At present, close to 80 percent of our global agricultural land is devoted to livestock grazing and animal feed production. The dedication of this massive amount of space to animal agriculture has come about largely thanks to the fact many people around the world are consuming far more than the recommended amount of meat. In European nations, for instance, it is estimated that, on average, citizens eat more than twice as much meat as national dietary authorities suggest.

In addition to carrying negative potential implications for human health, this trend has proven to be extremely detrimental to the environment. According to a recent report from the Rural Investment Support for Europe (RISE) Foundation, Europe’s animal agriculture sector has “exceeded safe bounds” for greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, and nutrients flow.

As the study explains, the sector is now operating far beyond what our planet can handle. Further, it is no longer in what scientists call a “safe operating space,” meaning that human needs are not being appropriately balanced with adverse environmental impacts.

If we hope to avoid serious consequences in the near future, the study warns, Europe will need to make huge changes in the animal farming sector by 2050 in order to reduce strain on the environment. Specifically, the study authors have cited the need for a 74 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and a 60 percent reduction in the use of nitrate-based fertilizer.

Considering how environmentally damaging animal agriculture is, achieving these goals will undoubtedly require Europe to majorly scale back its meat and dairy production. In fact, study co-author Professor Allan Buckwell endorses Greenpeace’s call for this industry to be cut in half by 2050 so as to “protect climate, nature, and health.”

Making this necessary adjustment to the meat and dairy sector will require the European Commission to put forth measures that discourage livestock production, such as taxes and subsidies. Moreover, the much-needed change will not be able to happen unless policymakers, farmers, and society as a whole face up to “deeply uncomfortable choices,” according to Buckwell.

As he told The Guardian, “We’re talking about fewer meat meals, less meat portions and moving to flexitarian diets without being dogmatic about it.” Buckwell went on, “There is a role for softer public health messaging but harder messages are necessary too.”

Buckwell is absolutely right. Reducing the impact on our planet by shifting away from meat and dairy most definitely needs to be a team effort, and we can all make a difference simply by changing what we put on our plates. Did you know that leaving meat out of your diet for just a year can cut your personal carbon footprint in half? That’s a huge change, and the effects will be colossal if we all play our part in helping to bring about a more sustainable future!

If you’d like to learn more about how transitioning to a plant-based diet can help protect the planet and ensure that there’s plenty of food to go around as our global population grows, check out the #EatForThePlanet book!

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