Are Vegans saving our planet from pollution? Science says yes

Posted Mar 24, 2016 by Claudio Buttice
For the first time, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated the global effects on health and climate change of a worldwide shifting towards a vegan and vegetarian diet.
Although the vegan and vegetarian eating style are life choices that usually come for ethical reasons, the new study provided even more evidence of how changing our eating habits may have a positive impact on earth and environment as well. Several organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Stanford University already pointed out how mass livestock production may exert seriously harmful effects on the environment that need to be addressed urgently.
What and how we eat affects both the whole environment, as well as our own individual health. Recent studies already pointed out how eating red meat in excess may be detrimental to our health. According to data provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), every 50 grams portion of processed meat eaten daily, the risk of colorectal cancer increases by about 18 percent. High meat consumption is also associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis and diabetes, accounting for at least one-quarter of total deaths every year. The American Cancer Society recommends eating less red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) as well as less processed meat (bacon, sausage, luncheon meats, and hot dogs).
Nonetheless, the recent food trends in the Western world in both the U.S. and Europe as well, point towards a less healthy lifestyle. According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, almost 1.2 million metric tons of U.S. beef were exported in 2014, worth roughly $7.13 billion. This number nearly tripled in less than 10 years: in 2005, the export amounted to just 475,000 metric tons. Some newer technological discoveries allowed science to do huge leaps forwards in finding new alternatives to extensive animal farming. Lab-grown milk, eggs and meat have already been announced, but even in the most optimistic forecast, at least a decade is required before they can consistently end up on our shelves.
The study from the Oxford University was led by Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Food. It provides a comparative analysis of the climate and health benefits (expressed in monetized value) of global dietary changes across the world. Results showed that a lower fraction of animal-sourced foods corresponds to greater health and climate change benefits. The study examined the effects of sticking to a diet which is in line with the global guidelines in various world regions, from the richer Western countries to the less developed ones in Africa and Asia. Dietary guidelines do, in fact, provide ample recommendations on limiting red meat and increasing daily consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as vegan and vegetarian diet alternatives.
Dietary shifts would require reducing red meat consumption by 56 percent, and a 25 percent increase in the number of fruit and vegetables eaten every day. Results from the study indicated that 75 percent of the benefits would occur in developing countries such as East Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. Nonetheless, the greater economic impact expressed as healthcare savings and yearly deaths averted would occur in developed nations due to the higher rates of diet-related diseases, obesity and overweight. Although scientists do not expect everybody to become vegan, their data showed that if the whole world would adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, the overall benefits could be significantly greater than just sticking to standard dietary guidelines. Transitioning toward more plant-based diets could reduce global mortality by up to 6 percent and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29 percent in 2050. In a full vegan world, however, these two values increase, respectively, to 10 and 70 percent, with a total yearly saving of $1.5 trillion and 8.1 billion fewer deaths.