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Meat consumption must fall by at least 75 percent

If our planet is to continue feeding us in the future, rich countries must significantly reduce their meat consumption by at least 75% suggests a new study by German researchers.

The study from lead author Prof. Dr Matin Qaim reviews the current state of research on various aspects of meat consumption. In addition to the effects on the environment and climate, these include health and economic effects. The researchers conclude: Eating meat in small amounts can be quite sustainable.

Today, every EU citizen consumes around 80 kilograms of meat per year. However, according to Quaim and co-workers livestock farming damages the climate and the environment. Ruminants for instance produce methane, which accelerates global warming but – in contrast to carbon dioxide – only lasts for 12 year in the atmosphere. Animals also convert only a portion of the calories they are fed into meat. In order to feed the same number of people, meat therefore requires a much larger land area. This is to the detriment of ecosystems, as less space is left for natural species conservation. Furthermore, eatingmeat in excess can promote chronic diseases.

“If all humans consumed as much meat as Europeans or North Americans, we would certainly miss the international climate targets and many ecosystems would collapse,” explains study author Prof. Dr. Matin Qaim of the Center for Development Research (ZEF) at the University of Bonn. “We therefore need to significantly reduce our meat consumption, ideally to 20 kilograms or less annually.” At present, around half of all grains produced worldwide are used as animal feed, Qaim said.

Poorer countries are not the problem, the authors point out. For their inhabitants, meat is usually much less frequently on the menu than in industrialised nations. This means that the rich countries in particular must reduce their meat consumption. Although there are more vegetarians than before, aggregate meat consumption is stagnating across Europe. However, it is highest in North America and Australia.

Qaim believes it is important to also consider higher taxes on animal-based foods. “That’s certainly unpopular, especially since a 10% or 20% surcharge probably wouldn’t be enough, if it’s supposed to have a steering effect,” he says. “Meat, however, has a high environmental cost that is not reflected in current prices. It would be entirely reasonable and fair to have consumers share more of these costs.”

The authors also call for the topic of “sustainable consumption” to be increasingly integrated into school curricula. These contents should also be better included into the training of future teachers. “We need to become more sensitive to the global impact of our decisions,” emphasizes Qaim.

Meanwhile, with the help of Archaea, European biotech start-ups such as Solar Foods Oy or the Austrian Archeon Biotechnologies GmbH are working on vegan meat products that eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere. According to a study by the University of Osnabrück (Germany), about half of German consumers in a recent survey said they would try switching to lab-grown meat substitutes. Cellular agriculture is currently on the rise as investors have become aware that consumers are increasingly sensitive to how sustainably food has been produced.

Biotech innovations including cellular agriculture, use of industrial combustion gases or waste for sustainable production will be presented in Berlin at Industria Biotec this autumn .