Eating less meat has long been recommended as a way to be kinder to the planet. But a new study has revealed just how important it could be for the climate and biodiversity.
Published in the Nature Communications journal, research has demonstrated how replacing half of meat products with plant-based alternatives could reduce pollution caused by global agriculture by as much as a third by 2050 (compared to 2020 levels), Phys.org reported.
Furthermore, with associated reductions in land use, it could help to stop deforestation.
“Plant-based meats are not just a novel food product but a critical opportunity for achieving food security and climate goals while also achieving health and biodiversity objectives worldwide,” study co-author Eva Wollenberg told Phys.org.
Among the agricultural areas most damaging to the environment is cow farming. Trees and forests are often torn down to make way for grazing sites, removing vital ecosystems that provide homes for many creatures crucial to biodiversity.
Green spaces provide benefits in terms of carbon capture, absorbing harmful pollutants from the atmosphere that contribute to global heating. Meanwhile, cows produce methane through defecation and belching, and methane gas is around 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its planet-warming effects, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
While cows aren’t the only agricultural contributors in terms of pollution, both directly and indirectly, Phys.org noted they account for around half of the toxic gases from the top four animal-based food products: beef, chicken, pork, and milk.
According to the study, a switch to plant-based foods would most benefit sub-Saharan Africa, China, and Southeast Asia in reducing biodiversity loss, while sub-Saharan Africa and South America would benefit most from carbon pollution reduction.
The study said such a move would help improve food security and lessen the global number of undernourished people. By 2050, it could also cut the rate of life-sustaining ecosystem decline in half when based on current trajectories.
Adopting an entirely plant-based diet would make a huge difference, but a “plant-forward” diet — replacing some regular meat-based meals with plant alternatives — is a great way to help.
Swapping out meat for beans, vegetables, tofu, or seitan in just one meal a week — or simply any meal in which meat isn’t the main ingredient — is a nutritious, planet-conscious substitute. It’s also a healthy and tasty way to feed you and your family.
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