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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

World Food Day: going vegan can combat global warming, says expert

The largest analysis to date of the impact of animal products on the planet found that avoiding meat, fish, eggs and dairy is the best way do to reduce the environmental footprint

Adopting a vegan diet could reduce the pace of global warming, according to a new report. AFP  
Adopting a vegan diet could reduce the pace of global warming, according to a new report. AFP  

Going vegan could help reduce the pace of global warming, says the author of a food impact report who is so convinced by his findings he has ditched meat and dairy product himself.

Speaking on World Food Day, Joseph Poore, the co-author of the study, Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers, said animal product is doing a 'lot more damage than we expected'.

Mr Poore, a researcher at the University of Oxford, said if the world's population adopted a vegan diet, global greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 25 per cent - and 3.1 billion less hectares of land would be needed for farming.

“I was interested in exploring whether it was possible to eat sustainable animal products and the answer we came to was a very strong no,” said Mr Poore, who has himself adopted a vegan diet.

“Even the best farmers were still doing a lot more damage than we expected.”

There are five main problems associated with the production of meat, fish, eggs and dairy, said Mr Poore.

According to his study, it takes feed to produce meat, thereby making it a less efficient process, plus you need to clear more land, it results in higher wastage, and both animals and animal processing create emissions.

Globally, cattle rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases than transportation, according to the UN.

One dairy cow can drink up 190 litres of water a day, according to experts, which equates to 2,585 litres of water to produce just 4 litres of milk.

The amount of water needed to make 1kg of beef, chicken and rice. Roy Cooper / The National
The amount of water needed to make 1kg of beef, chicken and rice. Roy Cooper / The National

And a startling 66 per cent of agricultural deforestation is for animal products – for either feed or pasture, found the study.

“You can have all this extra land that you need and you have to clear more rainforest or forest which releases a lot more carbon as well,” said Mr Poore.

“The carbon that is stored in the trees is either burnt and goes into the atmosphere or is left on the ground and goes into the atmosphere, so you lose a lot of potential carbon storage.”

This is just one of the reasons why going vegan would make a massive difference to the escalating problem of global warming.

For one, it would result in 3.1 billion hectares less land for food production, said Mr Poore.

“That is the size of United States, Europe, China and Australia combined,” he said.

“It would cut our global greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent.”

Many vegans in Dubai are sharing the story that changing your diet is not just good for your own health - but that of the planet.

Sarah Williams was never a huge red meat eater, but reading a report about its impact on the environment was the motivation she needed to cut it out for good.

According to that study – the largest analysis to date of the impact of animal products on the planet – avoiding meat, fish, eggs and dairy is the best thing someone can do to reduce their environmental footprint.

The study, published in the journal Science in June, found that the production of animal products occupies 83 per cent of the world’s farmland, and contributes 56 to 58 per cent of food’s different emissions.

Yet they only provide 37 per cent of our protein intake and 18 per cent of our calories.

And it is just the latest in a string of findings to point to the same conclusion.

It was this growing body of research that made Ms Williams, a self-confessed cheese and poultry lover from California who lives in Dubai, reconsider her diet.

“I now avoid beef entirely, and have drastically reduced my poultry and cheese consumption.”

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Read more:

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The social and environmental reasons why people are giving up meat

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Experts say the world needs more vegans to save the planet from global warming.

“It's easy to make fun of vegans, but in all honesty, if we're not actively trying to lessen our carbon footprint, we're part of the problem,” said Ms Williams.

She is part of a growing group of people in the UAE who are becoming more conscious of what they eat.

“I always thought I was the only vegan in Dubai,” said Ananda Shakespeare, a Briton who started two environmental organisations in the UK before moving to Dubai 14 years ago.

She started a Facebook group for vegans, called Dubai Vegan Days, which organises vegan food events, earlier this year.

“And now I have a whole host of vegan friends and I can drop round and have vegan biscuits and they have nut milks.”

She, like many vegans, eats the way she does for the health benefits it brings.

And many health experts endorse that view.

They say it is perfectly possible to get all the protein you need by eating vegan food. In doing so, they also avoid eating the additives in meat.

“Generally, as we all know, meat has a lot of additives, hormones, antibiotics and so on injected into it,” said Ahlaam Ali, a Dubai-based nutrition consultant.

“So it’s not just red meat. It’s not just chicken. And fish has mercury. So there are a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t really be having meat.”

Ms Ali, who is originally from the UK, is also the founder and managing director of Artizzan Cheeze, a company which produces vegan cheese in Dubai and is one of a number of companies introducing more options for vegans and vegetarians in the UAE.

She admits that living in the UAE, a lot of our food is flown in, adding to the carbon footprint of vegetables. But their environmental impact is still lower than meat.

“When you look at it, it might not be environmentally friendly,” said Ms Ali.

“However, it is definitely more environmentally friendly than eating meat. We could live on air, love and water, but I don’t think we would survive long. We are not yogis yet.”

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