If the whole population of the European Union were to halve its consumption of meat, dairy produce and eggs, greenhouse gas emissions would go down by 25 to 40 percent. What is more, 23 percent less land would be needed for food production, say researchers from Alterra and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL).
If Europeans just halved their meat consumption, this would already yield great environmental benefits. It would also significantly cut water and air pollution as well as the incidence of cardiovascular disease, write the researchers in the journal Global Environmental Change. Using biophysical models, they calculated the consequences for the climate, the environment and public health of halving the consumption of animal products in the European diet and replacing them with plant-based alternatives. Along with Jan Peter Lesschen, Susanne Wagner and Oene Oenema of Alterra and first author Henk Westhoek of the PBL, British, Italian and German researchers contributed to the research as well.
SoyaThe researchers also concluded that eating half as much meat would cut nitrogen emissions by 40 percent. It would also enable Europe to become an exporter of grains and to cut soya imports by 75 percent.
The climate benefits gained by halving meat consumption came out as bigger than the researchers had expected, says researcher Jan Peter Lesschen. He notes that a drop in meat consumption would have a bigger impact on the climate that all kinds of technical and agronomic measures in the agriculture sector. All these steps towards sustainable farming methods can probably deliver a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases at the most.
The research was carried out by a European expert group in the field of nitrogen and food (EPNF), which aims to inform policymakers and consumers about the impact of food on the environment and public health.