More awareness needed of link between meat and climate change, study finds

Image of Chatham House report
© Chatham House

A new report has underlined the extent to which people are still unaware of how their food choices impact on the environment.

Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption, published by Chatham House, makes it clear that people do not make the relationship between meat and dairy and climate change.

Based on the findings of the first multi-country, multilingual online study to explore public attitudes to that relationship, the report says recognition that the livestock sector produces 14.5 per cent of the world’s emissions of harmful greenhouse gases  is “markedly low”.

And by 2050, at current rates, consumption of meat and dairy is expected to have risen 76 per cent and 65 per cent respectively on 2005-07 levels.

The report’s authors recognise that cutting back on meat and dairy consumption is central to achieving climate goals. They say that global temperature rises of more than 2C are likely unless the issue is addressed.

The problem, however, is that there is “a striking paucity of efforts to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products”. Describing it as a “livestock policy vacuum”, they say the authorities simply aren’t doing enough to encourage meat-reducing.

“Despite the scale and trajectory of emissions from the livestock sector, it attracts remarkably little policy attention at either the international or national level,” the report says.

It suggests fear of a backlash is one reason governments and environmental groups are reluctant to campaign to shift consumer behaviour. This lack of engagement in turn results in a lack of research on how best to do so.

But as the report makes clear, people who are made aware of the carbon cost of their meat and dairy are more likely to cut back for environmental reasons: “Closing the awareness gap is therefore likely to be an important precondition for behaviour change.”

Reducing the demand for animal products has the additional benefit of creating a carbon buffer that will lead to a significant reduction in the cost of greening other sectors.

In the absence of government leadership, the job of spreading the vital message that we have to start farming and eating with the planet in mind is left to campaigns like Meat Free Monday, which has been “closing the awareness gap” since 2009.

Our supporters play an equally vital role in promoting the benefits – in terms of human and environmental health – of meat-free eating to their family, friends and colleagues.

The positive message is that people eat greener if made aware that their diet is environmentally unfriendly. And MFMers are already leading by example with the choices – and delicious foods – they make on Mondays and throughout the week.

Read the Chatham House report.