Meat and milk consumption is rising rapidly as the global population grows and becomes more affluent. Developing countries account for almost all of the increase but it won't be possible for everyone to eat as much meat as people in developed countries currently do. Diets will have to change and alternative sources of protein found.

The rising demand for protein, especially meat, is placing a severe strain on the natural world. Livestock farming produces 14.5 per cent of human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions. It uses 77 per cent of agricultural land but provides only 17 per cent of global food-calories. It results in deforestation and consumes 70 per cent of fresh water. And use of antibiotics in farming accounts for over half of global use, contributing to rising antibiotic resistance.

Beef and mutton are the most carbon intensive, at 221.6 grams of CO2-equivalent emissions per gram of protein; pork is 36.3, milk 25.1 and poultry 31.8 grams, but wheat, maize or pulses are just 5 grams.

Around 40 per cent of all cereals grown are fed to livestock, and this is forecast to rise. This is making it harder to feed a population forecast to reach 10bn by 2050. The United Nations estimates that diverting cereals used as animal feed to human consumption could feed an extra 3.5bn.

Reducing or mitigating these environmental impacts will become increasingly important, either by moderating demand, producing meat alternatives, or cutting emissions from farming.

Consumers are gradually realising the environmental and health benefits of meat-free or low-meat diets. But despite publicity for vegetarian and vegan eating, US and EU meat intake per head has been broadly flat for 20 years with increases elsewhere lifting global consumption per capita.

Meat taxes and lower agricultural subsidies are discussed but governments so far seem more concerned with health than environmental issues, and politicians are cautious of telling consumers what to eat.

But farmers can act. Livestock farming produces 44 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions through enteric fermentation – the animals’ digestion – with three-quarters from cows, mainly methane. However, there are promising trials on how this can be reduced with feed supplements, which even includes seaweed. Meanwhile manure can be turned into electricity. And animal feed switched to more sustainable sources.

Laboratory-grown meat is possible. Muscle can be grown from stem cells extracted from animals – but even if costs fall and production can be scaled up, consumers may be wary of eating lab-grown meat.

As the ambition to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions strengthens, it will be hard not to focus on livestock. Decarbonising many other activities is very difficult, so reducing meat consumption may at some point seem a relatively easy step.

In the medium term we expect demand for meat and dairy to continue to rise, as well as plant-based protein, but there will be increasing consumer and government pressure to adopt sustainable farming practices.

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