Europe’s agriculture industry is being urged to reduce meat and dairy production after research suggested it has surpassed safe limits for greenhouse emissions.
A report from Rural Investment Support For Europe (RISE) supports Greenpeace’s campaign to drastically reduce global meat and dairy production by 2050 to keep the Paris climate agreement on track.
The EU’s former environment commissioner, Janez Potocnik, said: “Unless policymakers face up to this now, livestock farmers will pay the price of their inactivity. ‘Protecting the status quo’ is providing a disservice to the sector.”
Research from non-profit organisations the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and GRAIN published in July found that meat and dairy companies were on track to surpass the fossil fuel industry as the world’s biggest contributors to climate change.
China, the US, the EU, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand are collectively responsible for over 60 per cent of global meat and dairy emissions.
Scientists are concerned about the gases caused by tens of billions of cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry and other animals in three main areas: methane, land use and respiration.
Professor Allan Buckwell, the paper’s co-author, said that beyond the implications for global warming, it was a health issue. Europeans already eat more than twice as much meat as national dietary authorities recommend.
Mr Buckwell told The Guardian: “We’re talking about fewer meat meals, less meat portions and moving to flexitarian diets without being dogmatic about it,” he said.
“There is a role for softer public health messaging but harder messages are necessary too.”
The number of people becoming vegan has increased drastically in recent years, with more than 3.5 million Britons now choosing to forego all animal by-products.
Environmentalists hope that their findings – which are likely to fuel the debate on whether people should adopt a plant-based diet to help the environment – will encourage policymakers to create more sustainable food systems.
Advocates propose measures – including taxes and subsidies – to “discourage livestock products harmful to health, climate or the environment”
However Liam MacHale, the secretary-general of the Irish Farmers’ Association, claimed that farmers were being used as scapegoats.
“Don’t single out our sector,” he said. “Look at greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is blamed but look at consumer behaviour in the transport sector. They need to fly abroad to relax [despite] the emissions associated with that. The airlines are not being closed down, yet you’re talking about possibly eliminating the livestock sector.”