Meat Must Be Rationed to Four Portions A Week, says Report on Climate Change

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The Guardian/UK

Meat Must Be Rationed to Four Portions A Week, says Report on Climate Change

Study looks at food impact on greenhouse gases • Return to old-fashioned cooking habits urged

by
Juliette Jowit

People will have to be rationed to four modest portions of meat and one litre of milk a week if the world is to avoid run-away climate change, a major new report warns.

People will have to be rationed
to four modest portions of meat and one litre of milk a week if the
world is to avoid run-away climate change, a major new report warns.

The
report, by the Food Climate Research Network, based at the University
of Surrey, also says total food consumption should be reduced,
especially "low nutritional value" treats such as alcohol, sweets and
chocolates.

It urges people to return to habits their mothers or
grandmothers would have been familiar with: buying locally in-season
products, cooking in bulk and in pots with lids or pressure cookers,
avoiding waste and walking to the shops - alongside more modern tips
such as using the microwave and internet shopping.

The report
goes much further than any previous advice after mounting concern about
the impact of the livestock industry on greenhouse gases and rising
food prices. It follows a four-year study of the impact of food on
climate change and is thought to be the most thorough study of its kind.

Tara
Garnett, the report's author, warned that campaigns encouraging people
to change their habits voluntarily were doomed to fail and urged the
government to use caps on greenhouse gas emissions and carbon pricing
to ensure changes were made. "Food is important to us in a great many
cultural and symbolic ways, and our food choices are affected by cost,
time, habit and other influences," the report says. "Study upon study
has shown that awareness-raising campaigns alone are unlikely to work,
particularly when it comes to more difficult changes."

The
report's findings are in line with an investigation by the October
edition of the Ecologist magazine, which found that arguments for
people to go vegetarian or vegan to stop climate change and reduce
pressure on rising food prices were exaggerated and would damage the
developing world in particular, where many people depend on animals for
essential food, other products such as leather and wool, and for manure
and help in tilling fields to grow other crops.

Instead, it
recommended cutting meat consumption by at least half and making sure
animals were fed as much as possible on grass and food waste which
could not be eaten by humans.

"The notion that cows and sheep
are four-legged weapons of mass destruction has become something of a
distraction from the real issues in both climate change and food
production," said Pat Thomas, the Ecologist's editor.

The head of
the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change, Rajendra
Pachauri, also sparked global debate this month when he urged people to
have at least one meat-free day a week.

The Food Climate Research
Network found that measured by production, the UK food sector produces
greenhouse gases equivalent to 33m tonnes of carbon. Measured by
consumption - including imports - the total rises to 43.3m tonnes. Both
figures work out at under one fifth of UK emissions, but they exclude
the indirect impacts of actions such as clearing rainforest for cattle
and crops, which other studies estimate would add up to 5% to 20% of
global emissions.

The report found the meat and dairy sectors
together accounted for just over half of those emissions; potatoes,
fruit and vegetables for 15%; drinks and other products with sugar for
another 15%; and bread, pastry and flour for 13%.

It also
revealed which parts of the food chain were the most polluting.
Although packaging has had a lot of media and political attention, it
only ranked fifth in importance behind agriculture - especially the
methane produced by livestock burping - manufacturing, transport, and
cooking and refrigeration at home.

The report calls for meat
and dairy consumption to be cut in developed countries so that global
production remains stable as the population grows to an estimated 9bn
by 2050.

At the same time emissions from farms, transport,
manufacturing and retail could be cut, with improvements including more
efficient use of fertilisers, feed and energy, changed diets for
livestock, and more renewable fuels - leading to a total reduction in
emissions from the sector of 50% to 67%, it says.

The UN and other bodies recommend that developed countries should reduce total emissions by 80% by 2050.

However,
the National Farmers' Union warned that its own study, with other
industry players, published last year, found net emissions from
agriculture could only be cut by up to 50% if the carbon savings from
building renewable energy sources on farms were taken into account.

The
NFU also called for government incentives to help farmers make the
changes. "Farmers aren't going to do this out of the goodness of their
hearts, because farmers don't have that luxury; many of our members are
very hard pressed at the moment," said Jonathan Scurlock, the NFU's
chief adviser on renewable energy and climate change.

Different diets

The way we eat now (average person in the UK, per week)

1.6kg meat and 4.2 litres of milk, which is equivalent to:

6 sausages (450g)

2 chicken breasts (350g)

4 ham sandwiches (100g)

8 slices of bacon (250g)

3 burgers (450g)

3 litres of milk

100g of cheese and a helping of cream

Future recommended diet (average person, per week)

500g of meat and 1 litre of milk, which is equivalent to:

1 quarter-pound beefburger

2 sausages

3 rashers of bacon

1 chicken breast

1 litre of milk or 100g of cheese

 

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