JUNE 4, 2010: A big reduction in meat and dairy consumption is vital if we are to save the planet from environmental disaster, according to a new UN study.

But the assertion has frustrated British livestock farmers who have made substantial carbon footprint improvements in recent years – and they argue livestock farming can actually help to maintain the environment. As the global population soars towards 9 billion people by 2050, the UN study says current levels of meat and dairy consumption are unsustainable. The report comes from the UN Environment Programme’s international panel of sustainable resource management. It identifies agriculture and food consumption as one of the most important drivers of environmental pressures, especially habitat change, climate change, water use and toxic emissions. The only answer is to find an alternative diet, it asserts. “Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives. “Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products,” it says. But the report has been criticised by British producers who say livestock production, as performed in the UK, is actually good for the environment. More than 60 per cent of British agricultural land is grassland and much of it, particularly the hills and uplands, is unsuitable for other crops. Semi-permanent rough grazing and improved grasslands play a vital role in locking up carbon dioxide and regulating the flow of rain into water courses. Without livestock farming those natural resources would be abandoned and would die, they argue.

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