Leading scientists have said that it is not more environmentally-friendly to go vegan and that meat is crucial for feeding the planet, as reported in The Daily Telegraph.
Experts from the University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural College argued at a panel in central London that meat was critical for the physical and mental health of children. This was particularly the case in developing countries. Furthermore they argued that land use would not be improved by a move away from livestock farming.
Professor Geoff Simm, Director of Global Academy Agriculture and Food Security at the University of Edinburgh did not agree with the ‘meat is evil’ claims being promoted by environmental lobbyists which he felt was unsubstantiated. He was sympathetic to livestock farmers who feel “they are being demonised”.
“Often the argument is made that going vegan would minimise land use,” he said, “and the modelling studies that have been done demonstrate that that’s not the case.
“We feel that while livestock production has a range of economic, social and environmental costs and benefits, the costs have perhaps been receiving far more attention recently than some of the benefits.
“Meat has massive social benefits. It’s an important source of dietary protein, energy, highly bioavailable micronutrients, even small amounts of animal-sourced food have a really important effect on the development of children, in the developing world on their cognitive and physical development and they are really important.”
Professor Mike Coffey, from Scotland’s Rural College, an agri-rural education research consultancy, supported this view arguing that it is “completely unnecessary” to go vegan.
“If everybody went vegan it would be devastating for the UK environment. Animals bred for food help boost biodiversity” said Coffey.
Breeding more environmentally friendly cattle makes it unnecessary to go vegan
He argued that there is a huge disparity of up to about 30 per cent of methane emissions from different types of cattle. He held out the vision that by only having “the most efficient animals” UK farmers could reduce carbon emissions by nearly a third.
Researchers are now trying to breed “more environmentally friendly cattle, which grow faster and eat less” which would have the effect of further reducing the amount of methane released by the cows and therefore reducing the sector’s carbon footprint. Shoppers will therefore in the not-too-distant future be able to check the label of their food to discover its environmental impact.
Professor Coffey said that this measurement of methane emissions from groups of animals will fundamentally change livestock farming.
Another speaker, Professor Andrea Wilson, from Edinburgh University, said that more research was needed to be carried out about the impact of veganism.
“We know a lot about the livestock sector because people have looked at it. We actually know very little about the vegan sector. The danger is we demonise one and jump too quickly to the other,” she said.
The Economist Magazine recently referred to a study by scientists at Oxford University and the University of Minnesota and argued that food-related carbon emissions could be reduced by sixty per cent if two-thirds of meals were vegan.
The world going increasingly more vegan can undoubtedly help reduce carbon emissions according to that research. Other earlier studies such as the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have concluded much the same. These Scottish scientists are arguing that the livestock sector can change and adapt and continue to play what they consider to be an integral and part of the agricultural system to provide essential food. For them, the vegan sector remains unproven.