We won’t cut meat-eating until we put the planet before profit

In Focus ImageDamian Carrington

A few years ago I switched to a plant-based diet. After reporting study after study spelling out the dire environmental impact of the overconsumption of meat in rich nations, it felt like the right thing to do and I have no regrets. It’s unlikely we’ll end the climate crisis without tackling the vast environmental hoofprint of livestock. And, according to new research, the climate benefit of cutting meat consumption could be double what we thought.

We already knew that cattle and other livestock use 83% of the world’s farmland for pasture and fodder, while producing just 18% of protein. In rich countries, 70% of food-related emissions come from livestock. What the new study shows is that if people in developed nations adopted a healthy, low-meat diet, a huge amount of carbon dioxide could be sucked out of the air by letting farmland revert back to natural forests and grasslands.

In fact, the carbon-reduction impact of the growing trees and plants roughly doubles the climate impact of just cutting meat-eating alone, which itself reduces agricultural emissions by more than 60%. That’s because we are talking about a lot of land being freed up: almost 350m hectares of pastureland and 80m more of cropland – about half the area of the US. The total savings would be about 100bn tonnes over time, equivalent to about 10 times China’s annual emissions today.

“It’s a remarkable opportunity for climate mitigation,”

says Paul Behrens from Leiden University in the Netherlands who led the study.

“But it would also have massive benefits for water quality, biodiversity, air pollution, and access to nature, to name just a few.”

I can hear your questions already, so let’s address a couple. First, the study did not assume everyone in the 54 nations analysed all went vegan, Instead, they used the “planetary health diet”, which allows a beef burger and two servings of fish a week, plus some dairy products every day.

Second, what about farmers? Behrens says:

“It will be vital that we redirect agricultural subsidies to farmers for biodiversity protection and carbon sequestration. We must look after farming communities to enable a just food transition.”

It is an extraordinary fact that almost 90% of the $540bn in global subsidies given to farmers every year lead to “harmful” outcomes, according to the UN.

The new research landed in Veganuary, which challenges people to go vegan for the first month of the year, and has seen record sign-ups this year. However, while replacements for meat and dairy products are handy for many plant-based eaters, they are sometimes criticised as being junk food.

Prof Guy Poppy, at the University of Southampton, UK, said last week:

“In the rush to develop marketable, attractive alternatives, please don’t get into the rush of creating plant-based junk food [that are] ultra processed and high-fat, high-sugar.”

Obviously, in an ideal world we would all eat meals freshly prepared from raw ingredients. But we don’t live in that world and I worry that this criticism of meat alternatives risks making health perfection the enemy of the environmental good.

Despite the urgency of the climate emergency, the world is not going to go vegan overnight. People will continue to eat burgers and sausages, which are unlikely ever to be health foods however they are made. But I think plant-based alternatives could get a lot of people a lot of the way towards potentially huge environmental benefits.

The argument over renewable energy has been won – it’s clean, it’s cheap and is a vital part of ending the climate crisis. But, by contrast, the debate over action to cut the massive impact of meat eating on the planet has only just begun.

If denials of livestock’s giant environmental hoofprint sounds like an echo of the denial of the damage caused by fossil fuels, that is because it is, according to a new analysis.

“The meat industry fosters uncertainty about scientific consensus and casts doubt over the reliability of both researchers and the evidence, a technique that has been employed by the tobacco, fossil fuel and alcohol industries,”

the UK researchers concluded, after conducting the first peer-reviewed and systematic analysis of how the meat industry frames the issue. They added that

“cherry-picking and misrepresentation of evidence was seen.”

Among the tactics found by the researchers were claiming that the science remains open to debate and branding advice that the overconsumption of meat is harmful as “extremist” or “alarmist”. Other industry lines were that livestock farming benefits the environment, for which there is very little evidence at any meaningful scale, and that red meat is more nutritious than the alternatives.

The researchers were blunt as to why such tactics are deployed: the

“potential threat to meat industry profits”.

“It is clear that the meat industry is a powerful voice”,

said Kathryn Clare of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and who led the analysis.

“The input of organisations representing the sector on issues relating to meat consumption should be of serious concern to those involved in food or sustainability policy”.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Logo.svgIt is not just the industry that is in denial, but also the countries that host big livestock operations. New Zealand’s diplomats helped remove references to the need for plant-based diets from the influential summary of the major climate report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier in April. The term “plant-based” appears more than 50 times in the report itself.

The country’s own climate change minister, James Shaw, was not impressed:

“New Zealand should avoid adopting positions in these negotiations that could leave the impression we are working to protect our largest industries at the expense of the climate. We push back very strongly against petrostates’ efforts to protect their fossil fuel industries. We should strive to avoid any similar conflict of interest.”

It is clear that most people in developed nations eat more meat than is healthy for them or the planet. But it is also clear that action to cut meat-eating is a much harder challenge than switching the source of people’s electricity.

Food is personal, cultural and emotional. Governments are reluctant to be seen as telling people what should be on their plates, even though the sector is already heavily regulated for safety reasons. It is difficult for farmers too, working hard to produce our food and often for little reward. But unless meat consumption is reduced it will be vastly harder – perhaps impossible – to end the climate crisis.

A cut in meat-eating will happen, led by the young and as alternatives get tastier and more affordable. The question is whether it will happen in time, or whether the meat industry will follow in the footsteps of the fossil fuel industry and dangerously deny and delay, even as the impact of global heating grows ever more severe.



  1. Man was created to be a vegetarian
  2. IPCC Climate Change Report Upstaged by Ukraine
  3. Can turning down our radiators turn up the heat on Putin?
  4. Can carbon capture and storage really help halt the climate crisis?
  5. Saving our climate is possible – but it requires action now
  6. Down to earth for April 2022 – Composted reads Climate heroes What’s at stake


Additional reading

  1. Man was created to be a vegetarian (Our World)
  2. Global warming a solution Global Warming and what an Individual can do about it – Swami Dayananda Saraswati
  3. EU Climate and Energy Framework and Roadmap for global climate agreement
  4. Going for sustainable development
  5. 2016 review Health and environment
  6. How to look back at Cop26
  7. The Climate Crisis and the Need for Utopian Thinking
  8. Strasbourg – Conference on the Future of Europe



  1. Menus matter
  2. Three Good Reasons You Should Reduce Your Meat Consumption
  3. 82% Of People Who Tried Veganuary Have Drastically Cut Meat Intake, Survey Finds
  4. 1 In 4 Global Consumers Cutting Down On Meat Consumption, Report Reveals
  5. Brits Slash Meat Consumption By 17% Within The Decade, Data Reveals
  6. Boris Johnson Pressed On ‘Glaring Omission’ Over Meat Consumption In Net-Zero Plans
  7. Finland’s Capital Moves Away From Meat At Its Events In Plant-Based Drive
  8. Nearly Half Of Europeans Are Eating Less Meat, New Research Reveals
  9. Meat Production To Blame For 90,000 Pollution-Related Deaths In China Every Year, Study Finds
  10. Spanish Minister Urges Public To Eat Less Meat To Help Protect The Planet
  11. Food of The Future
  12. Online: From meat to beets
  13. Online: The psychology of meat avoiders
  14. Indians Piping Hot Meal Consumption Health Secret
  15. How Advertising Fuels the Climate Crisis: Interview with Tim Kasser
  16. They Are Worried about Their Choice of Food!
  17. Changing to a new environment…
  18. Vegans Are Very Nice To Meat
  19. Message to all Meat eaters!!
  20. We Must Be Mindful Of Privilege Before Putting The Burden Of Sustainability On Meat Eaters
  21. Eating Sustainably: The Elite Must Take More Onus Of Food Choices
  22. Oregon Activists Ramp Up War Against Meat, Dairy
  23. Root of problem…
  24. I ate meat and I regretted it
  25. Here’s Why You Should Be Eating Less Meat If You Want To Help Fight Climate Change
  26. Is Vegetarianism a diet to adopt?
  27. Evolutionary biology and the beauty of confirming hypotheses with data and experiments
  28. Is a vegetarian/vegan diet healthier than a meat diet?
  29. Animal agriculture and human health
  30. Animal Rights & Veganism
  31. From changing the human body to mitigating climate changeNudging people away from meat: Promising directions and challenges
  32. On nitrogen pollution
  33. L for Lowlands
  34. Livestock keeping
  35. Eleventh Hour: Tipping the scale toward renewable energy
  36. What new Virginia laws reveal about how the natural gas industry sees its future 
  37. As California turns to renewables, who will clean up old plants?
  38. We have a pro-climate president. Then why is it so quiet on the climate front?
  39. Taking The Leap into Renewable Energy with Solar
  40. The role of industrial clusters in advancing the energy transition
  41. It should be a golden moment for renewable energy. It’s not.
  42. Brace Yourself for Pan Masala Ads and May Be a World War 3
  43. More fuel subsidies will defeat green goal, say economists 
  44. California has set a new record of 97.6% instantaneous renewables on its grid early April
  45. Week In Middle East: EGA To Supply CelestiAL Solar Aluminium To Parts Maker, Hammerer Aluminum Industries; And More
  46. ClimateWatch: Africa among the hardest hit by climate change
  47. The Earth is the Lord’s
  48. Earth Day Special: The Fossil Fuel Resistance is Fertile.
  49. Earth Day and the Climate Crisis are not a “Cute” Thing
  50. Biden announces new climate actions on Earth Day | full video
  51. Twitter joins Google in blocking ads that deny climate change
  52. COVID justification for one-use items is gone — time to reuse and recycle items again
  53. Everything we’re doing now will have to be undone

Published by Guestspeaker

A joint effort of several authors who do find that nobody can keep standing at the side and that “Everyone" must care about what is going on in today’s world. We are a bunch of people who do not mind that somebody has a totally different idea but is willing to share the ideas with others and to be Active and willing to let others understand how "today’s decisions will influence the future”. Therefore we would love to see many others to "Act today".

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