Meat eaters could be told to consider turning vegetarian as part of bizarre
attempts to tackle climate change. The suggestion last night saw a major
Government agency come under fire.

A leaked e-mail - seen by the WMN - suggests a wholesale switch to a vegan
lifestyle could potentially have "very significant" benefits in the fight
against global warming.

Officials acknowledge the public backlash likely from any such public
information campaign.

But the missive sent by the Environment Agency (EA) to a vegan pressure
group suggests encouraging people to question how much meat they eat "could
be a key message" for eco-campaigners in the future.

Such a drive would need to be introduced "gently as there is a risk of
alienating the public majority," it added.

The plan was ridiculed by farmers and politicians across the Westcountry who
said it was not the place of the "nanny state" to dictate what the public

A Government website - - already warns that
eating beef, lamb, chicken and milk or cheese contributes to climate change
because of the energy and land needed to rear animals. Ministers are also
considering ways of cracking down on methane emissions from sheep and cows.

And in January, Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw sparked an outcry after he
said: "It is generally better to buy locally produced fruit and vegetables
in season and that it is not so good to buy meat, dairy products, highly
processed and highly packaged products."

Last night South Devon beef farmer Richard Haddock said he was "amazed" the
EA even entertained the idea of encouraging vegetarianism to address global
warming. He said even raising the issue risked "stirring up a hornets'

He said farmers in the South West were "way ahead of a lot of the thinking
on this" including changing the diets of their livestock to reduce the
levels of methane emissions.

"There are ways we can improve the methane emissions by changing what we
feed our livestock but without livestock at all we are not going to have the
lovely green countryside which would change completely. The grass eats C02
in its own right. These people are totally out of touch with the real

He added that other organisations, including the United Nations, are
"petrified" that farmers are not going to produce enough food to feed
people, especially in the third world.

Shadow farming minister Jim Paice criticised any suggestion that global
warming should change what people eat.

He told the WMN: "From a political perspective, what you eat is a matter of
individual choice. I don't believe the Government's nanny state should be
telling people what is better for them to eat.

"And being vegetarian does fly in the face of human nature. The fact is we
know that as societies become more prosperous they eat more meat. That is
exactly what is happening in India and China. To suggest that Britain should
do the opposite is somewhat whistling in the wind.

"Grassland does absorb a lot of C02 and there are vast parts of this country
that can only grow grass and cannot be used for other crops. They might just
as well be growing grass to feed animals than being left idle."

The e-mail from the EA said its strategy for tackling climate change "is to
focus on actions that people would be prepared to accept and undertake with
relative ease".

It adds: "Whilst potential benefit of a vegan diet in terms of climate
impact could be very significant, encouraging the public to take a lifestyle
decision as substantial as becoming vegan would be a request few are likely
to take up." Encouraging people to become vegans was "inappropriate" as part
of campaigning for World Environment Day last year "as it would have
presented little real environmental benefit".

But with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs working on a
set of key environmental behaviour changes to mitigate climate change, "the
issue may start to

figure in climate change communications in the future".

The e-mail was prompted by calls by the Viva! campaigning vegetarian
organisation which argues that it is more efficient to use land to grow
crops for humans, rather than feed them to farm animals.

Director Juliet Gellatley said: "I think it is extraordinary that a Government agency thinks becoming a vegetarian or vegan could have such a positive impact for the environment yet it is not prepared to stand up and argue the case."


11:00 - 30 May 2007