A small shift away from a meat diet could have a big climate impact

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

In addition to the significant benefits to climate, nature and water, the shift to sustainable proteins would help Europeans lead healthier lives and politicians would benefit through lower spending on healthcare, Nico Muzi writes.


Going meat-free for just two days a week in the EU and the UK has outsized environmental benefits.

Such a moderate shift toward plant-based eating could result in an impressive reduction of 81 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year.

This has a comparable impact to taking a quarter — or about 65 million — of all cars off the roads of the EU and the UK.

Additionally, as meat production takes up a lot more farmland than protein crop production, this shift would free up an area of land larger than the entire United Kingdom. It would also save 2.2 cubic kilometres of water, equivalent to 880,000 swimming pools’ worth of water annually.

We know and can prove all of this — it’s all in the results of a new study by research consultancy Profundo for Madre Brava.

In a nutshell, by replacing animal proteins with a mix of wholegrain vegetal proteins and novel plant-based meat alternatives, we are making a change that will have an exponential impact on the long-term health and viability of our planet.

This moderate shift to plant proteins makes sense from a health viewpoint. As it stands, citizens in Europe and the UK consume 80% more meat than the global average.

More worryingly, Europeans consume four times more red meat than the recommended intake levels according to health experts at the EAT-Lancet Commission, led by 37 world-leading scientists from 16 countries from various disciplines, who have defined targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production.

The plant switch also makes climate sense. The excessive consumption of animal products plays a substantial role in driving emissions in the EU’s food sector, contributing to 70% of all emissions linked to food consumption in the bloc.

Furthermore, meat and dairy production are the single largest sources of methane emissions in the EU, and the most potent contributor to climate change. If Brussels doesn’t address livestock emissions, agriculture is set to become the bloc’s largest climate-polluting sector by 2040.

What does Europe need?

Climate scientists agree that the only way to achieve the Paris Agreement goals is to significantly reduce the total production and consumption of meat globally.

In Europe, the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) explored what it would take for the EU agriculture sector to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Different scenarios leading to significant greenhouse gas emission reductions with a mix of different sustainable farming methods all require a 75% reduction of EU meat consumption by 2050 compared to 2010.

Europe needs diet shifts to decarbonise agriculture. Thus, the UK and the EU need to pay greater attention to the protein transition, alongside exploring sustainable intensification and methane mitigation technologies.

The good news is that consumers are, slowly but surely, coming along for the journey.

The number of Europeans who reportedly are cutting down on meat (known as flexitarians) is growing, every year. In some countries — the salient case being Germany — meat consumption has been falling consistently for the past five years.

While this is progress, dietary changes are not happening at the rate needed to bring down emissions in line with those needed to keep planetary heating within a safe threshold (1.5C).

Moreover, the onus for this transition should not rest on consumers’ shoulders. Systemic problems require systemic solutions.


What should happen?

Currently, meat and dairy production receive significant subsidies, lower value-added tax and funding for promotion and advertising, which puts plant-based foods and alternative proteins at a disadvantage.

Subsidies, taxes, public procurement and corporate strategies must be realigned to incentivize vegetal and alternative proteins, making them the cheapest, healthiest, and most convenient option for consumers.

Policymakers across Europe should also level the playing field between animal and plant-based products by removing funding for meat promotion and realigning taxes that favour animal-based products.

More importantly, the EU should go big with novel sustainable proteins. As it has done with hydrogen and batteries, the European Commission should come up with a big investment plan for the nascent novel sustainable protein industry to ensure Europe can lead (not follow) in the next food innovation.

Food retailers should chip in too. For decades, the food industry has played a significant role in shaping consumer attitudes and preferences.


Thus, it is only fitting that the food industry takes a leading role in encouraging better and more available choices of pulses, legumes, whole grains and alternative proteins.

There’s initial movement, with some supermarkets in Germany and The Netherlands setting up targets to increase the share of plant-based proteins in the overall protein portfolio. We need more ambition and more supermarkets in other European countries to follow suit.

Who would benefit from the shift to plants?

In addition to the significant benefits to climate, nature and water, the shift to sustainable proteins would help Europeans lead healthier lives and politicians would benefit through lower spending on healthcare.

Most importantly, the transition to plant-based diets could also offer more income and improved livelihoods for EU farmers.

If, on top of that, the EU decides to go big on novel sustainable proteins, the bloc could build an entirely new economic sector, creating thousands of new jobs.


European governments and food retailers should play a catalytic role in ensuring that sustainable proteins are the cheapest, healthiest and easiest choice for consumers when doing their food shop.

Nico Muzi is the managing director and co-founder of Madre Brava, a science-based advocacy organisation working to bring in line the food system with the 1.5C climate target.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Why is reporting on the climate impact of meat off the menu?

By Nico Muzi, Managing director and co-founder, Madre Brava

Contrary to the popular saying, more bad news about meat production will be good news for people and the planet, Nico Muzi writes.

No news is good news for the meat industry, but it’s terrible news for people and the planet.

Despite the oversized role of livestock production in driving climate change, mainstream media ignores the issue.

A new analysis by Faunalytics for Sentient Media revealed that 93% of climate-related news never mentions meat.

Researchers analysed 1,000 articles in 10 national US media outlets since September 2022 and found that within the very limited coverage that mentions animal agriculture, “much of the reporting covers climate impacts on livestock rather than how meat production is a source of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Earlier research by our sustainable food advocacy group also shows that the topic of climate emissions from animal agriculture gets comparatively less media coverage than other climate problems.

Almost 450 out of 91,180 climate articles in top-tier English-language media outlets in the EU, UK and US between 2020 and mid-2022 mention meat or livestock as a source of emissions — 0.5% of overall climate reporting.

This is problematic: media narratives help to set the political agenda and are precursors to political action.

In other words, media coverage of the role of livestock in driving climate change is more likely to create political urgency, policy prioritisation and resource allocation.

Why are climate and environment reporters ignoring meat’s part in climate change?

For some, it’s a question of priorities

At least three main factors contribute to the underreporting of meat’s oversized climate impact by English-language media.

First, a lack of campaigning. Very few civil society groups are campaigning on the link between meat and climate change — compared to the sheer amount of public advocacy around fossil fuels extraction and emissions from cars, trucks, planes and ships.

In part, this corresponds with the minimal climate philanthropy funding going to the food and agriculture sector — 8% of the total known foundation funding dedicated to climate mitigation in 2020.

But it also has to do with a matter of prioritisation. So far, and rightly so, the environmental movement has focused on reducing emissions from the energy systems and transport: two sectors with massive emissions (34% and 15% of total emissions in 2019, respectively) and with technological solutions — solar, wind and electrification of transport — available at scale to decarbonise these industries.

Food is the next frontier in the climate fight: it’s responsible for 37% of global emissions, of which animal agriculture takes the lion’s share.

The sector’s size can be a stumbling stone

When presenting the latest IPCC report, Chairperson Hoesung Lee reminded the world that humanity needs to reduce livestock farming to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

We should now expect the attention of civil society (and climate philanthropists) to turn to the transformation of how and what food we produce to feed a growing population without frying the planet.

This is crucial for creating media attention: as Madre Brava’s media analysis shows, investigations by NGOs and studies by think tanks and universities are the leading generators of climate stories around meat and livestock.

The second factor is corporate capture: the continuous attempts by the meat industry to meddle with science and policymaking.

The global meat industry is a huge sector worth $1.3 trillion (€1.16tn) — three times the economic value of the smartphone industry.

People like meat — and telling them not to eat it can turn them hostile

Borrowing heavily from the playbook of the oil industry, media reporting and exposés have shown that big meat processors and dairy corporations use their abundant financial resources to manipulate the facts and sow doubts about climate science on animal products.

For instance, research led by academics at New York University and published in the journal Climate Change show that the 10 largest animal agriculture companies in the US “have contributed to research that minimizes the link between animal agriculture and climate change.”

In terms of lobbying efforts, the same researchers uncovered that “taken as a share of each company’s total revenue over those time periods, Tyson has spent more than double what Exxon has on political campaigns and 21% more on lobbying.”

Recently, the Dublin Declaration of Scientists on the Role of Livestock, a pro-livestock manifesto by scholars with close ties to the meat industry, also appear to further efforts to create a supportive scientific community around livestock and to downplay the impact of meat on climate change.

Also, many people love meat for its taste and for deeply held cultural reasons, which makes the topic contentious for reporting.

As Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel said when asked about the reasons why animal agriculture gets comparatively less coverage in climate stories than other sources of emissions: “The predominant one is that people like meat and … basically you end up telling people to eat less beef.”

“And that’s a message that people tend to be hostile to. When we’re talking about fossil fuels, we are giving people an alternative. But when we’re talking about meat, the alternative we give them is very unpalatable to a lot of people.”

Wrong framing can result in polarisation

How can we overcome the underreporting of meat’s role in climate change?

For one, to remove some of the key barriers to more climate coverage on meat production, the media needs a drumbeat of new content, which can be generated with more NGO campaigning and journalistic investigations.

In this regard, it would be impactful if climate and environmental NGOs join forces with animal welfare groups and health experts to amplify messages around the climate, health and animal harms of industrial meat — supported by increased climate philanthropic funding.

Likewise, audacious investigative journalists should dig deeper and unearth new episodes of corporate capture of science and policymaking in this realm.

Second, reworking how to frame narratives and where to place the burden of responsibility is critical in superseding the “contentiousness” of the topic for reporters.

Campaigns — if not framed right — can also create polarisation and fuel culture wars.

The onus of changing how and what food is produced should be on food retailers and governments, not consumers.

Instead of finger-pointing at people for not reducing their meat consumption, the call to action should be to improve the choice context so healthy and sustainable food is the easiest and most affordable option for consumers.

Bad news for some might be good news for people and the planet

Finally, like-for-like alternatives matter when trying to change deeply held cultural habits.

Industry disruptors should deliver more palatable alternative proteins that are as tasty and as cheap as conventional industrial meat to meet consumers where they are in terms of taste and nutritional preferences.

More reporting on the oversized role of livestock in driving climate change will help create political urgency, policy prioritisation and resource allocation.

Contrary to the popular saying, more bad news — about meat production — will be good news for people and the planet.

Nico Muzi is the managing director and co-founder of Madre Brava, a science-based advocacy organisation working to bring in line the food system with the 1.5C climate target.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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