Meat trade emissions equal to half of all Britain's cars

Meat and cheese top the list of foodstuffs that have a negative impact on the environment, according to research

A A A

If everyone in the UK went vegetarian or vegan it would have the same environmental benefit as talking half of all cars off the road, according to new research. Scientists have calculated the impact of 61 foods, with fresh meat and cheese topping the carbon footprint league.

They estimate that the combined greenhouse gas emissions from the foods we eat in the UK are the equivalent of 167 million tons of carbon dioxide, and switching to vegetarian diets could cut this by between 22 and 26 per cent.

Professor Nick Hewitt of Lancaster University, who carried out the research, said: "Our analysis shows that informed dietary choices can make a significant difference to greenhouse gas – reducing food-related emissions by around a quarter – with additional health benefits.''

Professor Hewitt, who carried out the work with colleagues from Small World Consulting, said that the potential saving of the nation becoming vegetarian could be as much as 40 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. "This is equivalent to a 50 per cent reduction in current exhaust pipe emissions of CO2 from the entire UK passenger car fleet.''

In the study, reported in the journal Energy Policy, researchers calculated the emissions of greenhouse gases associated with a wide range of foods and diets. Fresh meat and cheese are the top two for emissions. Meat has a carbon footprint at the checkout of 17kg of carbon dioxide per kilogram. Cheese has 15kg. Cooked meats are also high at 11kg per kilogram, with bacon at 9kg.

Exotic vegetables and mushrooms are high, largely because of freight and hothouse heating costs. Wine has a carbon footprint of 2kg per kilogram, and potatoes, apples, milk, bread and cereals are under 2kg. Home baking comes in at just over 2kg.

But the environmental campaigner Tony Juniper said cutting meat and dairy production altogether would not be as eco-friendly as the study suggests. "It's pretty clear that there are major environmental impacts that come with meat and dairy production, but I don't think it's as simple as saying that by ending meat and dairy production you'd get the kind of benefits that are implied by this kind of analysis. Organic farming relies on livestock to renew soil fertility and to work economically. For me, the challenge is not about whether we have meat and dairy production or not; it's how we do it in a sustainable way."

Dr Becky Lang, a nutrition expert at Warwick University, added that vegetarian diets can be a nutritional risk, if not managed carefully. "In general, there need be no nutritional problem with not eating meat, and there can be advantages to a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index, and suffer less from cardiovascular disease. If people are switching suddenly to a vegetarian diet they should make sure they get all the nutrients they have been getting from meat, in particular, iron and vitamin B12."

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum