According to new research by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, USA, a ‘flexitarian’ diet with one serving of meat a day has a lower carbon footprint than a vegetarian diet incorporating dairy, and the findings could put recent guidance about diet and climate change on its head. Modelling the environmental impact of all significant foods across some 140 countries, the research concluded that those who switch to a vegetarian diet might in fact be doing more harm than good.
The research found that it could be wiser for conscientious consumers to remove dairy products from their diet, enhance their fruit and vegetable consumption, and eat a meat of some type once a day for protein and energy. JHU called this a “two thirds vegan” nutrition, and Dr Keeve Nachman, the paper’s author, recently explained to The Telegraph that dietary shifts don’t have to be as drastic as people often think them to be to have a meaningful impact on the environment.
Interestingly the study found that a vegetarian diet incorporating eggs and dairy was less effective in reducing greenhouse emissions than a diet including meat, dairy and eggs for one of three meals and is solely plant-based for the other two meals.
A ‘flexitarian’ diet is better than a vegetarian diet for the environment . . .
Academics have been warning for quite some time now of the environmental impact diets high in meat have, and the new JHU research not only verifies this, affirming that beef, sheep and goat meat are the significant greenhouse gas-intensive foods, but it goes on to illustrate that dairy is not very far behind. According to Dr Nachman, incorporating a wholesome vegetarian diet would in all practicality involve dairy and eggs at a scale slightly over the standard, in order to balance the loss of meat. In contrast the “two-thirds vegan diet” in a country like the UK shows a noteworthy decline in some of the most climate intensive foods.
We need sustainable meat production, and consumption
The study shows clearly that todays meat production and consumption cannot be sustainably maintained, matching other research that it has to be reduced globally if environmental change is to be brought under check.
“Certain arrangements of beef production can significantly lessen our ability for carbon sequestration. In particular, the generation that requires deforestation for fodder production and grazing land has severe consequences for our climate,” said Dr Nachman. “Including beef in our diets at prevailing standards would have serious consequences for the environment.”
Countries shifting to a western diet
Worryingly, many low and middle-income nations have been increasingly turning towards a more western orientated meat-based diet, and specialists have been suggesting that this could have dire environmental consequences. According to the JHU study, in a situation where all 140 nations chose the eating patterns of high-income countries, per individual greenhouse gas emissions would rise by a scary 135 percent on average.