Planetary health and reduction in meat consumption
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Background: With an annual meat consumption of 110 kg per capita, Australia is one of the top countries in the world according to this indicator. High meat consumption however is associated with adverse impacts on the planet’s ecological systems and also has potential undesirable impacts on human health due mainly to cancer risk. Despite scientific evidence about the negative connection between the consumption of animal-based products and planetary health, people continue to adhere to meat-rich diets. Based on a 2018 survey of residents in Sydney, Australia, this paper explores meat consumption and its influence on planetary health by investigating issues related to frequency, reasons, impacts and planned dietary changes. Results: The survey reveals lack of general awareness about the negative implications to human wellbeing and the health of the natural environment of high meat consumption. Only 10% of the Sydney residents report to be currently adhering to a predominantly plant-based diet. A large fraction of the respondents (42%) see meat as a healthy and nutritious choice contrary to recent dietary guidelines. Meat is further associated with strength (19% of the respondents) as well as culture and family traditions (18%). Only 29% of the participants are aware of livestock’s negative impacts on planetary health and even within this group, a large fraction (88%) continues to consume meat. Although there are signs of dietary changes towards more plant-based options, their extent is not big enough to significantly transform the current trends and prevent further negative impacts from people’s preference for meat. Conclusions: An argument is put forward for social marketing interventions to influence people’s dietary behaviour. In addition to building awareness about the negative consequences on planetary health from high consumption of animal-based foods, popularising the achievements of vegan athletes can help dispel existing myths about the link between meat and strength. A new dietary culture which endorses plant-based foods is required for the Anthropocene to arrest existential threats related to climate change, the use of land and other resources, and help shift Australians’ preferences away from high meat consumption. This will contribute to better nutrition, food security and achievement of global sustainable development goals.
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