ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rich countries should encourage consumers to eat less meat and help farmers become more environmentally-friendly, campaigners said on Tuesday as pressure mounts to limit global warming.
Livestock - largely cattle raised for beef and milk - are responsible for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says.
“If we want earth’s temperature rise to stay below 2 degrees, especially below 1.5 degrees ... then we need to tackle this overconsumption of animal products,” said Nusa Urbancic, campaign director of Changing Markets Foundation, a lobby group.
The world risks sweltering heatwaves, extreme rainfall and shrinking harvests unless unprecedented efforts are made to keep the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), the United Nations said last week.
Meat consumption is more than double the recommended levels for healthy diets in the United States and much of Europe, Changing Markets Foundation and Washington-based Mighty Earth said in a report calling for reform of the food industry.
Cutting animal products from the diet would be a “relatively easy and cheap way” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and free up land for conservation and storing carbon, they said.
For example, the average person in Britain eats more than three times the government’s recommended 70 grams of red or processed meat each day, the report said.
While more people are becoming vegan and vegetarian - particularly the young - governments continue to subsidize intensive meat and dairy farming methods that exacerbate climate change, it said.
“In Europe and the U.S., a lot of public money is spent on farming subsidies but very little of it goes to environmental measures,” Urbancic told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, calling for more support for organic farming.
There is a “shocking absence” of government policies to encourage consumers to eat less meat and to promote low-carbon alternative foods, unlike in the energy and transport sectors where reforms are receiving support, they said.
One country encouraging environmentally-friendly agriculture is Wales, where the government gives financial support to farms improving water management, maintaining biodiversity and combating climate change.
Tony Davies, a Welsh farmer benefiting from the scheme, has reduced his flock by two-thirds - to 600 animals - since 2005, which has reduced his overheads and boosted profits.
“The wildlife on the farm has increased as we have kept less stock,” he said by phone from Henfron Farm.
“More trees have had a chance to regenerate and we are storing higher levels of carbon.”