Eating less meat could cut £300bn cost of livestock farming in EU

A tractor spread fertiliser on farmlandLivestock farming is costing the European Union almost £300 billion a year as a result of nitrogen pollution, according to a new report – and eating less meat would drastically improve matters.

The report has been put together by 200 experts from 21 countries, who agree that reactive nitrogen caused by modern industrial farming techniques is polluting the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

In addition to costing the EU up to £280 billion a year, reactive nitrogen is also cutting the average European’s life short by six months, the report’s authors say.

They acknowledge that nitrogen fertilisers are needed to grow enough food to feed Europe, but say their careless application by farmers is leading to water sources becoming heavily polluted.

Mark Sutton of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology near Edinburgh and the report’s lead editor adds that four-fifths of the nitrogen in crops is going to feed livestock rather than people.

“It’s much more efficient to obtain protein by eating plants rather than animals,” he says. “If we want to help the problem we can all do something by eating less meat. Eating meat is the dominant driver of the nitrogen cycle in Europe.”

New rules on agricultural nitrogen will be introduced next year in a bid to limit emissions, but there is concern that these will be effective or enforceable. At the moment 70 per cent of Europe’s nitrous oxide emissions are caused by farming.

Farmers could save money and cause less harm to environment by applying fertiliser more efficiently, the report suggests. This would also see less energy being used in its production.

For more on this story, read Roger Harrabin’s article for the BBC.

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