‘Cut meat and dairy to save the planet’

Consumers need to cut down on the meat and dairy products they eat to help tackle climate change and reduce diet-related diseases, a government-back report has claimed.

In the first official recommendations for a healthy and environmentally-friendly diet, the Sustainable Development Commission – the government’s independent advisory body on sustainability – said a radical overhaul of the nation’s diet is needed.

While it recognised changes in diet would have economic impacts on the UK food industry, the report, titled Setting the Table, said reducing meat and dairy consumption was likely to have a “significant and immediate impact” on making diets more sustainable.

Cutting food waste and encouraging people to eat more seasonal, field-grown fruit and vegetables would also have an impact.

The report, which looked at 44 studies on how changes to food consumption would impact on the environment, recommends the government should target meat and dairy as “hotspots” which need immediate attention.

It also suggested DEFRA should conduct research to see if consumers would accept different diets, particularly ones which contained less meat.

While the shift away from current patterns of consumption could have positive impacts on environmental sustainability, the report, published on Friday (11 December) acknowledges food availability could be hit.

“Broadly, however, the SDC strongly supports the need for increased consumption of fruit and vegetables, and their production in the UK, where appropriate,” it states.

It also says calls for government research into the sustainability of organic food, which it “appears” to be positive for the environment.

There should be “an increase in consumption of foods produced with respect for wildlife”, such as organic systems and grass-fed animals it adds.

What the report says:

Effects of cutting consumption of meat and dairy products

Health benefits: Reduces incidence of cardiovascular disease, of some forms of cancer.

Environmental benefits: Large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, slowing of deforestation, freeing of farm land for other use, freeing of water resources, slowing loss of biodiversity, lower food prices and cheaper diets, higher employment.

Negative impacts: Decline in UK and global livestock industry, potential increase in deficiencies of iron, calcium and zinc.