Here’s how much UN scientists think we should cut our meat and dairy consumption

cows in a green meadow
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Here’s a new eco-diet vocab word: demitarian. It means cutting your consumption of animal products in half.

It was coined by Mark Sutton, an author of a new United Nations report that models how reducing Europe’s meat and dairy consumption would impact human health and the environment.

Similar to flexitarian or weekday vegetarian, the concept of demitarian is another formula for reducing animal products in our diets without giving them up entirely.

The report finds that if Europeans ate half as much meat, dairy and eggs, they could lower agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent. There would also be a 40 percent drop in nitrogen pollution, which can lead to poor air quality and decrease oxygen levels in water.

The researchers based their model on the assumption that animal products would be replaced with plant-based foods. “We assumed that a reduction in the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs would have a proportional effect on EU livestock production,” the authors write.

Land currently dedicated to livestock and feed crops could be used to grow more grains intended for direct human consumption. The authors, who created the report for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, suggest that Europe could become a grain exporter under these circumstances.

The report also found that adopting a demitarian diet would reduce the average European’s consumption of saturated fats by 40 percent and have beneficial impacts on heart health.

Of course, there has been pushback from livestock breeders, who say there are other ways to reduce nitrogen pollution. “Farmers and land managers have already taken great steps to reducing its use through better management and efficiency – in fact, [nitrogen] use is down significantly over the past 20 years, Diane Mitchell, chief environment adviser at the National Farmers Union, told The Guardian. “Eating less meat is a simplistic solution to what is a highly complex situation.”

Livestock is only one contributor to greenhouse gasses, and estimates on how much meat contributes to climate change vary from model to model. Yet the authors note that there is “a growing consensus in the scientific community about changing ‘western’ diets possibly having a positive outcome for both human health and the environment.”

Although the eating habits of non-Europeans are outside the scope of this study, the report has implications for anyone who eats a “Western diet.” The United States consumes more beef and chicken than the EU, while China is the lead consumer of pork. These countries could also see a number of environmental benefits from adopting demitarian habits.

Tags: Farming | United Nations

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