By Charles Clover, Environment Editor
It would help tackle the problem of climate change if people ate less meat,
according to a Government agency.
Adopting a vegan diet dramatically reduces one person's impact on the
A leaked email to a vegetarian campaign group from an Environment Agency
official expresses sympathy with the environmental benefits of a vegan diet,
which bans dairy products and fish.
The agency also says the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (Defra) is considering recommending eating less meat as one of the
"key environmental behaviour changes" needed to save the planet.
It says that this change would have to be introduced "gently" because of
"the risk of alienating the public".
David Miliband, the Environment Secretary, has raised the issue that farm
animals are blamed for producing large amounts of the powerful greenhouse
gas, methane, and told farmers they need to do something about it but the
agency's response appears to go further than official advice.
It has provoked an immediate response from the National Farmers' Union,
which said the suggestion was "simplistic" and "a cause of concern".
The agency's official was responding to an email from the vegan group Viva,
which argues that it is more efficient to use land to grow crops for direct
consumption by humans rather than feeding them to dairy cows or livestock
raised for meat.
The campaign group entered a comment on the Environment Agency's website
saying: "Adopting a vegan diet reduces one person's impact on the
environment even more than giving up their car or forgoing several plane
trips a year! Why aren't you promoting this message as part of your [World
Environment Day] campaign?"
An agency official replied: "Whilst potential benefit of a vegan diet in
terms of climate impact could be very significant, encouraging the public to
take a lifestyle decision as substantial as becoming vegan would be a
request few are likely to take up.
"You will be interested to hear that the Department of Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs is working on a set of key environmental behaviour changes to
mitigate climate change. Consumption of animal protein has been highlighted
within that work. As a result the issue may start to figure in climate
change communications in the future. It will be a case of introducing this
gently as there is a risk of alienating the public majority.
"Future Environment Agency communications are unlikely to ever suggest
adopting a fully vegan lifestyle, but certainly encouraging people to
examine their consumption of animal protein could be a key message."
Juliet Gellatley, director of Viva, said: "I think it is extraordinary that
a Government agency thinks becoming a vegetarian or vegan could have such a
positive impact for the environment yet it is not prepared to stand up and
argue the case."
A Defra spokesman said: "The Government is not telling people to give up
meat. It isn't the role of Government to enforce a dietary or lifestyle
change on any individual."