“The global environmental footprint associated with meat consumption is enormous.”
A Harvard University researcher has said that shifting to a more plant-based diet will be an ‘essential adjustment’ if we are to continue to be able ‘to feed a world of 10 to 11 billion people healthy diets without destroying the biosphere’.
The comment was made in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times in response to a recent report that states that beef is good for the environment and is perceived to ‘be overall better for farmers, consumers, rural communities and food prices than plant-based alternatives’.
The report has been commissioned by the industry-funded Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board.
Plant nutrients have a ‘much lower ecological footprint’
Researcher Samuel Myers told David Lazarus for the Los Angeles Times: “The global environmental footprint associated with meat consumption is enormous.
“Producing protein and nutrients using plant sources has been shown to have a much lower ecological footprint.
“If we are to feed a world of 10 to 11 billion people healthy diets without destroying the biosphere, a shift to more plant-based diets will be an essential adjustment.”
Beef industry ‘obfuscating consumers’
The author of the opinion piece also quoted Hannah Landecker, director of UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics, who claimed the industry-backed board was “hardly a neutral party” on this subject.
She said the livestock industry appeared to be ‘trying to obfuscate the environmental impact of its products’ and leading consumers into ‘avoiding dietary changes by validating cultural perceptions that things aren’t as bad as pesky tree huggers might be saying’.
The article noted that plant-based sales currently remain a ‘small fraction of meat sales — about $1 billion as of last year compared with nearly $100 billion for the real thing’.
However, the growth trajectory is noteworthy, with the likes of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods becoming a staple of supermarket chains.
In addition, the Good Food Institute reported that sales of plant-based meat alternatives have surged a 454% since the pandemic broke out last March compared with a year before.
This popularity appears to be getting the attention of the livestock industry, which is, in turn, trying to portray that ‘animal agriculture is not the climate villain that many perceive’.
Make ‘simple changes to your diet’
Although cattlemen’s study attempted to absolve beef of any environmental implications, a research professor of environmental physics at Bard College, Gidon Eshel, told Lazarus that the underlying survey conducted by the pro-beef study also indicated the ‘significant’ acceptance of plant-based alternatives.
Eshel said: “Beef is by far the most resource-intensive way anyone can get a nutrient.
“If you want to make a simple change to your diet to protect the environment, there’s nothing you can do that comes anywhere close to forgoing beef.”
Eshel was asked whether it would help if a ‘burger-loving Americans skipped one of those burgers and had a plant-based alternative instead?’
“That would make a big difference,” Eshel replied.
The journalist concluded the piece by stating: “I won’t be a card-carrying vegan anytime soon.
“But, if replacing one burger a month with a plant-based alternative is all it takes to make a meaningful contribution to fighting climate change, yeah, I can do that.
“Besides, the way plant-based meat products have been steadily improving, it probably won’t be long before we can’t tell the difference anyhow.”
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