LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Cutting meat production and consumption by 30 percent would help to reduce carbon emissions and improve health in the most meat-loving nations, scientists said on Wednesday.
Using prediction models, British and Australian researchers found that improving efficiency, increasing carbon capture and reducing fossil fuel dependence in farming would not be enough to meet emissions targets.
But combining these steps with a 30 percent reduction in livestock production in major meat-producing nations and a similar cut in meat-eating, would lead to "substantial population health benefits" and cut emissions, they said.
The study found that in Britain, a 30 percent lower intake of animal-source saturated fat by adults would reduce the number of premature deaths from heart disease by some 17 percent -- equivalent to 18,000 premature deaths averted in one year.
In Sao Paulo, Brazil, it could mean as many as 1,000 premature deaths averted in a year, they said.
According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are from meat production and experts say rising demand for meat, particularly in countries with growing economies, could drive livestock production up by 85 percent from 2000 levels by 2030.
The scientists said global action was needed to maximize the benefits of cutting meat production and consumption, and that the environmental advantages "may apply only in those countries that currently have high production levels."
The study was published in The Lancet medical journal as part of a series in climate change and health ahead of the Copenhagen global climate summit scheduled next month.
In a second study, British scientists found that increased walking and cycling, and fewer cars, would have a much greater impact on health than low-emission vehicles in rich and middle-income countries.
Andrew Haines, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and head of the research series, said delegates at Copenhagen needed "to understand the potential health impacts of their plans."
Editing by Dominic Evans