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Inside the Houses of Parliament: Could a vegan diet be the answer to climate change?

The environmental impact of animal agriculture was under scrutiny yesterday [17/10/17] by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vegetarianism and Veganism. The public discussion in the Houses of Parliament brought up possible alternatives to the livestock farming that plays a major role in climate change, with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles held up as leading solutions.

Meat, dairy, and climate change

The Paris Climate Change Agreement is never far from talk of the environment, and Tuesday’s discussion centered around the relationship between animal agriculture and global warming. According to the panel of experts at the discussion, a reduction could make all the difference when it comes to meeting the target of keeping a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, one of only five vegan MPs, chaired the panel. She asked: “Why is it [livestock farming] missing from all the strategy documents? Why is it missing from the Paris Agreement?”

Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow in the Energy, Environment, and Resources department at Chatham House, said that the livestock industry could consume the entire Paris target if we do not address it. Despite this, and with the knowledge that agriculture and land use are responsible for around 25% of emissions, he was disappointed to see little reference to agriculture and diet in the Paris Agreement. For the sake of the environment, he said that we need to move towards a more sustainable diet.

Louise Davies, head of campaigns and policy at the Vegan Society, put the solution simply: “We need to reduce the number of animals we farm in order to meet our climate change targets.”

Sustainability research specialist Helen Harwatt echoed this position. She said that methane (the gas produced by livestock) has 25 times the global warming impact of CO2. Her solution is also the subject of her research, ‘Substituting beans for beef as a contribution toward climate change targets.’ After researching the impact that could be had by US citizens replacing beef with beans in their diets, she found that an area one and a half times the size of California could be freed up. She is now working on global analysis.

Helen said: “Getting used to new flavours is really a walk in the park compared with the wrath of climate change.”

The group also discussed whether there should be a meat tax, and whether the environmental cost of goods should be reflected in the price consumers pay. Referring to sugar and cigarette taxes, Antony Froggatt said: “Other things that are bad for us, we quite happily tax.”

Beef with Brexit?

As Britain prepares to leave the EU, an opportunity will arise to change the face of farming. In addition to this, a new Agriculture Bill was revealed in the Queen’s Speech in June, to be brought in over the next two years.

With the future of agriculture up for debate, the panel asks whether there will be a new criteria for agricultural subsidies.

Antony Froggatt wants the arguments for reducing animal agriculture to be made now: “We must really see this as a way to restructure our agricultural livestock.”

Helen Harwatt said that change is not only about subsidies, and that businesses also have a role to play in changing the market. By adapting products they sell, they will influence the crops that are grown to create them.

Alongside the role of policy makers and businesses, individuals also have the power to make a difference by reconsidering meat and dairy within their diets. Information is now starting to surface about how what we eat contributes to greenhouse gases. Cult films like Cowspiracy are delving into the environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry, and more sustainable diets are on the rise. The public has power when it comes to businesses and policymakers, and a consumer taste for change could lead the way towards more sustainable diets, and more sustainable farming.

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