According to the results of new research by the University of Oxford, which is considered one of the most comprehensive studies conducted on the environmental impact of diet, the “single biggest way” to reduce your individual carbon footprint is to follow a vegan diet.
The new study claims that removing meat and dairy from your diet can lessen your diet’s environmental impact by as much as 73 percent. And if everyone stopped eating processed meat, around 75 percent of global farmland can be freed up. That area is equivalent to the size of the EU, US, Australia, and China combined.
The results were published in the Science journal. The study looked at data from nearly 40,000 farms across 119 countries.
The study found that 60 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the meat and dairy industries. These same industries also provided 37 percent of the world’s protein consumption and 18 percent of calories.
Joseph Poore, the study’s lead author, said: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication [when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients, inducing excessive algae growth], land use and water use.
“It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he added because these measures only reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”
A total of 40 agricultural products were also examined, representing 90 percent of all food that is consumed.
Apart from determining the types of food eaten, the study also looked at how rearing methods affected the planet. For instance, raising cows on natural pastures allows 50 times less land to be used than when they are raised on deforested land, the latter of which can translate to up to 12 times more levels of greenhouse gas emissions.
The study took five years to complete and Poore hopes the findings influence the way people consume food, though he’s not holding out much hope for that.
He told The Independent: “The problem is, you can’t just put environmental labels on a handful of foods and look to see if there is some effect on purchasing.
“Consumers take time to become aware of things, and then, even more, to act on them. Furthermore, the labels probably need to be in combination with taxes and subsidies. My view is that communicating information to consumers could tip the entire food system towards sustainability and accountability.”
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