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As the global population grows the food needed to sustain us has increased dramatically. Isobel Pankhurst talks to The Vegan Society and National Farmers Union about the best solution for beef and the climate crisis

It’s estimated world meat production has more than quadrupled since the 1960s. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, world meat production is projected to double in the next 30 years. But a report by Greenpeace states that to avoid dangerous climate change, meat production needs to be halved by 2050.

Apart from humans, there are currently more cows on Earth than any other land mammal and the amount of methane produced in cattle farming has become a cause for concern. The #NoBeef Campaign claims one kilogram of beef is responsible for more greenhouse gases than driving for three hours. 

Timothy Thorpe, senior campaigns and policy officer at The Vegan Society, said completely cutting animal products out of your diet is: ” the most effective single lifestyle change that can be made to reduce your climate and ecological footprint.”

In a guide on climate friendly farming, the National Farmers Union (NFU) counter this view suggesting: “the question is not whether to eat meat or not. The key consideration must be where the livestock was farmed and the environmental and welfare standards of where it was produced.” The NFU says British beef is produced to the highest standards of sustainability and animal welfare in the world.

One cattle farmer from Melton Mowbray argued that rather than beef, it’s actually white meat and fish that are the least environmentally friendly. These animals are “fed on nothing but soya and grains” while cattle and sheep are “grazed on grass – which they’ve done for 10,000 years.” He further suggested: “the only sustainable meat to eat would be beef and lamb.”

This view is countered by Thorpe who claims it is a misconception that grazing systems, such as cattle farming, are nature-friendly. Thorpe said: “there are already far more animals in our landscape than it can sustain, so far from being a solution, more people switching to ‘grass-fed’ could be an ecological disaster.”

With the ever-changing nature of the science surrounding climate change, the Melton Mowbray cattle farmer said that it has been difficult for farmers: “What we really need is absolute proper scientific information on what is causing the carbon footprint and food production.” He said a number of scientific journals have debunked claims about the effect of cattle farming on greenhouse gas emissions.

The cattle farmer suggested individuals seeking to offset the carbon footprint of their food should continue eating a balanced diet – the best option for their own health and that of the environment. Thorpe argued that there are many great alternatives to beef and other animal products. Pulses, he said, “produce huge amounts of nutrition per hectare” and they “even take nitrogen from the air and lock it into the soil, helping to supply nutrients to other crops gown in rotation and reducing the need for fertilisers.”