sausage meats

As farmers take to the streets once again today to protest against low farmgate prices, yet another report calling on people to give up meat to save the environment has hit the press.

The research, led by scientists at Oxford Martin School, claimed a widespread switch to vegetarianism would cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly two-thirds – and make everyone healthier in the process.

The report is not exactly ground-breaking – if I had a pound for every time I heard this same message over the past few years I could treat myself to a steak dinner. But it is yet another slap in the face for meat and dairy farmers.

And, even more worrying in my opinion, it builds on the growing trend of linking health and climate change to get people to change their eating habits.

Environmental campaigners have been using this strategy for a while now – presumably because people are more likely to cut back on the beef if they think their own health is at stake than because of some distant climate apocalypse.

But the notion of a link between healthy and sustainable diets is showing up with increasing frequency. Even Public Health England involved the Carbon Trust in developing its Eatwell guidelines, though it is unclear exactly how much sustainability concerns fed into the final recommendations.

But the notion that everything that is good for our environment is good for us is far from clear.

Although the science around methane emissions from cows is hard to argue with (even if issues like carbon sequestration make it perhaps more nuanced than campaigners would lead us to believe), the science around the health impacts of consuming livestock products is considerably less conclusive.

Just look at butter – which endured years of exile from our fridges before science decided that, actually, it is probably better for you than margarine.

But the environment-meets-health concept is clearly gaining traction. Unless the livestock sector finds a way to fight its corner soon, it will face the damage of a double-edged sword.