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Meat should be taxed to reduce consumption, promote more vegetarian diets and ensure the world avoids “dangerous” climate change, a report warns.

The recommendation is included in a report by thinktank Chatham House (pdf), which says global meat consumption is a “major driver” of climate change.

But a carbon tax could make meat more expensive and reduce meat on offer in schools and hospitals and the armed forces to promote healthier diets, the report suggests.

See also: Scientists play down report linking processed meat to cancer

The livestock sector accounts for 15% of global emissions, equivalent to exhaust emissions from all vehicles in the world, the report states.

The study, Changing Climate, Changing Diets – Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption, warns that unless demand for meat falls, livestock emissions could trigger dangerous climate change.

Responding to the report, UK farming organisations said livestock farmers were working hard to reduce emissions and it ignored the essential role farmers and land managers play in managing the countryside.

Global meat consumption has already reached “unhealthy levels” and is on the increase – and is set to rise by 76% by 2050. 

In industrialised countries, the average person is eating twice as much meat as is deemed healthy by experts, according to the study.

Eating too much red and processed meat has been linked to a rise in obesity and diseases like type-2 diabetes and cancer, as a recent report by the World Health Organization concluded.

Countries have already committed to keeping global warming levels below a “dangerous” rise of 2C.

The report has been released ahead of the UN climate change talks in Paris next week, where countries will warn that the world is on track to record a 3C rise by 2100.

NFU climate change adviser Ceris Jones said: “Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture in the UK have decreased by around 19% since 1990 and the industry has committed to tackling its GHGs through the Greenhouse Gas Action Plan.

“The NFU will be updating the ‘Dairy Roadmap’ next month to highlight some of the good environmental work dairy farmers are undertaking.”

Scientific and medical communities both agreed that consuming recommended quantities of red meat is beneficial to human health and provides the body with a ready source of essential vitamins and minerals, highlighted Dr Jones.

“The NFU has always stated that eating lean red meat has an important role to play in a healthy balanced diet. It’s a traditional part of the British lifestyle and is enjoyed by most of the population,” she said.

“Going forward, we need to see a range of actions and mechanisms so farmers can retain the capacity to produce food while also continuing to safeguard the environment.”

In an open letter to its members ahead of the Paris meeting, Country, Land and Business Association president Ross Murray said: “Land managers are already investing for both private and public benefit, from precision farming and water storage, to renewable energy generation and sustainable management of woodland.

“This is an important moment in time within the countryside and these activities must be encouraged and supported at local, national and international levels.”