In his attack on plant-based diets (January 21), Bill Wiggin fails to mention two salient points.

I’d like to set the record straight. First, it’s not just vegans and vegetarians who consume soya grown in South America, we nearly all do – it’s in ‘regular’ food, it’s in biodiesel, and significantly it’s in the meat we eat, even UK-produced meat.

Secondly, switching to a plant-based diet is acknowledged by scientists as one of the most important steps we can take to reduce global-warming greenhouse gases.

In 2016 the UK imported 1.1million tonnes of soya for feeding to livestock (35% of the total).

Direct human consumption was slightly higher at 1.4m tonnes.

Soya is found in many processed foods like baby foods, bakery products, beer, cereals, diet foods, pet foods – as well as specific vegan or vegetarian dishes.

The rest of our soya imports went into industrial products like adhesives, antibiotics, asphalt emulsions, biodiesel, cleaning materials, cosmetics, inks, leather substitutes, water-based paints, plastics, polyesters, pesticides and textiles.

It’s unlikely that eating more plant-based foods instead of meat will greatly increase the amount of soya we import, because so much is already consumed in other ways.

Also, cutting meat consumption will reduce the amount of soya imported to the UK in order to feed livestock here. 

Yes, it is true that soya production in South America is causing deforestation, but cattle ranching is a far bigger problem.

It’s been estimated that 50% of deforestation there is due to the expansion of beef farming.

Converting forest to pasture for beef cattle, largely in Latin America, destroys nearly 3 million hectares of tropical forest each year.

That’s over a quarter of the size of UK farmland.

Should we start importing more beef from both South and North America as a result of Brexit trade deals, we will be complicit in perpetuating this environmental disaster. 

As part of their remit to explore all possible ways to reduce global-warming emissions, the UK Committee on Climate Change has recently called for a cut in consumption of carbon-intensive food such as beef, lamb and dairy.

They suggested cutting at least 20% per person and a reduction in food waste by 20% by 2050.

Such changes would help reduce methane emissions from livestock and release land for tree planting.

They calculate that this dietary change would reduce cattle and sheep numbers in the UK by only 10% compared with 2017 levels by mid-century – half the 20% decline already seen in the past 20 years.

My expectations of our elected representatives are simple.

They should take decisions and make policy based on evidence, remaining objective even when they have a vested interest which might be adversely affected.

Global warming is such an important issue; we urgently have to make changes like reducing meat consumption.

I urge Mr Wiggin to show some leadership here instead of resisting change.

Robert Palgrave
How Caple

Have your say: