Study urges change in diet to save the earth

13 August 2019

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology are highlighting the correlation between dairy and meat consumption, and land degradation.

Tiffany Hionas

According to researchers, one quarter of the world’s tropical land could disappear by the end of the century unless we change our eating patterns. Researchers have stated that unless we are reducing our consumption of animal products, we will lose millions of square miles of land for farming purposes, consequently leading to a widespread loss of species and their habitats.

Within 80 years, 95 per cent of natural land within the tropics could disappear. Our dairy and meat-eating consumption trends have a large impact on biodiverse regions, home to a wealth of ecosystems and species including mammals, birds, amphibians and plant life. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have found that rapid increases in meat and milk production impacts the levels of diversity within tropical regions, as they suffer major losses from land clearing needed for farming.

The research emerges as a recent report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, identified that reducing meat consumption would reduce climate change. Plant-based diets reduce the land area needed for farming, leaving more available land for eco restoration. Thus, using land sustainably means removing carbon from the atmosphere, limiting the magnitude of future warming. Therefore, in order for ecosystem restoration to take place, reducing and replacing animals’ products with plant-based alternative diets might reduce the demand for agricultural and farming land by 11 per cent.

Lead author of the research study, Dr Roslyn Henry from The University of Edinburgh, said, ‘reducing meat and dairy consumption will have positive effects on greenhouse gas emissions and human health. It will also help biodiversity, which must be conserved to ensure the world's growing population is fed. Changing our diets will lead to a more sustainable future and complement food security goals while addressing global food inequalities.’

However, changing diet outcomes might be difficult as dietary choices vary across populations and are heavily influenced by local production practices and cultural traditions. As well as this, the pathway between socioeconomic status (income) and dietary habits are inextricably linked. As incomes increase, diets shift from staples to meat, milk and refined sugars, impacting the quantity of meat and dairy consumed. This means we need to rethink how food is produced globally, how land can be managed and how food can be made more available to all populations, in order to save vast areas of the tropic.

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