* Nitrogen can pollute water, air and soil
* Halving meat consumption could cut nitrogen emissions by
By Nina Chestney
LONDON, April 25 People in the European Union,
who according to a United Nations body eat way more protein than
necessary, could prompt big cuts in nitrogen pollution if they
halved their meat and dairy consumption, a U.N.-backed report
said on Friday.
Nitrogen is used in fertiliser to replace nutrients which
are removed by soils during plant growth but excess nitrogen can
harm the environment by polluting water, air and soil.
Nitrogen can also be released into the air by animal manure
or as nitrous oxide, the third most potent greenhouse gas after
carbon dioxide and methane.
Currently, 6.5 million to 8 million tonnes a year of
nitrogen escape into the environment due to agricultural
practices. That represents around 80 percent of nitrogen
emissions from all sources, said the study by the United
Nations' Economic Commission for Europe's (UNECE) Task Force on
Around 79-88 percent of total emissions in the EU related to
nitrogen are from livestock production. The nitrogen footprint
of meat and dairy is considerably higher than that from
plant-based products, the report added.
"If all people within the EU would halve their meat and
dairy consumption, this would reduce greenhouse gas emissions
from agriculture by 25 to 40 percent, and nitrogen emissions by
40 percent," lead author Henk Westhoek, program manager for
Agriculture and Food at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment
Agency, said in a statement.
On average in Europe, a person eats 83 grams of protein a
day and 60 percent of this comes from animals, the study showed.
The current average per capita protein intake in the EU is
about 70 percent higher than necessary, according to the World
Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.
The reduction in dairy and meat consumption would also
reduce the need for soy bean imports, currently used in animal
feed, by 75 percent.
"The EU could become a major exporter of food products,
instead of a major importer of for example soy beans," Westhoek
Agriculture, through meat production, is one of the main
contributors to greenhouse gas emissions which are believed to
fuel global warming. Estimates vary but scientists say animal
agriculture could account for between 10 and 25 percent of total
(Editing by Keiron Henderson)