Does cutting meat and dairy really help the planet?

14 Jan 2022
3 min read
Two brown and white cows in a field

Veganism is on the rise. Over a half a million people signed up to Veganuary last year and even more are expected to do so this year. Many people cite the environment as a key motivation for cutting animal products. But is eating plant-based really all it’s cracked up to be when it comes to the planet?

The resounding answer is yes, yes – and yes! In fact, according to research by scientists at the University of Oxford, it’s the number one thing you can do for the environment.

In a study, they found that meat and dairy production is responsible for 60 per cent of agriculture’s global greenhouse gas emissions – while the foods themselves provide just 18 per cent of people’s average calories and 37 per cent of their protein. On a planet in crisis, this is a huge waste of energy and resources.

Farmed animals are also one of the main causes of deforestation. In Brazil, farmers are deliberately setting forest fires – like the Amazon rainforest fires you may have seen on TV – to clear space for cattle ranching and to grow animal feed, predominantly soya, for farms all over the world, including in the UK. Indeed, some 90% of the soya grown globally is used to feed livestock, like cows, pigs and chickens. As intensive factory animal farming has become widespread, the demand for fodder has soared, because animals aren’t grazing on pasture but cooped up inside.

Environmentally, this has come at a huge cost. In Brazil alone, soya production has quadrupled in just 20 years. Vast areas of forest and natural habitats have been destroyed, replaced with mile upon mile of soya fields. Converting forests and grasslands into monocrop farmland for soya releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which cause global warming and climate change. By eating more meat-free meals, we can reduce the demand for farmed animals and do our bit to address this situation.

Of course, you don’t need to go fully plant-based overnight. You could consider trying one or two meat-free days a week and seeing how you get on. If you keep eating meat, try to make it white meat, like chicken, instead of beef. If possible, go for locally-sourced and organic. Both are better for the planet.

Contrary to dated stereotypes, plant-based eating’s a whole lot of fun. You can still enjoy all your favourite foods – cakes, puddings, biscuits, burgers, lasagne, stews, curries and roast dinners – and also embrace new meal options too, like black bean burritos, sweet and sour sticky tofu or lentil shepherd’s pie. If you’d rather pick up something ready-made, all the major supermarkets are now offering delicious plant-based ranges. You can buy everything from chicken-less Kievs to fish-free fingers. Vegan treats – like chips, crisps, sweets, ice cream and chocolate – are widely available too.

As a welcome side-effect, you might discover that the health benefits of dropping animal products are many. All those old tales about eating your greens were actually true. One scientific study showed that vegans live longer than meat eaters.  The nutritionists at Harvard University came to the conclusion that dairy doesn’t do the body any good. What’s more, a healthy plant-based diet can lower cholesterol levels, reduce the impacts of type two diabetes and cut risk factors associated with heart disease.

It really is all about being kind to the planet, animals – and you.



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