Healthy eating guidelines could help EU hit the methane reduction targets

1 Jul 2022

National healthy eating guidelines calling for 50% cut in red meat and 25% drop in dairy consumption could be key for the European Union (EU) to meet its 2030 methane reduction targets, according to the Changing Markets Foundation.

The EU has targeted a 30% to 45% reduction in methane between 2020 and 2030 – a greenhouse gas known to be 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20 year cycle, accounting for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions – the Netherlands-headquartered environmental and social change lobby, Changing Markets Foundations, said in its recent report.

Healthy eating guidelines could help EU hit the methane reduction targets

Farming is the EU’s largest source of methane emissions

The report’s researchers quote the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) analyses which further suggests that, globally, methane emissions must be reduced by between 40 to 45% by 2030 to achieve “least cost pathways that limit global warming to 1.5˚C this century” and that it is “possible and cost effective to realise this reduction”.

However, the report – including research commissioned from consultancy CE Delft – stresses that the EU cannot hope to meet its targets without “behavioural and technical” changes in the livestock agriculture sector.

The region’s methane trajectory currently falls short of targets, projected at just 17% reduction by 2030, the researchers said.

“The agricultural sector is the largest source of methane emissions in the EU, responsible for 8 mt of methane per year or 53% of EU’s overall methane emissions,” they said. “This is equivalent to the total emissions from 50 coal-fired power plants, according to conservative calculations.”

Policy changes for healthier diets could also cut emissions

Policy changes which could be extremely impactful for the EU reaching its target methane emissions could coincide with healthy eating guidance, the researchers said.

“The biggest potential comes from policies that would drive the uptake of healthier diets, as recommended by national dietary health guidelines,” according to Changing Markets Foundations, stressing that European consumers “overconsume” animal products.

In 2007, 50% of protein intake in the EU was of animal origin, and people were already consuming 70% more protein than required, they said.

The researchers cite another recent report from the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), which laments the “excessive consumption of energy, saturated fats, trans fats, sugar and salt, as well as low consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains” and the health risks associated.

Current national guidelines in the EU include a suggested 50% reduction in red meat, and a 25% cut in dairy consumption for Europeans, the researchers added.

Alongside potentially improving health risk, a switch from the current average EU diet to the EU-advised diet with less animal products would have a big impact on methane reduction, they said.

“The adoption of healthier consumer diets alone could reduce EU methane emissions by 15% to 19%, if new policy initiatives would influence all EU citizens to switch to an advised diet based on national dietary health guidelines with lower meat and dairy consumption,” the researchers said.

“This makes clear that the livestock agriculture sector has an important role to play in the reduction of EU methane emissions.”

The researchers went on to urge EU policymakers to increase their efforts to implement policies for dietary change, targeting lower production and consumption levels of meat and dairy.

Other agricultural changes recommended

Beside dietary changes, the researchers highlighted issues within the agriculture sector as a whole.

“The EU has very few policies to deal with emissions from its meat and dairy industries,” they said, adding that EU policy initiatives on methane reduction are “least advanced and least concrete” in the livestock agriculture sector.

The researchers therefore also pushed for the adoption of technical measures by livestock farmers, such as manure management.

“Enteric fermentation and manure management account for 27% and 3% of global anthropogenic methane emissions respectively,” they said.

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