighting that a reduction in red meat consumption may lead to problems elsewhere in the diet. It's a proven fact that meat meets the body's needs for high quality haemoglobin iron, and considering that around 40% of UK women and teenage girls have low iron intakes, it is important not to exclude red meat from the diet."

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