The world must drastically reduce its meat consumption in order to avoid devastating climate change, scientists said Wednesday in the most thorough study so far on how what we eat affects the environment.
As humanity grapples with tough choices to offset a rapidly heating planet, the research suggests that the Western world would need to slash its meat intake by 90 percent to avoid crippling Earth's ability to sustain an anticipated 10 billion people by 2050.
Food production -- which produces damaging greenhouse gases from livestock, ruins enormous swathes of forests and uses unsustainable amounts of water -- is a major contributor to climate change.
A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature offers the most comprehensive look yet at just how bad intensive agriculture is for the planet.
Without a huge drawdown in the amount of meat consumed, its authors said, the food industry's already vast impact on the environment could increase by as much as 90 percent by mid-century.
That coupled with a sharp projected rise in global population would devastate mankind's ability to effectively feed itself -- and dash any realistic hope of curbing runaway global warming.
The scientists called for a "global shift" towards more plant-based diets, slashing food waste and improving farming practices with the aid of technology to cope with the burden.
"No single solution is enough to avoid crossing planetary boundaries," said Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, who led the study.
The stark message comes just days after the publication of a landmark UN report on climate.