Overhauling world farming and cutting meat from diets should be top priorities for protecting the environment, according to a UN-backed study.

The report, by the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, says food production accounted for a “staggering” amount of the world’s water consumption and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

With more than half of the world’s crops used to feed animals, it says consumers could help the situation by cutting down on meat consumption.

“A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products,” it adds.

The report, Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production, reviewed existing research to look into the industries which contributed to climate change.

It also studied how much energy was used in the production of produce.

“Agriculture and food consumption are identified as one of the most important drivers of environmental pressures, especially habitat change, climate change, water use and toxic emissions,” it says.

“The impacts related to these activities are unlikely to be reduced, but rather enhanced, in a business as usual scenario for the future.”

Population and economic growth was likely to lead to higher impacts unless patterns of production and consumption could be changed, it adds.

Edgar Hertwich, lead author at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said the impact of agriculture was “not surprising”.

“We identify fossil fuels use and agricultural production as major problem areas,” he added.