Pete Scarborough, Associate Professor at the Centre on Population Approaches to Non Communicable Disease Prevention was interviewed on the Naked Scientists podcast which aired on 22nd August.
Pete discussed the impact of food choices on the environment and explored how a diet lower in meat and higher in plant based foods is both healthier and better for the planet.
He described how studies which follow up people with different diets over a long time show lower cardiovascular disease outcomes are related to a lower meat diet and that there is good evidence that a lower meat diet, particularly red and processed meat, is related to lower colorectal cancer outcomes.
In terms of sustainability, research shows that in the UK, a meat eating diet has about double the greenhouse gas emissions of a vegan diet and about 50% more greenhouse gas emissions than a vegetarian diet.
Pete suggested that if two meat eaters in a family decided to become vegetarian, the reduction in their carbon footprint would be roughly equivalent to running a small family car for a year. Similarly, a meat eater becoming a vegan, would be equivalent to an economy flight from London to New York.
While there is some progress towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions in sectors such as energy and transport, this is not the case with food. The global population is increasing and as developing countries get richer, they move towards more western diets, with a higher greenhouse gas emission footprint.
Although 30% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are from global food systems, food is never included in agreements on climate change. The issues are complicated and there are concerns that increases in food prices would have very negative effects on the world’s poorest people.
The Naked Scientists team work with the BBC and other broadcasters across the world and audiences for their science podcasts exceed a million people each week.