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Cut livestock production, improve environment and health: Government backs report

It’s official: we should be eating less meat to help in the fight against global warming – and the Government agrees. The Department for Health (DoH) has part-funded a scientific report one of whose key recommendations is that the number of farm animals being bred for meat be cut by a third.

Posted : 25 November 2009

Published in medical journal The Lancet today, Health and Climate Change says that a decrease in livestock production would naturally reduce meat consumption in the UK, and go a long towards helping the UK meet its commitment to a 50 per cent cut in harmful emissions by 2030. The report also highlights the health benefits of eating less meat.

“If [a 30 per cent reduction in livestock] translates into reduced meat consumption, the amount of saturated fat consumed would drop sharply, which would have positive effects on health through reductions in heart disease,” the report says.

Launching the report this afternoon, health secretary Andy Burnham called on his counterparts and professionals in other parts of the globe to recognise the dangers climate change poses to human health. “Climate change can seem a distant, impersonal threat – in fact the associated costs to health are a very real and present danger,” he said. “Health ministers across the globe must act now to highlight the risk global warming poses to our communities. We need well-designed climate change policies that drive health benefits.”

With Government backing, it will be interesting to see how the livestock industry greets the report’s findings in favour of a reduced-meat diet. Calls to eat less meat have traditionally been met with some resistance, as observed earlier this week by the executive director of the Food Ethics Council (FEC), Dr Tom MacMillan.

“When people have floated the idea that we should eat less meat, they’ve met a very hostile response,” he told the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum seminar on Tuesday.

He said cutting down on meat and dairy consumption had “been on Defra’s radar since at least 2005, but I think it’s fair to say it’s languished there a bit” – a result of concern in political circles about the public’s reaction. He stopped short of advocating a complete cut-back, saying that climate-friendly farming still needed livestock, but added: “In a world where we eat less meat it would be a lot easier to meet our commitments to the environment, animal welfare and social justice.”

Read the FEC report Livestock Consumption and Climate Change: A Framework for Dialogue

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