Sputnik: Do you agree with the assessment that going vegetarian will not lead to a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions?
Mike Berners-Lee: No, Lomborg is completely wrong about that. Food and land system is responsible for about a quarter of all our greenhouse gas emissions and most of us in the developed world. The average person in the developed world could cut that in half by reducing the amount of meat and dairy that they consume. We don't have to go totally vegan, but the science is absolutely clear on this; that it's a really significant factor and it is something that we can all do something about very simply in our daily life.
Mike Berners-Lee: So about half of the issue is the methane that is produced by beef and sheep in particular. So that's about half of it. The rest of the emissions come from de-forestation that arises from growing animal feed for animals and, lastly, there is just the kind of inefficiency of having animals in the food chain. So it's a lot more efficient, for example, to eat soybeans directly than to feed them to animals and then eat the meat from the animals.
If you do that you only get about a tenth of the nutrition back. So it's not just from the climate change perspective, it's also from the point of view of how easily can we feed everyone in the world as the population rises. It's actually a lot easier if we eat less meat and dairy, and particularly less beef. But nobody has to go totally extreme unless they want to. They don't have to go vegan or even vegetarian, it is just about the proportions that we eat. But the good news is that most of us stand to live longer, healthier lives as well if we reduce the amount of meat that we consume. So it's not a bad news story for us.
Sputnik: Professor, reports say that 80% of vegetarians return to eating meat, is sticking to this diet that hard and is eating meat in our genes?
But those arguments are old-fashioned and out of date now. We've got access to all the nutrients we want, readily, through a massive variety of plant-based foods. So it's no longer the case that it is good for us to have meat. It's not in our genes. People who feel that a meal can't be great unless it's got meat in it, then I think what I'd say to them is I used to be like that and I know a lot of people who used to feel like that, and it's just about habit and what you get used to.
And the good news about trying out some of the plant-based foods is that the more you try them out, the more you get to like them and the more your tastes change and you get to the point where a higher meat diet just becomes less desirable. So it's about habit changing but it's not about putting up with food that we enjoy less at all. If anything it's about getting to feel better after a meal, because it's probably on balance giving us an opportunity to be more healthy rather than less.
Sputnik: Professor, why do some people live a healthy life when they become vegetarians, my close friend raised four children being vegetarian, while for others vegetarianism brings nothing but problems?
Mike Berners-Lee: It's like all diets. You can be a healthy meat eater. You can be a healthy vegetarian. You can be healthy vegan, but you can do all those three options in an unhealthy way as well. So if you go vegetarian, but you instead of having meat you have cheese then you're having a very high saturated fat diet, and that's not great for you.
But if you're going to go vegetarian and you replace your meats mainly with plant-based foods you're getting your protein from nuts and beans and grains, predominately, then it probably is an opportunity to reduce the amount of saturated fat, for example, that you're eating and replace it with a diet that will help you to live longer. So it's not as if just making the switch on its own will automatically mean that the health of your diet improves, but it does give you certainly an opportunity for that to happen.
Sputnik: Professor, what's your take on the future of vegetarianism and veganism? Do you think that more and more people will become vegans not because they lack money for meat, but because there are alternatives that are healthier and more nature-friendly?
Mike Berners-Lee: I think it's going to be on the rise. I'm not sure that we're going to see a rise in people who never eat any meat or dairy, I don't think it's all about necessarily having to conform to kind of a strict rulebook, so it's about the proportion. So there might be people who have meat once every two or three weeks, for example.
But I think, as I said, the old reasons why meat used to be good for our health are now wrong and out of date. So, for example, before we could supplement our food with vitamin A, meat was an important source of vitamin A for us and lots of us would be going around with victim A deficiencies if we didn't have meat in our diet, but that's completely no longer the case anymore.
The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.