Experts on the Swedish Board of Agriculture produced a report in late January that essentially states there are environmental and health benefits to eating more vegetables and less meat.
The report, Sustainable meat consumption: What is it? How do we get there? implies consumers can contribute to sustainable food production by avoiding the meats, which, in their estimation, are the worst from a sustainability perspective. Primarily, the target of the report is beef. The authors suggest labeling is one way to make it easier for consumers to choose meat that is more sustainable.
It appears the Swedish report used the previous research regarding a higher carbon footprint for meat than for fruits and vegetables. This report is in conflict with the recent French research, which states growing fruit and vegetables doesn't produce as much greenhouse gas as raising cattle or livestock, but people who eat a primarily plant-based diet make up for that by eating more of those foods.
The discussion points out the disparity in opinion both in the United States and abroad. In addition, the presentation and summary of research can highlight information that agrees with a particular point of view.
An English-language summary of the report states: “It matters how the animals are raised. Free-range outdoor production, where the animals grow slowly, often contributes to higher emissions per kg of meat than intensive confined production. However, here there is a conflict of interest in relation to other sustainability criteria, for example animal welfare. It is therefore difficult to generalize and say that intensive production systems are always better.
“Animals living in a good environment where they can perform their natural behavior have better conditions for good health. A high level of animal welfare combined with a comparatively low infection risk contributes to good animal health on Swedish farms. Healthy animals require fewer antibiotics, which means less risk of antibiotic resistance.”
According to the authors, voluntary actions by consumers and firms are probably not enough to reach existing environmental and climate goals. Therefore, they maintain a meat tax not only in Sweden, but at EU level, could be the solution. “Environmental regulations and economic incentives like environmental taxes or subsidies are possible alternatives. Preferably they should be implemented at the EU level rather than the national level,” stated the report.
Marit Paulsen, vice president of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, called the report “quite smart and reasonable” but did not go so far as supporting the tax idea.
According to a forecast by the EU Commission, the meat consumption per person in the EU will not increase much until 2020.
The EU executive expects that the consumption of poultry and pork will continue to increase, while consumption of beef, sheep and lambs will decrease slightly.
"Our mission is to work for a sustainable development and food production for the benefit of the consumers. In the report we have tried to make a holistic perspective on meat consumption," said Gabriella Cahlin, head of the market department of the Swedish Board of Agriculture.
Earlier this month a French study found that fruits and vegetables don't necessarily have a smaller environmental impact than meat. Read more about the study here.