Is less meat a good idea?
LONDON -- The government is trying to make us eat less meat. A recent report in the Lancet medical journal, based on a study partly funded by the United Kingdom Department of Health, recommends that the number of animals bred for meat should be r...
LONDON -- The government is trying to make us eat less meat.
A recent report in the Lancet medical journal, based on a study partly funded by the United Kingdom Department of Health, recommends that the number of animals bred for meat should be reduced by 30 percent. The Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, backs the report, on public health and environmental grounds.
But is it really that simple? Granted, ruminants, specifically cattle, emit methane. But the effect of meat on the environment depends to a great extent on where and how it is produced and how far it is transported.
Beef produced in South America on cattle ranches for which forests have been cleared, which then is transported to Europe, is environmentally damaging in several respects.
But British beef, if produced in an environmentally sensitive manner and transported as short a distance as possible, is less problematic.
It would help if meat, in supermarkets and in catering, were clearly labeled to show its country of origin. Farmers are custodians of the environment. And, according to the National Farmers Union, their carbon emissions account for only 1 percent of the UK total.
By all means, let ministers encourage us to adopt a varied diet -- though fish is scarce. But a blanket target to reduce the number of animals bred for meat is crude.
There are other means of reducing carbon emissions: The London Forestry Commission recommends that another 4 percent of our land mass should be used to plant trees. That is an initiative we all can support.