The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food recently worked with Tesco to highlight the environmental benefits of incorporating more plant-based meals into diets ahead of the COP26 climate summit, which begins this Sunday.
The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food used their recent research on meat consumption in the UK and their ongoing understanding of the climate impact of the global food system to calculate that the average person’s beef consumption in the UK generates the equivalent CO2 emissions as driving 2,116 miles in a car – 0.48 tonnes CO2e.
In a survey conducted by Tesco, 66% of UK adults were not aware of the environmental impact of eating meat
However, 57% of the people surveyed say they would swap at least one meat meal a week for a plant-based one if they knew it would make a positive impact on the environment. The Future of Food programme predicted that it would! They calculated that if the nation cut the amount of beef consumed each year by just one fifth, swapping it out for a plant-based alternative, the UK could collectively save the equivalent CO2 emissions as driving 27 BILLION fewer miles.
“From a scientific perspective, there’s much to say about the limitations of making these comparisons,” said Dr Brian Cook, Senior Researcher on the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food. “But as an honest effort to inform consumers about the environmental impact of their diets in a way that they can easily understand, comparing cars to cows can be a useful tool. However, it is worth acknowledging that methane emissions from beef and lamb production do not have a directly equivalent impact on the climate as the CO2 produced by the transport sector.”
Each of us making a small change to our diets could add up to a huge shift in our collective environmental impact
At the same time, Tesco has lowered the price of some plant-based products to increase accessibility and reduce this barrier to entry, as 28% of survey respondents cited price as a reason they weren’t eating more plant-based alternatives to meat.
“From our findings, we know that people find meat alternatives a helpful strategy to reduce their consumption of meat,” said Dr Cook. “Supermarkets like Tesco can play a central role in helping people replace some of the meat they eat by making plant-based alternatives more accessible to all. Each of us making a small change to our diets could add up to a huge shift in our collective environmental impact."
Derek Sarno, Director of Plant Based Innovation and Executive Chef at Tesco said, “The nation’s attitudes towards plant-based eating is changing. In fact, 43% of meat-eaters have reduced their consumption over the past two years. There is definitely more work to be done when it comes to raising awareness of the benefits of incorporating more plant-based meals into our diets.”
Tesco has previously set out its plan to halve the environmental impact of the average UK shopping basket, including committing to a 300% increase in sales of plant based meat alternatives by 2025.
If we continue to eat food the way we do today, we will continue on the track to raise global temperatures by more than 1.5°C
David Edwards, WWF Director Food Strategy said, “People don’t always understand how buying food impacts the planet, and yet the food we eat is responsible for 60% of global biodiversity loss. Everyone has a role to play to help make the shift to a more sustainable food system – businesses and Government need to do more to support a move to more sustainable diets, and we hope Tesco’s announcement today will make it easier for shoppers to make greener choices.”
"If we continue to eat food the way we do today, we will continue on the track to raise global temperatures by more than 1.5°C. Our research has shown that in the decade up to 2019 people in the UK reported reducing their meat consumption by 17%, but we need to go further,” concluded Dr Cook.
Dr Cook and fellow researcher on https://www.leap.ox.ac.uk/#/ Dr Rachel Pechy, will be speaking about how supermarkets influence our food choices at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History on Tuesday, 16th November (online and in-person).