Research finds reducing meat consumption is key to solving the climate crisis

A new climate study on diet and carbon emissions suggests that switching from high meat consumption to a plant-based diet could significantly reduce the environmental harm associated with food production.

The study, the most extensive of its kind to date, published in the journal Nature Food, shows that an all-plant-based diet produces fewer climate-warming emissions than a diet that consumes more than 100 grams of meat per day. Water pollution and land use have also been reduced by 75%.

Researchers also observed that eliminating the use of animal products was associated with a 66% reduction in wildlife damage and a 54% reduction in water use.


The devastating impact of meat and dairy consumption on the planet is well-documented, and new research adds to the case for drastic reductions in meat intake, especially in the world’s richest countries.

Early research on diet and carbon emissions relied primarily on model diets and average effect values for each food group. But this new study by the University of Oxford took a closer look at the actual diets of 55,000 UK residents. The study also included data from 38,000 farms in 119 countries to explain the different environmental impacts of specific foods produced in different methods and regions. This approach significantly increases the credibility of the research results.

“Our dietary choices have a significant impact on the planet,” said the study’s lead author Peter Scarborough, a professor at the University of Oxford, in a statement. “Reducing the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can have a big impact on your dietary footprint.”

Research shows that the content of food has a greater impact on the environment than location or production methods. Previous research has shown that even the most environmentally friendly meat – organic pork – causes eight times more climate damage than the most environmentally harmful vegetable oilseeds.

Researchers suggest the UK should implement policies that promote reduced meat consumption to meet its climate targets. Despite previous taxes on high-sugar drinks, government officials have not regulated dietary choices.

The researchers also found that a low-meat diet (less than 50 grams per day) had half the environmental impact compared to a high-meat diet. However, the differences between low-meat, pescatarian and vegan are relatively small.


The study shows that in order to make global food production sustainable, individuals in rich countries would need to significantly reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products. Technological advances and food waste reduction alone are not enough to minimize the environmental impact of food systems.

“This is an important set of findings,” said Professor Neil Ward from the University of East Anglia. “It scientifically reinforces the views put forward by the Committee on Climate Change and the National Food Strategy in recent years that moving away from animal-based foods in the diet can make a significant contribution to reducing the UK’s environmental footprint.”

Researchers noted that an all-plant-based diet produced a significant 93% reduction in methane emissions compared to a high-meat diet. Methane is produced by ruminants such as cattle and sheep. The gas traps 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide within the first 20 years after release. Recent studies urge drastic reductions in methane emissions.