Study highlights cost of eating meat and dairy

Meat and dairy products contribute almost a quarter of all the environmental impacts of private consumption in the EU - but only 6% of the economic value, according to a study published by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.1

The study found that per kilogram, there was a clear difference between different types of meat. Beef was found to have a four-to-eight times larger environmental impact than poultry, and up to five times larger than pork.

However, the authors say impacts could be reduced by 20% if a number of improvement options outlined in the report were adopted across the meat and dairy supply chain. These unsurprisingly include biogasification of manures, methane-reducing diets for cows and reducing food waste. It also advocates encouraging home delivery of groceries and optimising protein feeding in pig and dairy farming.

The study was carried out by LCA consultants and researchers at the University of Aarhus, the Technical University of Denmark and the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, formerly the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences.

The authors claim it presents the first systematic overview of the full life cycle of meat and dairy products and their environmental impacts across the entire food chain. This included acidification, eutrophication, global warming potentials and ecotoxicity.

It follows earlier research which showed food and drink was responsible for 20-30% of the environmental impact relating to private consumption in the EU, with meat and dairy contributing most.

The NFU said that the report was an interesting one which helped to highlight the complexity of the issue and the need for detailed research. It said it will need time to fully analyse it and reflect on what it means for British farmers.

It added that its recent commitments to the Environmental Plan for Dairy Farming and the Dairy Roadmap (ENDS Report 400, pp 25-26 ) demonstrated the sector was taking their environmental responsibilities seriously and were already looking at practical measures to reduce their impact.