Environment editor, The Guardian
Fri 19 Jun 2020 11.51 BST
Unpalatable as it may be for those wedded to producing and eating meat, the environmental and health evidence for a plant-based diet is clear.
Whether you are concerned about your health, the environment or animal welfare, scientific evidence is piling up that meat-free diets are best. Millions of people in wealthy nations are already cutting back on animal products.
Of course livestock farmers and meat lovers are unsurprisingly fighting back and it can get confusing. Are avocados really worse than beef? What about bee-massacring almond production?
The coronavirus pandemic has added another ingredient to that mix. The rampant destruction of the natural world is seen as the root cause of diseases leaping into humans and is largely driven by farming expansion. The world’s top biodiversity scientists say even more deadly pandemics will follow unless the ecological devastation is rapidly halted.
Food is also a vital part of our culture, while the affordability of food is an issue of social justice. So there isn’t a single perfect diet. But the evidence is clear: whichever healthy and sustainable diet you choose, it is going to have much less red meat and dairy than today’s standard western diets, and quite possibly none. That’s for two basic reasons.
First, the over-consumption of meat is causing an epidemic of disease, with about $285bn spent every year around the world treating illness caused by eating red meat alone. Second, eating plants is simply a far more efficient use of the planet’s stretched resources than feeding the plants to animals and then eating them. The global livestock herd and the grain it consumes takes up 83% of global farmland, but produces just 18% of food calories.
So what about all those arguments in favour of meat-eating and against vegan diets? Let’s start with the big beef about red meat.