The consumption of meat and dairy products puts an enormous strain on the planet. Replacing forests with grasslands for grazing cattle and growing grain used for their feed means releasing stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. And cow burps release methane, the second most prevalent greenhouse gas, which has a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide.

A new study has found that replacing half the chicken, beef, pork and milk products consumed by humans with plant-based alternatives has the potential to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, as well as related land use, by almost one-third. The reduction would also effectively stop forest loss.

“Plant-based meats are not just a novel food product but a critical opportunity for achieving food security and climate goals while also achieving health and biodiversity objectives worldwide,” said study co-author Eva Wollenberg, an anthropologist and natural resource management specialist with the Gund Institute for Environment at the University of Vermont, as AFP reported.

Global demand for animal products is set to increase due to higher incomes and population growth, which could lead to detrimental consequences for the environment.

“Higher meat demand is usually associated with higher incomes and dietary shifts related to urbanization, which favor proteins from animal sources in diets,” Marta Kozicka, an agricultural economist and research scholar with the Integrated Biosphere Futures Research Group at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis near Vienna, Austria, told EcoWatch in an email.

The study, “Feeding climate and biodiversity goals with novel plant-based meat and milk alternatives,” was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Using modeling, the researchers looked at the results of a global dietary move toward plant-based alternatives to chicken, beef, pork and milk with comparable nutritional value, reported AFP.

“We based our analysis on the Global Biosphere Management Model (GLOBIOM), an economic partial equilibrium model that integrates global agriculture, bioenergy, and forestry sectors. It is a powerful tool that allows for exploration of future scenarios for food and agricultural systems,” Kozicka told EcoWatch.

The results suggested that reducing consumption of meat and dairy by 50 percent could lead to greenhouse gas emissions from land use and agriculture being reduced by 31 percent by 2050, as compared to 2020 levels.

Read the full article about meat alternatives by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes at EcoWatch.