Food for thought

Do you enjoy tucking into a bacon sarnie, a juicy steak or a succulent roast? And could you imagine giving these up - even if it helped reduce the impact of global warming?

In fact developed countries will need to cut their meat consumption by 50% by 2050 if the planet is to stave off "catastrophic global warming" was the stark conclusion of a new report into climate change and food production.

Released yesterday (April 12) the 'Representative concentration pathways and mitigation scenarios for nitrous oxide' report by Eric Davidson, director of the Woods Hole Research Centre, warns that globally we need to change the type of food we produce - specifically by not relying so heavily on meat - and therefore change our eating habits.

There have been numerous research projects which have warned about the harmful effects of methane gases from - and there's no way to put this politely - farting and burping cattle and CO2 from agricultural operations. However, what makes this research different is Davidson claim that the fertiliser nitrous oxide (N2O), which is used for growing feed crops for livestock, creates the most "potent" of the these three greenhouse gas (GHG) as is it a "much better absorber of infrared radiation".

According to the report, the main sources of N20 in the atmosphere come from the spreading of synthetic nitrogen fertilisers onto agricultural soils and the use and storage of livestock manure. The nitrogen contained in fertilisers and manure is then broken down by microbes that live in the soil and released into the atmosphere as N20. In order to reduce emissions, the report concludes it will be necessary to apply certain changes to the food production process.
However, this is a challenge. Perhaps, part of the problem could be that people don't like being told not to do something - in 2009, the UK's then climate chief Lord Stern called on the public to give up eating meat to "halt climate change" - to no avail.  Ingrained eating habits are hard to change - but not impossible says Davidson, who also disagrees a total meat ban is needed.

Davidson says: "If you had asked me 30 years ago if smoking would be banned in bars, I would have laughed and said that would be impossible in my lifetime, and yet it has come true. Similarly, there would be beneficial health benefits for most Americans and western Europeans to stop 'supersizing' and rather to reduce portion sizes of red meat."

Are such changes possible for diet? "That will depend," says Davidson, "not only on education about diet, but also on prices of meat."Could raising the price be the answer?

This seems drastic as does forcing people to give up meat. However, it is clear we are eating too much of the stuff, with the average Brit consuming double the amount they did in the 1960's, which adds up to a hefty carbon footprint that future generations will pay the price for.

Carys Matthews

Topics: edie
Tags: | CO2 | education | food | gas
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