Steak

Scientists from the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) are urging citizens of the richest nations on earth to reduce meat intake by half, in order to thwart any further damage to the environment.

“Demitarians” is the term Professor Mark Sutton—lead researcher of the UN report—coined for halving meat consumption, reports the Guardian. Entitled Our Nutrient World: The challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution [PDF], the report focuses on the demand for cheap meat that’s driven meat consumption and the livestock industry to dangerous heights, highlighting the recent horsemeat scandal in Europe for uncovering “the dark side of our lust for meat, which has fuelled a trade in undocumented livestock and mislabeled cheap ready meals.”

The report included an urgent warning: “Unless action is taken, increases in pollution and per capita consumption of energy and animal products will exacerbate nutrient losses, pollution levels and land degradation, further threatening the quality of our water, air and soils, affecting climate and biodiversity.” According to the report, the ‘cheap meat’ industry is reliant on grains and resources that could be routed to humans instead of animals. Eighty percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus used in farming goes into meat production and the cost of producing these nutrients is high, while they’re in short supply in some parts of the world, cites the Guardian, and most “end up wasted through the animals’ manure.”

The widespread use of genetically modified crops that are pesticide and herbicide dependent has also contributed to “a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health,” as well as “causing toxic algal blooms and killing fish, while some are threatening bees, amphibians and sensitive ecosystems,” reports the Guardian.

The report recommends adding more plant foods to meals and opting for the common large cuts of meat less often, but “make it special,” said Sutton. Farming could also become more environmentally friendly, the report urged, with better use of fertilizers, nitrogen and water, as well as taking steps to capture greenhouse gas emissions, reduce waste, and proper sewage treatment methods.

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