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16 February 2010

Meat Free Mondays gives different angle on vegetarian study

Thank you so much to one of our readers, Meg, for this referral to the Meat Free Monday website and the actual WWF report How Low Can We Go?

It is fascinating how there were several news angles that could have been taken from the WWF report, but the media picked up on the bad news/more sensationalist headline that "a vegetarian diet can harm the environment".  Actually, the report was looking at the greenhouse gas emissions involved in the UK food system, and the scope for reducing them by 70 per cent by 2050.  

The Meat Free Monday article gives a much more balanced assessment of the WWF report.  The report said that livestock rearing alone accounts for 57 per cent of harmful emissions from UK agriculture.  It indicates that a vegetarian diet (with dairy and eggs), a 66 per cent reduction in livestock production consumption, and technologies to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from soils and methane from ruminants, had the potential to reduce direct supply chain emissions by 15-20 per cent.

According to the Meat Free Monday article: the report pointed out that any change in meat consumption patterns would have to be managed carefully. Less animals would mean less animal feed, for example, freeing up arable land, but how we compensate for a diet lower in meat, eggs and dairy could also have an adverse effect in terms of emissions. A switch from beef and milk to tofu and quorn could mean we need more arable land, not less. Emissions could be reduced nine per cent with a switch from red to white meat, the report also said, but would see an increase in the import of soy meal for poultry feed.

The report warned that "careful assessment" would be needed to avoid "unintended consequences", however. If the livestock industry contracted and collapsed entirely then the UK would be dependent on low-cost exports from other countries - it might make us healthier, but the environmental problems associated with meat production would simply be shifted elsewhere.

Author & Editor

Tracey Bailey is the founder of Biome Eco Stores and mother of two. After working in corporate communications and starting a family, she made a choice to be part of the solution to our planet's future and started Biome Eco Stores. Tracey is passionate about educating the community about living eco-friendly and sustainable lives through her extended product, chemical, health and environmental knowledge.


Sue Doran said...

I do think the idea of having a meat free Monday was a bit flawed anyway. Not that I don't think it's a good idea to encourage people to eat less meat; I frequently have more than one meat free day a week. Today in fact is going to be one of them. But many people who eat meat but are very tempted to become vegetarians (like me) (ie, those who are the specific audience for Meat free Monday) have a roast joint of meat on a Sunday and the leftovers form the basis of a meal on Monday. Mondays during the winter months are hardly ever meat free for me. I wish they had thought it through a bit more!

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