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  • News

LETTER: ‘Diet shift’ stands beside ‘fuel shift’

Saturday, 20th October, 2018 5:00pm
LETTER: ‘Diet shift’ stands  beside ‘fuel shift’

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SIR – Pat McCormack of the ICMSA calls Mary Robinson’s support for a reduction of meat in our diets to help address the threat of global warming ‘glib and impractical’. Obviously, the ICMSA seeks to defend the status quo, as indeed we seek to change it, and each side will try and convince the public that they are right.

Last week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the grim future that lies ahead if urgent and far reaching action is not taken highlighted the need for change throughout society – changes that will dwarf any society has ever made. 

While Pat McCormack is astute in pointing out that ending flying around the world (or at least taxing the fuel) for whatever purpose should be high on everyone’s agenda, at the root of Mary Robinson’s concern is the simple fact that the livestock sector has been shown to be the largest single contributor of greenhouse gas emissions globally and accounts for 80% of man’s total land use.

Ruminants (cattle, sheep and goats) account for a large share of total livestock emissions, because they are less efficient in converting forage into useful products than monogastrics (pigs and poultry).

The IFA-Teagasc arguments that advances in beef genetics, fertiliser formulation, feed and manure management mean that we can produce ‘cleaner’ beef than – say – the South America misses this point. In our search for pathways to what is called deep decarbonisation, ‘diet shift’ stands beside ‘fuel shift’ and could account for up to 15% of the task ahead of us – 15% that would then relieve the pressure on other sectors of society to meet their equally difficult reduction targets.

Aside from reductions in greenhouse gases, a shift away from meat-based diets globally would free land to produce other forms of food or simply to revegetate, allowing a significant carbon uptake and storage, while curtailing deforestation and land degradation.

Even from a dietary perspective, new insights in the adverse health effects of beef and pork have led to a revision of meat consumption recommendations. Dietary changes could, therefore, not only play an important role in future climate change policies but can also bring substantial benefits for our health.

To help shift people’s diets, the Shift Wheel is cited as a way forward. The development of the Shift Wheel was informed by a range of consumption shifts already successfully orchestrated by industry, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and government. 

The Shift Wheel comprises four complementary strategies: minimise disruption, sell a compelling benefit, maximise awareness, and evolve social norms.

Alternatives to meat are far more readily available now in our supermarkets than they were even a year ago, minimising the disruption. The compelling benefit has been made by the medical community. 

The awareness has been greatly enhanced by Mary Robinson. Evolving ‘social norms’ can be advanced by good-willed exchanges of views like these in your valuable paper.

Sincerely yours,

Tony Lowes,

Friends of the Irish 



Co Cork.