Reducing consumption of red meat can cut chronic disease risk and result in a decline of carbon footprint by 28 million tonnes a year in the UK alone, a new study has claimed.

Research published in the journal BMJ Open have found that by halving red and processed meat consumption would not only prompt a fall in chronic disease incidence of between 3 and 12 per cent in the UK, but its carbon footprint would also shrink by 28 million tonnes a year.

“Even when imported foods are taken out of the equation, the government’s 2050 target for an 80 per cent cut in the UK’s carbon footprint will be unattainable without a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming,” the authors, citing the Committee on Climate Change, said in a statement.

The authors used responses to the 2000-2001 British National Diet and Nutrition Survey to estimate red and processed meat intake across the UK population and published data from life cycle analyses to quantify average greenhouse gas emissions for 45 different food categories.

They then devised a feasible “counterfactual” alternative, based on a doubling of the proportion of survey respondents who said they were vegetarian-to 4.7 per cent of men and 12.3 per cent of women-and the remainder adopting the same diet as those in the bottom fifth of red and processed meat consumption.

Those in the top fifth of consumption ate 2.5 times as much as those in the bottom fifth, the survey responses showed.

Therefore, adopting the diet of those eating the least red and processed meat would mean cutting average consumption from 91 to 53 g a day for men and from 54 to 30 g for women.

The calculations showed that this would significantly cut the risk of coronary artery disease, diabetes, and bowel cancer by between 3 and 12 per cent across the population as a whole.

This reduction in risk would be more than twice as much as the population averages for those at the top end of consumption who moved to the bottom end.

Furthermore, the expected reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would amount to 0.45 tonnes per person per year, or just short of 28 million tonnes of the equivalent of CO2 a year.