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April 24, 2014
LONDON (Reuters) - People in the European Union, who according to a United
Nations body eat way more protein than necessary, could prompt big cuts in
nitrogen pollution if they halved their meat and dairy consumption, a
U.N.-backed report said on Friday.
Nitrogen is used in fertilizer to replace nutrients which are removed by soils
during plant growth but excess nitrogen can harm the environment by polluting
water, air and soil.
Nitrogen can also be released into the air by animal manure or as nitrous oxide,
the third most potent greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane.
Currently, 6.5 million to 8 million metric tons (7.1650 million to 8.8185
million tons ) a year of nitrogen escape into the environment due to
agricultural practices. That represents around 80 percent of nitrogen emissions
from all sources, said the study by the United Nations' Economic Commission for
Europe's (UNECE) Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen.
Around 79-88 percent of total emissions in the EU related to nitrogen are from
livestock production. The nitrogen footprint of meat and dairy is considerably
higher than that from plant-based products, the report added.
"If all people within the EU would halve their meat and dairy consumption, this
would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 25 to 40 percent, and
nitrogen emissions by 40 percent," lead author Henk Westhoek, program manager
for Agriculture and Food at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency,
said in a statement.
On average in Europe, a person eats 83 grams of protein a day and 60 percent of
this comes from animals, the study showed.
The current average per capita protein intake in the EU is about 70 percent
higher than necessary, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)
The reduction in dairy and meat consumption would also reduce the need for soy
bean imports, currently used in animal feed, by 75 percent.
"The EU could become a major exporter of food products, instead of a major
importer of for example soy beans," Westhoek added.
Agriculture, through meat production, is one of the main contributors to
greenhouse gas emissions which are believed to fuel global warming. Estimates
vary but scientists say animal agriculture could account for between 10 and 25
percent of total global emissions.
(Editing by Keiron Henderson)
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