This was the warning from scientists who say that a vegetarian diet would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Rearing livestock is a major cause of greenhouse gases, due in part to the methane produced by animals and the slurry pits. Growing grain for animal consumption is less efficient than use of grain than human consumption is.
Demand for meat has risen in line with people becoming more prosperous. But producing more meat for the growing global population is likely to send those emissions over the safety threshold, a new report has said.
Adapting to a vegetarian diet would cut food-related emissions by 63%.
In just 30 years from now, emissions from agriculture and food production could account for 50% of the limited amount of carbon dioxide which can enter the atmosphere if global warming is kept at no more than 2Cº above pre-industrial levels.
Research led by Oxford Martin School also argued that such steps could save more than 5 million premature deaths around the world by 2050 and reduce medical care bills.
“Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions,” said lead author Dr Marco Springmann. “At the same time, the food system is responsible [currently] for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major driver of climate change.”
Non-intensive rearing of livestock, such as raising animals on marginal land, could be “an interesting proposal” that would allow meat-eating at lower levels with less environmental harm, said Dr Springmann.
“We do not expect everybody to become vegan. But the climate change impacts of the food system will require more than just technological changes. Adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large stop in the right direction.