Eating Less Beef Can Save Lives and Help Climate, Lancet Says
Young cows graze in an Alpine meadow in Austria. (Photographer: Akos Stiller/Boomberg)

Eating Less Beef Can Save Lives and Help Climate, Lancet Says

Getting more people around to world to cut down on eating beef could save lives by reducing heart attacks and curbing global temperature rises, according to The Lancet medical journal.

Just as they were caught off guard by the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare systems around the world are ill prepared to cope with the worst impacts of climate change, including heat-related illnesses, the journal’s annual Countdown on Health and Climate Change report concluded.

One of the most effective ways to tackle emissions, they said, is reducing red meat consumption. Food production is responsible for a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, most of which come from meat and dairy livestock. The report said per-capita emissions from beef consumption rose 5.5% from 2000 to 2017.

The authors identified a 54% rise in heat-related deaths in older people in the last 20 years, and a record 2.9 billion additional days of heatwave exposure affecting those over 65 in 2019 — almost twice the previous high. They also found that deaths from excess red meat consumption have risen 70% in the last three decades, with the majority of the almost 1 million annual deaths occurring in Western Pacific regions such as China, Korea and Australia.

“It’s really important that we’re taking into account the production and consumption of emissions, in the same way we do for other sectors,” said Ian Hamilton, executive director of the Lancet Countdown, a study that looks at a wide range of issues linking climate change and health. “The outsourcing of emissions to other countries to those who buy them in, and then the risks around that in terms of diet change.”

Eating Less Beef Can Save Lives and Help Climate, Lancet Says

Plant-based diets have been on the rise in many western countries in recent years for both environmental and health reasons. That’s prompted companies like Unilever Plc to offer more meat and dairy alternatives to customers. While there has been an overall improvement in dietary risk factors in Europe, in part because of the growing popularity of veganism, the region is still responsible for 3.4% of all deaths from red meat consumption, the report said.

The research paper is a collaboration between experts from more than 35 institutions including the World Health Organization and World Bank, led by University College London. It includes analysis of the climate-change impacts on health and health services, which founds that no country is immune from the impacts — regardless of its wealth. Only half of countries surveyed said they have national health and climate plans.

Rising temperatures are already affecting productivity, particularly for those who work outdoors in developing regions. The research found 302 billion hours of work was lost, of which 40% was in India. Heat and drought are also increasing exposure to wildfires, with the U.S. seeing one of the largest increases.

“Climate change drives a cruel wedge which widens existing health inequalities between and within countries,” said Hugh Montgomery, Lancet Countdown co-chair and an intensive care doctor who is based at University College London. “Just as for Covid-19, older people are particularly vulnerable. Those with a range of pre-existing conditions including asthma and diabetes are at even greater risk.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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