A new study says that cutting down on red and processed meat would shrink the carbon footprint by about 28 million tons a year plus reduce chronic diseases by 3 to 12 percent in the UK.
The study says that to reach the 2050 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by 80 percent, the UK will have to substantially cut emissions from livestock farming.
Data for the study came from the 2000-2001 British National Diet and Nutrition Survey. Meat intake was estimated using dietary records of 1,724 participants between the ages of 19 and 64. In this sample, about 2.3 percent men and 6.2 percent women were self-reported vegetarians. The authors then classified the rest into five divisions based on the amount of meat intake (F1 being lowest consumers, F5 highest).
Researchers then assessed the risk factors associated with eating meat and how much reduction in meat intake would be beneficial for health and environment.
They estimate that reducing meat intake from 91g (3.2 oz.) to 53g (1.8 oz.) a day for men and 54g (1.2 oz.) to 30g (1.05 oz.) for women would reduce chronic diseases and cut carbon footprint. Risk of diseases like coronary artery disease, diabetes, and bowel cancer would be cut by between 3 and 12 per cent across the population.
Cutting down on meat products would amount to reduction of 0.45 tons per person per year (around 28 tons) of carbon dioxide. While the data used in the study is old, the authors say that the current survey data would also reflect the same and probably even higher estimates of meat consumption.
"This indicates that our estimates remain relevant and may even be conservative, highlighting the need for action to prevent further increases in intake in the UK population," authors suggest. The researchers say that eating healthy would not just be good for the body but also for the environment.
"Health benefits provide near term rewards to individuals for climate friendly changes and may thus 'nudge' humanity towards a sustainable future. Dietary recommendations should no longer be based on direct health effects alone," authors added.
A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that on an average, non-vegetarian diets require "2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than did the vegetarian diet." The study says that beef consumption is the highest contributor to these differences.
According to the U.S Department of Agriculture, in the year 2011, Americans consumed 25.6 billion pounds of beef (worth $79 billion) that was actually less than what Americans consumed in 2002 which was 27 billion pounds (worth $ 60 billion). According to recent analysis from The Economist, Luxembourg is the carnivore capital of the world based on per capita meat consumption.
The present study was published in the journal BMJ.