The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has hit out at the academic recommendation that meat consumption in western countries may need to reduce by 90% in order to avert a climate catastrophe as well as to combat the current prevalence of obesity.
The recommendation was made in a major study by a collaboration of the Oslo-based EAT foundation and the Lancet Medical Journal.
Other suggestions include the introduction of a meat tax akin to the sugar tax and the withdrawal of certain products altogether.
The study formed a “healthy, sustainable reference diet” which differs greatly from current Irish eating habits.
Beef and lamb consumption is reduced by 90% to just 7g a day, pork is also reduced to 7g a day, along with 29g of chicken.
The study also recommended that dairy consumption would also be curtailed to just one glass of milk a day (250ml), or less if you consume cheese or butter.
To get the required daily intake of calories, people would be expected to eat almost 18 times as many dry beans, soy and nuts.
The research by 20 influential food scientists, published in the Lancet Medical Journal, suggests the global food system is unsustainable and leading the planet towards environmental destruction, while at the same time resulting in an imbalanced society that is either obese or starving.
Its recommendations, if adopted, would have major implications for Ireland’s €12bn food and drink industry, which is heavily centred on beef and dairy production.
Beef alone is worth €2.5bn annually to the Irish economy. IFA president Joe Healy said it was a ludicrous distraction to suggest that people should have little or no meat and dairy as part of their diet.
Mr Healy said: “Irish farmers are engaged in climate action. We have very efficient food production systems in Ireland from a climate perspective. We are the most carbon efficient dairy producer in Europe and amongst the top five in beef. It’s important that this sustainable production is not restricted, as it would lead to increased international climate emissions. This would happen because regions like the Brazilian Amazon in South America would be deforested to meet this growing demand”.
The IFA has written to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and sought his climate leadership in co-ordinating the key government departments and State agencies to fully deliver the Teagasc climate roadmap, published in June last year, which represents a clear strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the sector.
Mr Healy said proteins from beef and dairy are an important part of a balanced diet. He said that the threat to public health from obesity is well documented, and that dietary balance, variety and moderation combined with an active lifestyle remain the single-most important message we all need to act upon, and this is what public health authorities must focus on.