A new UK study has assessed the environmental impact of high-meat, low-meat, vegetarian, and vegan diets, conclusively showing that avoiding animal products has significant benefits for the planet.
Described as the most detailed research of its kind ever to be done, the study looked at the real eating habits of 55,000 people, as opposed to using model diets like many previous reports. It found that low-meat diets have half the emissions and land use of high-meat diets, while adopting a vegan diet can halve these figures again — totalling a 75% reduction.
Plant-based diets were also demonstrated to reduce water use by 54%, wildlife destruction by 66%, and methane production by a huge 93%. Overall, the research concluded that if everyone in the UK ate less meat, the resulting drop in emissions would be equivalent to taking eight million cars off the road.
Furthermore, the study found that the environmental impact of a food mostly comes down to its type, rather than where or how it was produced. For example, organic and locally-produced meat is still likely to have a larger impact than imported grains.
“A big difference”
The British meat industry has attempted to counter the findings by claiming that carbon is sequestered in farmland. However, study author Professor Peter Scarborough of Oxford University said this effect was proven to be very small, and that rewilding former farmland has a much greater positive impact.
The new research supports the results of previous studies conducted by Oxford University, with a 2019 paper finding that avoiding animal products could reduce a person’s carbon footprint by 73%. Another study the following year found that emissions from the food industry would make it impossible to limit global warming to 1.5 or even 2°C if nothing is changed.
“Our dietary choices have a big impact on the planet. Cutting down the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can make a big difference to your dietary footprint,” Professor Scarborough told The Guardian.