Less beef? Argentina could slash environmental impact by reducing 'high' consumption, finds study

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages/camij
©GettyImages/camij

Related tags: Argentina, Beef, Red meat

Applying recommendations outlined in Argentina's 2016 national dietary guidelines could cut CO2 emissions associated with the country's high beef consumption by almost one-third, claim researchers.

Writing in Food Policy, ​researchers from Argentina's National University of Cordoba and National University of Comahue analyzed greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and potential climate change mitigation through possible dietary changes, including adhering to Argentina's national dietary guidelines published in 2016 by the Ministry of Health​.

Known as GAPA, the guidelines suggest a significant reduction in overall meat consumption and an increase in vegetables, fruits and whole grains, among other things. The researchers said if such recommendations were applied, there could be significant environmental implications.

Findings showed if total daily intake of meat was reduced by around 50%, GHGE in Argentina could be reduced by 28%, driving levels of the CO2-equivalent per person, per day, down to 3.95 ± 0.96kg.

The average CO2-equivalent in the country was currently “very high”​ at 5.48 ± 1.71kg CO2-eq per person, per day, heavily driven by meat consumption, the researchers said.

Total emissions from dietary choices were also 33–120% higher than diets studied in other countries. Analysis showed bovine meat consumption alone contributed to 71% of the country's total GHGE, followed by dairy with an 8.5% contribution and poultry at 6.4%.

Better for you, better for the environment...

While national dietary guidelines were important for health and social reasons, the researchers said it was also clear from the study that following GAPA was important for environmental reasons as well and should be spotlighted.  

“Argentina's national dietary guidelines should include the environmental impacts of food consumption with the aim of raising consumer awareness,”​ they wrote. “...Such findings are relevant to consumers' choices as well as advisory bodies. We believe that an extension of the present national dietary guidelines towards guidelines that include environmental effects and sustainability issues is not only feasible but also desirable.”

Countries like Sweden, Germany, USA, Australia and France, among others, had already promoted the need for moderated red meat consumption to reduce global pressure on public health, the environment and society, they said.

Even though it had not been demonstrated in this study, the researchers said there were other environmental positives beyond reducing CO2 emissions when lowering bovine meat consumption, for example less land and energy use and deforestation – issues heavily associated with beef production.

A 'challenge' for food policy makers and health professionals

However, the researchers said because beef remained such an “important food”​ in Argentina – associated with traditional cultural values and a strong public image – implementing or encouraging change would be hard.

Argentina has a “long tradition in high meat consumption” ​and in particular “high beef consumption”, ​they said. ​Total average meat consumption in Argentina was much higher than the 130-150g recommended in the country's national dietary guidelines at 244g per person, per day and daily beef consumption stood at 135g per person, per day.

Even if beef consumption was slashed to recommended levels of 71.3g per person, per day this would still be above the average beef consumption per capita in Brazil, the USA and European Union, the researchers said.

“Traditionally, consumers in Argentina have preference for beef over lamb and pork, not only due to cultural or gastronomical reasons but due to lower sale prices for beef against other meat options, with the exception of poultry. In the last 50 years, beef consumption in Argentina has decreased steadily, although it is still the most-consumed meat and of great relevance in the current diet.”

The researchers said better access to information and increased efforts to raise public awareness would help efforts to reduce consumption further, including public campaigns and further meat reduction policies. And while short-term change would be unlikely, they said these efforts could make the public more supportive and accepting of policy intervention in the future.

“Many studies have shown that consumers are willing to change food habits if they are confronted with clear information on the environmental impacts of their diets,” ​they wrote. “...In any case, holistic approaches that consider the complexity of the food system are needed and governments must lead the action, because without government intervention at national and international level, populations are unlikely to reduce their consumption of animal products and there would be insufficient incentive for business to risk on new plant-based products.”

The researchers established environmental impacts of diet patterns by comparing four dietary scenarios: a model dietary plan based on current guidelines; a diet with non-ruminant meats; a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet; and vegan diet. Each diet plan was standardized to 2,000kcal per person, per day. They acknowledged some limitations, including the fact this calorie intake was not representative of certain groups in the population and that not all values considered the entire life-cycle of food products but said overall the findings aligned with several previous works.

 

Source: Food Policy

Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2018.05.003

Title: “Impact of current, National Dietary Guidelines and alternative diets on greenhouse gas emissions in Argentina”

Authors: EM. Arrieta and AD. Gonzalez

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