Study of environmental impact of meat-eating is disappointing

Friday, 21 July 2023

 AHDB has responded to a university study that claims eating less red meat would substantially reduce the UK’s carbon footprint.

The research, led by Professor Peter Scarborough of Oxford University and published by Nature Food, said there was a strong relationship between the amount of animal-based foods in a diet and its environmental impact, including GHG emissions, land use, water use, eutrophication and biodiversity.

It went on to say that a big meat-eater produces an average of 10.24 kg of greenhouse gasses each day, low meat-eaters 5.37 kg per day, and vegans 2.47 kg a day, and a reduction in meat intake would reduce this.

We are disappointed to see, once again, a study conveying simplistic conclusions to a very complex topic.

Foods fulfil different roles within our diets and, therefore, cannot be fairly compared by weight, calorie or even nutrient contribution.Limited intake of animal-based foods has also been shown to increase nutritional inadequacy, an area often overlooked by these kinds of studies.

In the UK, most of the meat consumed is produced here in the UK, which, thanks to our climate and the efficiencies of our farmers, is among the most sustainable in the world.

Red meat imports in 2022 came from fewer than 50 countries, so for the study to compare statistical averages taken from 119 countries seems irrelevant.

What’s more, the authors state that the impact of carbon dioxide absorbed by livestock farming is ‘modest’, yet experts in this field are united in the fact that no farm-level data currently exists to demonstrate the rate of carbon dioxide absorbed by livestock systems in the UK.

Almost all households in GB buy meat regularly, with 92% of households buying red meat in June this year.

That’s why British farmers are committed to continuing to deliver this quality product while positively contributing to the environment through nature-based solutions and climate action.

Our industry experts will be making a more in-depth review of the study in due course.

Professor Scarborough had responded to us, which the environment team is currently reviewing.

Further information

Greenhouse gas emissions: agriculture

Calculating and reducing your carbon footprint