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Study: Vegetarian Low Meat Diets Can Help Mitigate Climate Change

For related articles and information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page.

Eating less meat or none at all has the potential to significantly shrink an individual's diet-related carbon footprint and "can make a valuable contribution to climate change mitigation,"according to a recent study published in the journal Climatic Change.

The study examined the diets of 29,589 meat eaters, 15,751 vegetarians, 8,123 pescatarians (vegetarians who eat fish) and 2,041 vegans between the ages of 20 to 79 in the United Kingdom. Participants took a "food-frequency questionnaire" asking how often in the last year they consumed 130 different food items. Researchers were able to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat and warm up the planet, associated with the various foods.

A heavy meat diet, according to the study's findings, produced nearly double the amount of dietary greenhouse gas emissions per day as a vegetarian diet and about two-and-a-half times more than a vegan diet, which consists of no meat or other animal products.

The United Kingdom-based study found that the typical heavy meat diet - consisting of more than 3.5 ounces of meat per day - generated 15.8 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each day. By comparison, an average pescatarian diet contributed 8.6 pounds of CO2e per day. For vegetarians and vegans, their diets produced 8.4 pounds and 6.4 pounds of CO2e, respectively.

All told, the study found that dietary greenhouse gas emissions among meat eaters were between 46 percent and 51 percent higher than fish eaters, 50 percent and 54 percent higher than vegetarians and 99 percent and 102 percent higher than vegans.

"This work demonstrates that reducing the intake of meat and other animal based products can make a valuable contribution to climate change mitigation," the study reads. "Other work has demonstrated other environmental and health benefits of a reduced meat diet. National governments that are considering an update of dietary recommendations in order to define that a 'healthy, sustainable diet' must incorporate the recommendation to lower the consumption of animal-based products."

Overall, the production of animal-based foods tends to contribute greater greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based foods, the study reads.   


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