Oxford Martin School food researchers recently worked with the supermarket chain Tesco to highlight the environmental benefits of plant-based meals, ahead of the COP26 climate summit.
In a survey conducted by Tesco, despite 37% of the nation wanting to do more to help the planet, 66% of UK adults were not aware of the environmental impact of eating meat.
Using its recent research [below], the Oxford Martin Future of Food Programme calculates the average person’s beef consumption in the UK generates the equivalent CO2 emissions as driving 2,116 miles in a car – 0.48 tonnes CO2e.
But, 57% of the people surveyed by Tesco say they would swap at least one meat meal a week for a plant-based one, if they knew it would make a positive impact on the environment. The Future of Food programme calculates that, if the nation cuts the amount of beef consumed each year by just one fifth, in favour of a plant based alternative, the UK could collectively save the equivalent CO2 emissions as driving 27 billion fewer miles.
‘From a scientific perspective, there’s much to say about the limitations of making these comparisons,’ says Dr Brian Cook, Future of Food Senior Researcher. ‘But as an honest effort to inform consumers about the environmental impact of their diets in a way that they can easily understand, comparing cars to cows can be a useful tool. However, it is worth acknowledging that methane emissions from beef and lamb production do not have a directly equivalent impact on the climate as the CO2 produced by the transport sector.’
Tesco has lowered the price of some plant-based products to increase accessibility and reduce this barrier to entry, as 28% of survey respondents cited price as a reason they were not eating more plant-based alternatives to meat.
‘From our findings, we know that people find meat alternatives a helpful strategy to reduce their consumption of meat,’ says Dr Cook. ‘Supermarkets such as Tesco can play a central role in helping people replace some of the meat they eat by making plant-based alternatives more accessible to all. Each of us making a small change to our diets could add up to a huge shift in our collective environmental impact.’
Derek Sarno, Director of Plant Based Innovation and Executive Chef at Tesco said, ‘The nation’s attitudes towards plant-based eating is changing. In fact, 43% of meat eaters have reduced their consumption over the past two years. There is definitely more work to be done when it comes to raising awareness of the benefits of incorporating more plant based meals into our diets.’
Tesco has previously set out its plan to halve the environmental impact of the average UK shopping basket, including committing to a 300% increase in sales of plant based meat alternatives by 2025.
Dr Cook concludes, ‘If we continue to eat food the way we do today, we will continue on the track to raise global temperatures by more than 1.5°C. Our research has shown that in the decade to 2019 people in the UK reported reducing their meat consumption by 17%, but we need to go further.’