A Meaty Issue

842 million people go undernourished in the world every day, largely down to discrepancies in food utilisation, access, and availability: the three components defining food security.

By Thomas R Machnitzki (thomasmachnitzki.com) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thomas R Machnitzki (thomasmachnitzki.com) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

In 50 years time, we will need more food on the planet than we have ever consumed in history, despite an anticipated future deceleration in population growth. Many contend that if food waste were lessened and resources were shared efficiently (closing the ‘yield-gap’), we would be able to cater for those 842 million undernourished. Nevertheless, with a growing middle class comes increasing demand for dairy products and meat, a dietary change that is simply unsustainable.

…ruminant production is the largest source of anthropogenic CH4 emissions and globally occupies more area than any other land use.

Ripple et al. (2014)

I recently published this article reviewing Cowspiracy: how animal agriculture is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. Interviewees contend that you simply cannot be an environmentalist and eat animal based products. 

Agricultural intensification is always at the expense of the environment, through disrupting monocultures, fertilisers, and irrigation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pour most research into technological fixes for agriculture to combat greenhouse gas emissions. What lacks is an exploration into demand side measures: Cowspiracy has demonstrated how much of a difference a worldwide dietary change could make. These are all emotive issues, but nonetheless important.

Anne Burgess [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Anne Burgess [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The science has shown how the consumption of beef is insanely inefficient, whilst others revealed how greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by a third if we ate healthily in developed countries. The latter acknowledges that they have not considered the economic impacts of reducing meat demands, whilst in the UK the dairy industry is suffering under milk price cuts. Tackling demand side measures through raising awareness of health benefits may offer alternative solutions, where climate change fear-mongering has led to many losing interest in the environmental debate.

…health concerns such as overnourishment in high-income countries and specific impacts of pork or beef may be important additional incentives for reducing the consumption of meat.

– Stehfest et al. (2009)

There is much work to be done on changing diets and waste reduction. Policy should be implemented immediately to disrupt social norms and stimulate behavioural change, as we saw with the success of the smoking ban. 

If you want to learn more about reducing your meat in-take, check out Veganuary, learn about edible insects, or read about how the future of food security is going to take some persuading.


Ripple et al. (2014) Ruminants, climate change and climate policy. Nature Climate Change 4:2-5

Stehfest et al. (2009) Climate benefits of changing diet. Climatic Change 95:83–102