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Forget organic, reduce meat consumption to save the environment, says study

By Nathan Gray , 22-Aug-2011
Last updated on 22-Aug-2011 at 14:38 GMT

In order to protect the environment, consumers should forget about switching to organic foods and concentrate on eating less meat, according to new research.

The study, from researchers at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna), reports that in addition to leading to increased risks of certain diseases, consuming excessive levels of meat may also lead to environmental damage.

Led by Professor Matthias Zessner from the TU Vienna, the research team argued that a low meat diet has substantial ecological advantages, whilst finding that switching to organic food is less effective than eating more vegetables and less meat.

Study details

Zessner and his team calculated that in Austria alone, 3600 square meters of soil are needed to feed the average person. They then worked out how this would change if people adhered to nutritional advice and guidelines.

“This would not only lower cancer rates and reduce the number of cardiovascular diseases, the area required for the production of food would be reduced from 3600 square meters to 2600 square meters per person,” said Zessner.

The researchers suggested that making the switch would also reduce energy consumption in food production, whilst considerably less fertilizer would be needed.

“Our carbon dioxide emissions would decrease as well – a well-balanced diet would save a third of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in food production,” they suggested.

“However, eating organic food has less far-reaching consequences,” they argued.

Whilst organic food production needs less fertilizer, the lower rates of production intensity mean that even larger areas of farmland are needed, they said. Switching to organic food production would therefore even exacerbate the problem of limited cultivable land, increasing the dependence on food imports, they argued.

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