Cutting back on the beef could help preserve the planet.
Cutting back on the beef could help preserve the planet.

The one thing you can do to save the world

BACON and steak fans might want to look away now.

In fact, if you're wearing leather shoes or dreaming of a cheeseboard after dinner tonight you might be about to feel a bit guilty too.

This is because a landmark global study into the production of greenhouse gas emissions from over 38,000 farms has pointed to one simple way we can reduce our global warming woes - by avoiding meat and dairy products.

The paper published in Science today shows that without these industries, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75 per cent.

That's an area the size of Australia, the US, China and the EU combined. And what's more, the study shows we don't even really need meat anyway.

The researchers claim meat and dairy provide just 18 per cent of our required calories and 37 per cent of our protein.

Despite the pitiful nutritional figures, the livestock industry accounts for a massive 83 per cent of farmland in the world and produces 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in farming.

The study shows that getting our protein from plants such as peas is far better for the environment than farming livestock. Even the lowest impact beef-producing farm would be responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and 36 times more land than a pea farm producing the same amount of protein.

"A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification (of ocean water), eutrophication (the build up of nutrients in water bodies which destroys wildlife), land use and water use," Oxford University researcher Joseph Poore told The Guardian today.

Over all, the researchers estimated a vegan world would produce 49 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions from food, 50 per cent less acidification, 49 per cent less eutrophication, and reduce water use by 19 per cent.

"It (going vegan) is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car," Mr Poore added. "Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems. Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this.

"Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy."

However, if going full vegan sounds a bit extreme, you might be better just trying to reduce your meat intake.

Charles Darwin's great-great-grandson, Chris Darwin, previously told news.com.au that an easy way everyone could make a difference to their carbon footprint was by taking part in "meatless Mondays".

"One really easy thing to do is meatless Monday," Mr Darwin said.

He said mass fishing and the large-scale farming of livestock was one of our most environmentally damaging practices, and by cutting meat out one day of the week you could help reduce demand for these products - not to mention helping your waistline and hip pocket.

And, if you still crave meat, there are ways of eating it in a more sustainable way.

Today's analysis found there was a massive difference between different ways of producing the same food products.

Take beef for example. Cattle raised on deforested land produce 12 times more greenhouse gases and use 50 times more land than the same livestock would grazing on natural pasture.

They also found that if we cut our meat consumption in half and removed the worst 50 per cent of meat producers, and replaced them with vegetable crops, the benefits to the planet would be massive.

The red meat industry is by the worst for Co2 emissions. Supplied: Joseph Poore
The red meat industry is by the worst for Co2 emissions. Supplied: Joseph Poore

However, Australians are one of the top meat-eating countries in the world, which Dr Rosemary Stanton from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) believes is a hangover from the "feed the man meat" campaign of the '70s.

The researcher, who wasn't involved in the findings released today, told ABC reducing our red meat impact as a nation would have huge health benefits.

"There are some men who think the size of the steak reflects their masculinity," she said.

"For large amounts of red meat, the WHO says there's increased risk of bowel cancer. And Australia has one of the highest instances of bowel cancer in the world."



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