‘Going vegan for 1 year is the equivalent of 1 transatlantic flight’

Going vegan for one year is the equivalent of one transatlantic flight. Therefore, the gains of going vegan aren’t as big as people may think.

This is according to Sinead McCarthy who spoke today, Tuesday, February 18, at the Agriculture Science Association’s (ASA’s) Meat Myth Busters event – which focused on the challenges and opportunities for Irish red-meat – at the Killashee Hotel, Naas, Co. Kildare.

There were a number of speakers on the day, which included Dr. Helen Sheridan and Prof. Tommy Boland of University College Dublin (UCD).

Some of the topics discussed on the day included: 
  • Is red meat production the major driver of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?
  • Biodiversity and pasture-based agriculture: Friend or foe?
  • Sustainable diets: The complex nexus of food, health and climate.

Sustainable diets

According to McCarthy, food consumption contributes to 30% of the total European Union’s (EU) GHG emissions. Therefore, there is a need for sustainable consumption and production of food while getting the balance correct for health reasons.

She explained: “A healthy sustainable diet does not have to be devoid of animal protein. Some studies have shown that vegan diets have a higher carbon footprint than a diet consisting of animal protein.

Therefore, you can have a sustainable diet that has lower emissions without having to eliminate dairy and meat products.

“Going vegan is not going to solve our GHG emission problems. It is going to have little or no effect.

“In fact, if a person was to go vegan for a year, it would have the same environmental impact as one transatlantic flight; so the gains of going vegan aren’t as big as people may think.”

Similar sentiments were recently expressed by US-based scientist and air-pollution specialist Dr. Frank Mitloehner, who spoke to AgriLand about this issue back in January.

Also Read: ‘California is reducing methane levels without losing a single livestock unit’ – Dr. Mitloehner

Strategies to be more sustainable

In her presentation, McCarthy outlined four strategies to become more sustainable.

These included: 
  • Adopt the EAT global diet;
  • Sustainable food production;
  • Eating to meet requirements;
  • Reduce food waste.

McCarthy explained: “Almost 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted every year. That is the equivalent of one-third of all food produced for human consumption.

“Of that 1.3 billion tonnes, 20% of that is made up of dairy products; while a further 20% consists of meat products. If we can become more economical and sustainable, we can not only reduce the wastage, but also the carbon footprint of these products.

Moreover, a higher plant-based diet could lead to increased food wastage.

“They say if you buy three bags of shopping, you may as well put one of them in the bin as this is the extent of waste we are causing as a society.

“We need to learn to live more sustainably if we are going to achieve our environmental targets in the future,” McCarthy concluded.