Save the Planet, Put Down that Hamburger

A new study from the University of Oxford found that people who follow a plant-based diet have 75 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than those who eat 3.5 ounces or more of meat a day, and a vegan diet is also significantly less harmful to land, water and biodiversity.

Although the links between animal husbandry and environmental damage are well established, early studies used scientific modeling to reach their conclusions. By contrast, the Oxford study was based on the actual diets of 55,500 vegan, vegetarian, fish and meat eaters in the UK, with data from some 38,000 farms in 119 countries. It was used.

of peer-reviewed research, The findings, led by Peter Scarborough, professor of population health at the University of Oxford, were published Thursday in the journal Nature Food.

British meat eaters who consumed more than 3.5 ounces of meat a day (slightly less than the size of a quarter-pound hamburger) reduced their daily intake to less than 1.7 ounces (about 1 McDonald’s meat patty). Dr. Scarborough said that would be the equivalent of removing 8 million cars from the roads.

The study found that a vegan diet resulted in 75 percent less land use, 54 percent less water use, and 66 percent less biodiversity loss compared to a meat-based diet. A vegan diet avoids all animal products, including meat, eggs, and dairy products.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, a person who eats more than 3.5 ounces of meat each day accounts for 22.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per day, especially from the land used to raise livestock and grow feed. People who eat less than 1.7 ounces of meat account for about half that, or about 11.8 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, while those who eat fish account for 10.4 pounds of carbon dioxide per day, while vegetarian diets account for Generated 9 pounds of carbon dioxide per day. The vegan diet had the lowest total carbon dioxide content, accounting for 5.4 pounds of carbon dioxide per day.

Parallel effects on freshwater pollution and biodiversity loss were found for each type of diet. In terms of impact on land and water use and species extinction, similar results were found for vegetarians, fish eaters, and meat-free diets.

The study also found that vegans and vegetarians are younger on average than fish and meat eaters.

Criticism of plant-based diets often highlights the environmental impact of some vegan foods, such as the amount of water required to make almond milk, Dr. Scarborough said, but new research suggests that plant-based diets It has been shown to be far less damaging to the environment, he said. of animal origin, regardless of how the food was produced.

The Oxford study defined meat as all land animals. previous research found that organic cattle, poultry and pig meat production is just as detrimental to the climate as conventional animal husbandry.

“Our research shows that even in the worst-case scenario, the environmental impact of not only a vegan diet, but a diet low in meat is much better than a diet high in meat,” says Scarborough. said Dr.

“This reinforces the message that the amount of meat we consume is strongly linked to our environmental footprint,” Dr. Scarborough said. “Small changes from high meat eaters to low meat eaters can make a big difference in environmental impact.”

Globally, the food system is responsible for about one-third of global warming emissions, 70% of freshwater use and 78% of freshwater pollution. To slow the worst climate impacts, the United Nations calls for drastic reductions in climate change. meat consumption.

The Oxford study was funded by The Wellcome Trust, a London-based independent global charity focused on health research.

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