Change diets to save the tropical forests, researchers say

If the consumption of meat and dairy doesn’t fall, at least one-quarter of the world’s tropical lands could disappear by the end of the century, according to new research which studied the impacts of consumption trends on biodiverse regions across the globe.

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Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology estimate that large swathes of natural land could potentially vanish if the demand for animal products continues to grow. The study was published in the Global Environmental Change journal.

About 9% of natural land — 95% of which is in the tropics — could go within 80 years unless global dietary habits change, the scientists said, looking at consumption and agriculture patterns.

“Reducing meat and dairy consumption will have positive effects on greenhouse gas emissions and human health. It will also help biodiversity, which must be conserved to ensure the world’s growing population is fed. Changing our diets will lead to a more sustainable future and complement food security goals while addressing global food inequalities,” lead author Dr Roslyn Henry said.

As incomes increase across the globe, consumption has shifted from staples such as starchy roots and pulses to meat, milk, and refined sugars. Meat and dairy products are associated with higher land and water use and higher greenhouse gas emissions than any other foods.

By replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives, the researchers predict that the global demand for agricultural land could be reduced by 11%. Industrial feed systems also reduce agricultural expansion but may increase environmental degradation due to agricultural pollutants such as fertilizer, they said.

The study comes only a week after a report on land use by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which identified reducing meat consumption and changing diets to plant-based as an important focus for climate change mitigation.

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