ZCBlog: How do we feed Britain and eliminate carbon emissions?


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Laura Blake is Zero Carbon Britain’s food and diets researcher. Here, she looks at the main issues facing the food and diets team when proposing their scenario for a decarbonised 2030:

The ZCB scenario proposes some significant changes to land use in the UK.

However, the proposed reduction in meat consumption (particularly red meat) has raised many questions regarding livelihoods of farmers that specialise in livestock. ZCB also has to look at land suitability for other products such as food, biomass and woodland. Is it possible for livestock farmers to adapt to different industries in a scenario such as ours?

For me it also raises important questions about what we would eat. How would eating less meat affect future diets in the UK and what repercussion would this have for health?

It is generally accepted that we in the UK, and developed countries in general, are consuming higher amounts of meat than is recommended.

Current recommendations advise that individuals consume approximately 55 grams of protein per day. The UK average for 2011 was around 76g of protein per day and meat is one of the largest sources of protein in our diet. It has also been found that our diets contain too much saturated fat and meat contributes over 50% of our saturated fat intake.

Therefore, the proposed meat reductions in ZCB could have a significant health benefit for the population. A recent study on red meat, for example, found that reducing red meat consumption by just one serving per week could lower mortality risk by up to 19%.

Another study found that a reduction in livestock products could significantly reduce the risk of premature death from ischemic heart disease. Having said this however, the reductions in numbers of livestock that are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the levels required in ZCB may mean that we are left with a significant gap in our supply of protein as well as various other micronutrients such as iron and vitamin B12.

What can be used as a replacement of meat to fill this gap?

Plant sources of protein may be much more plentiful within the ZCB scenario but plant proteins are less easily absorbed and sources of the above micronutrients are limited. Today, many vegetarians use meat alternatives such as soya products to replace nutrients found in meat, but soya cannot be grown in the UK. So what could we use instead?

The proposed changes in our diet also raise questions of palatability. Bearing in mind the current diversity of eating habits within the UK, is it really possible to provide everything necessary to supply the UK population with a healthy diet within ZCB?

Land use and diets need to be considered when discussing the elimination of carbon emissions, especially in a scenario such as ZCB. But as you can see, there are so many questions that face this line of research.

We do not know the answers yet but that is what the new ZCB report will address come the summer!

For more information on food and diets please contact me at laura.blake@cat.org.uk