No-meat diet not a ‘blanket solution’ to the climate crisis, say researchers


By Flora Southey, Food Navigator



Recommendations to cut out or reduce meat from diets is not a universal solution, according to researchers, who stress livestock is critical to incomes and diets in low- and middle-income countries.


In the Western world, consumers are regularly advised to cut down on the amount of meat they consume to improve planetary and human health.


One need only look to the EAT-Lancet Commission dietary guidelines​ of 2019, which suggest global consumption of red meat will need to decrease by more than 50% by 2050 to keep within planetary boundaries.


However, in a perspective published in journal Environmental Research Letters​, scientists stress that recommendations to reduce meat consumption – in an effort to lower carbon emissions – should not be universal. Indeed, such guidance ignores low- or middle-income countries (LMICs), they say, where livestock is critical to incomes and diets.


Ignoring LMICs​


The researchers believe that ‘negative narratives’ associating meat consumption with adverse environmental impacts are ‘mostly rooted’ in industrial livestock production systems and the overconsumption of animal source foods in Western countries.


In the perspective, ​they argue that such narratives overshadow the various complex and often positive roles livestock plays in LMICs in Africa, South America, South- and South-East Asia.


“Conclusions drawn in widely publicised reports argue that a main solution to the climate and human health crisis globally is to eat no or little meat but they are biased towards industrialised, Western systems,” ​said study lead author and environmental scientist at the Alliance of Biodiversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Birthe Paul.


The researchers note that since 1945, just 13% of scientific literature published on livestock covers Africa. This is at odds with the continent’s global share of livestock they suggest: Africa is home to 20%, 27% and 32% of global cattle, sheep and goat populations.


Further, only two of the world’s top ten institutes publishing livestock research are headquartered in Africa – where the sector is considered the ‘backbone’ of the economy. The other eight are located in the US, France, the Netherlands, and the UK.


Spotlight on the positives​ ...


‘Lower-meat diets should not be advocated everywhere’​ ...


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Source:​ Environmental Research Letters​

‘Sustainable livestock development in low- and middle-income countries: shedding light on evidence-based solutions’

Published 21 December 2020


Authors: Birthe K Paul, Klaus Butterbach-Bahl, An Notenbaert, Alex Nduah Nderi and Polly Eriksen