There is great interest in meat and dairy and the consequences of what we eat for our own health and the state of the planet. Everyone has a personal view about what they eat and there are a large number of people whose livelihoods depend on producing a particular type of food. It is unsurprising that discussions of what is the “right” diet can get very intense.
LEAP – Livestock, Environment and People – is a Wellcome funded project investigating the environmental, human health, economic and social consequences of changing patterns of global consumption of meat and dairy. The project is based at the University of Oxford and we work with a wide network of formal and informal collaborators around the world.
We seek to understand and analyse the multiple consequences of eating different amounts of meat and dairy foods; to provide an evidence base which will help in the formulation of better policy, and to help individuals make their own dietary choices.
Beginning in February 2020 we will provide in the web pages below an outline of this evidence base around a series of questions concerning meat and dairy. We shall indicate where the evidence is ambiguous or not yet clear, and provide links to where further information can be obtained.
As individuals we make decisions about what to eat based not simply on facts but on values, goals and preference. We each have a personal and complex relationship with food and make multiple choices each day about what to consume. As scientists, our aim is to provide evidence and engage in discussions so that people can make an informed decision about how to respond to concerns about health or the environment.
Equally, there is not a simple, linear relationship between evidence and policy; policy creation is complex and involves scientific evidence and economic considerations, as well as value judgements. When we as natural and social scientists look at the policy implications of evidence that we and other groups have collected, we bring both our background as specialists in this field but also our values as individual citizens.
We try to be clear when we are attempting to be dispassionate curators of the evidence base and when we are being informed advocates of particular policies.
On the pages below, we shall also state what we in LEAP think are the main policy implications of our (and others’) work for these different questions. Often within the project we debate the specifics of different policy options.
To give a concrete example, all of us believe that the evidence strongly indicates the need for consumers in high-income countries to eat less meat, in particular ruminant meat. Yet different members of the consortium think differently about the best way to achieve this, whether it’s by advocating and personally adopting “flexitarian”, vegetarian or vegan diets.
Some of our work models the consequences of these different approaches but deciding which is the most appropriate response for an individual, organisation, or country involves considering a very broad array of scientific, social, and political factors.
We hope these pages will help in clarifying the evidence, while leaving individuals to make their own decisions about how they respond, whether as individuals, businesses or policymakers.