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What we eat has a strong impact on our health and on the environment. The modern diet with an emphasis on (processed) meats, refined fats and refined sugars significantly contributes to the increasing incidence of obesity, Type II diabetes, coronary heart diseases, some cancers and other chronic diseases. Especially the connection between processed and red meat and cancer incidence has been highlighted in 2015. While the prevalence of some chronic diseases takes ‘epidemic’ proportions, an increasing number of large studies confirms the health benefits of diets with a low consumption of meat, other animal products and refined fats and sugars. A transparent debate on the link between nutrition and health is needed. The energy-intensive production of meat significantly contributes to global CO2-equivalent emissions. Without mitigation measures, global meat consumption and meat-related CO2-equivalent emissions are predicted to rise further. Some estimates even predict a 60% increase of meat-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. From a climate policy perspective, this outcome should be avoided. The meat industry furthermore heavily contributes to water scarcity, water pollution, land clearing, (tropical) deforestation and biodiversity losses.
The staggering health costs of the modern diet, nor the environmental burden of meat production, are included in the price of meat products and are thus externalized. Current and future generations enjoy low food prices but face high and increasing health and environmental costs. Market prices reflecting the true cost of meat production can (partly) internalize the external cost, reduce overproduction and create welfare gains.
Our meat consumption has a significant external health and environmental cost but a comprehensive and compelling overview to mobilize policymakers is still lacking. Our understanding of some of the dimensions of the external cost of meat consumption and livestock production did strongly improve in the last 15 years while other external costs dimensions are still poorly defined. The goal of the interdisciplinary workshop at Ghent University is to explore the different scientific approaches and methodologies to assess and quantify the total external cost of global meat consumption and livestock production.