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
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat