Experts point to impact of meat consumption on global warming

A new report has highlighted the relationship between the consumption of meat and the impact it has on global warming.

A Chatham House report, ‘Changing Climate, Changing Diets’, has recognised that the agricultural sector is a major contributor towards climate change. “Globally, food systems are responsible for up to 30% of all human-driven greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” claimed the report.
It was underlined how animal and crop production for feed alone contributed towards almost a “third of global deforestation and associated carbon dioxide emissions”, a chief source of methane and nitrous oxide. These chemical compounds are two of the most effective GHGs.

Furthermore, emissions from livestock, especially cattle and sheep, but also poultry and pigs, greatly add to the share of global GHGs as “tailpipe emissions from fuel burnt in all the world’s vehicles”.

It is claimed that each contributes to an estimated 14.5% of total emissions.

Meanwhile, it is noted that methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide are emitted throughout the whole process of the production chain – starting with crops and the making of animal feed, and ending with the transportation of products to the consumer.

According to Antony Froggatt, who wrote the paper alongside Laura Wellesley and Catherine Happer, an online poll was carried out over 12 countries. Among many, one objective was finding out what the motivating factors behind meat and dairy consumption were, and to test people’s awareness of different causes to climate change.

Following this initial survey, more detailed research was carried with focus groups in the UK, the US, China and Brazil.

“For me, the basic premise of the project is realising that, on the global level, we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions if we are to meet projected, internationally agreed targets,” Froggatt told Meat Trades Journal.

“It’s the recognition that agriculture and livestock needs to do its bit to both reduce its intermissions and, probably more importantly, in order to slow down the rate of growth of emissions that are expected given the fact that through to around 2050, growth rate of the sector is expected to grow 76%,” he continued.

Froggatt highlighted that when it came to the relationship between meat consumption and global warming, there was an education gap compared to other areas. This wasn’t surprising, claimed Froggatt, as there was more attention focused around the contribution of other sectors, such as transportation and energy spend.

People didn’t recognise the link between GHG emissions and meat consumption, but instead highlighted the packing that food comes in as the biggest environmental concern: “When they were asked about the environmental considerations of food, people were talking packaging. That is the most immediate, and in some cases the only, consideration that people were giving in relation to the environment.”

However, altering peoples habits on a global scale may present some challenges. “Not to say you’re defined by what you eat, but it is part of who you are,” said Froggatt.

“Meat has particular significance. People said it is very American to eat meat, why would they want to change? In Brazil, the barbecue is a cultural event. In China, meat consumption is in some ways associated with development and status.

“All of these things mean that this is particularly a difficult area to address. It is important to recognise meat consumption has important cultural connotations with people.”

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