Eat Less Meat to Tackle Climate Change

The BES Science Policy Team last night attended a lecture given by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the International Panel on Climate Change, sponsored by Compassion in World Farming. Dr Pachauri argued that one way for citizens in developed countries to tackle climate change is to eat less meat, particularly beef; the production of which uses vast tracts of land, along with huge amounts of grain and water.

Dr Pachauri presented the audience with some disturbing figures during the course of his lecture, including that of the massive increase in agricultural land in the past 40 years (gaining 500MHa from forests and other land uses); a growth which is set to continue. 80% of the emissions from agriculture are accounted for by livestock, whilst livestock rearing and processing itself accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock industry accounts for only 1% of global GDP. Dr Pachauri argued that these statistics illustrate the lack of productivity in livestock farming, stating that although meat consumption is increasingly seen as the ‘right’ of a developed society, livestock rearing is often a symptom of poverty.

Perhaps the most powerful statistic displayed by Dr Pachauri was this: that a farmer can feed up to 30 people on 1Ha of land providing vegetables, fruit, cereals and vegetable fats, over the course of one year, but if the same area of land is used for the production of eggs, milk and meat, only five to 10 people can be sustained.

Dr Pachauri was joined after the talk by a panel including Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Advisor to Defra, Felicity Lawrence, Guardian correspondent, and Dr John Fowles, Cambridge University Institute of Public Health. Interesting points to emerge from the discussion were the need to “educate the public for choice”, starting with engaging children with the issue of climate change, links to our diet and inequalities the need to reform agricultural subsidies to ensure that over-production and over-consumption of meat is not peversely supported,

Dr Fowles argued for the “double dividend” which could arise through a reform of patterns of meat consumption. Through ‘contraction’ of intake in the West, developing countries would be given space to ‘converge’ on meat consumption currently enjoyed in the developed world. Over time, greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock industry would remain constant. Greater consumption of meat in poorer areas would encourage better childhood growth and health, whilst evidence sugggested that reducing meat consumption in the developed world could lower the incidence of heart attack and colon cancer.

Media articles:

Eat less meat to curb global warming: Juliette Jowit, Observer, 08 Sept
Save the planet by cutting down on meat? That’s just a load of bull: Boris Johnson, Telegraph 09 Sept