In the United Kingdom, food, especially meat and dairy products, is
responsible for about 20% of all greenhouse gas production. The
UK’s Climate Change Act of 2008 mandates reduction of greenhouse
gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. One factor in meeting
this mandate is to modify food consumption. An advisory committee
created three possible scenarios for dietary changes that could reduce
greenhouse gas emissions.
Ideally, in addition to helping the environment, dietary changes
would also offer positive health benefits. A recent report estimated the
health effects of each of the possible scenarios.
* Scenario 1 calls for a 50% reduction in consumption of meat and
dairy products and an increase in fruits, vegetables, and cereals. This
is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19% and to result in
36,910 deaths per year being delayed or averted due to the healthier
nature of the diet.
* Scenario 2 calls for a 75% reduction in use of cow and sheep meat
and replacing these foods with chicken and pork. This is estimated to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 9% and to delay or avert 1,999 deaths
* Scenario 3 calls for a 50% reduction in use of meat from pigs and
chickens and replacement of those foods by fruits, vegetables, and
cereals. This is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3% and
to result in 9,297 deaths per year being delayed or averted.
It is clear that Scenario 1 has the greatest impact on the
environment and on human health. We can only wonder how much greater
effect would be seen if 100% of meat and dairy products were to be
replaced with fruits, vegetables, and cereals.
An analysis similar to this should be conducted in the United
States and other countries so that dietary recommendations can be
developed that represent best practices with regards to the environment
Scarborough P, Allender S, Clarke D, et al. 2012. Modelling the
health impact of environmentally sustainable dietary scenarios in the
UK. Eur J Clin Nutr [Epub ahead of print].
By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD, FADA