For the first time, researchers have quantified the benefits of not eating meat both in terms of global health and the environment. The new study illustrates a variety of benefits for the economy, the environment, and healthcare costs that, when combined, make a pretty strong case for cutting back on meat products. Computer modeling suggest that the state of the world could be improved by even slight reductions in meat consumption, and that global adoption of a fully plant-based diet could prevent up to 8.1 million deaths per year, as well as a boatload of money and greenhouse gas emissions.
The study was conducted by four sustainability researchers from the University of Oxford. Although there has been much research into specific benefits of reduced meat consumption, the researchers believe this is the first time that one study has combined data on human health and the environment into a comprehensive global perspective. In an effort to imagine a world with less livestock and more prevalent plant-based diets, researchers used computer modeling to develop four scenarios to represent possible futures.
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As a baseline, they used predictions from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to create a model of what would happen if global eating habits remain consistent. Three other models were designed to predict the impact on health and environmental issues for various levels of meat consumption, ranging from a ‘healthy’ diet that include some meat, an ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet, and a plant-based diet. The results of the study indicate that not only would humans be healthier in a world where less (or zero) meat is consumed.
Projections indicate that reducing worldwide meat consumption by 2050 would save millions of human lives, not to mention all of the animals that would not be bred and raised just to be killed. Shifting away from meat would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to a healthier environment, since methane-producing livestock and processing equipment create enormous emissions. Another logical conclusion, proven by the study, is that fewer health problems and illnesses would cause healthcare costs to drop as much as $1 trillion annually.
The results of the study were published this week in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.
Images via Marc Dulmulder/Flickr, Springmann et al, and Banalities/Flickr