Encouraging the world to eat less meat in a bid to make diets more healthy and sustainable is not as clear-cut as critics of livestock farming might suggest, according to a leading Government food and farming adviser.
Sir Charles Godfray, professor of population biology at the University of Oxford, said there were definite benefits to people in developed world eating less meat.
But he said encouraging people around the world to adopt vegetarian or vegan lifestyles was not the panacea that many people expect.
Speaking at the British Society of Animal Science annual conference in Dublin, Sir Godfray said the world would not be able to support a population of 10 billion if people continued to eat meat at the levels seen in Europe and North America today.
Aside from the greenhouse gas emissions created by livestock, the human health issues linked to eating red and processed meats would make such diets unsustainable.
However, he said demonising all livestock production, or considering introducing policies which drive down meat consumption at a global level, were unhelpful.
He told delegates: “Research has shown that eating red and processed meat in particular has negative effects on diets.
“Aside from the significant difference it would have on greenhouse gas emissions, taxing foods that have higher carbon footprints would lead to 100,000 people a year not dying due to diet-related causes.
“But there are countries where diets are deficient in calories, so consuming animal products may be desirable.
“If you plot the number of deaths you would avoid through carbon taxes geographically, you would get fewer deaths in the rich world, but more deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.”
In addition, the social impact such a policy would have on livestock farmers could not be ignored.
“It is wrong to add up those who benefit and those who do not and assume that they cancel each other out,” added Sir Godfray.
“We need to pay more attention to the losers, and that is true in spades in agriculture.”
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