You may have heard of the idea of a sugar tax to combat our weight gain, but this week I heard about another radical food idea – a tax on meat! An international research company, Fitch Solutions Macro Research, says meat could be a target for higher taxes because the world’s farmers are contributing to climate change, deforestation and animal cruelty.
Fitch research says the idea to tax meat is growing in popularity in Europe and new taxes could persuade more people to switch to eating chicken or plant-based protein (like legumes – lentils and chickpeas).
Red meat is not as popular in Europe as it is in Australia. Goldsmiths, University of London, has announced that it'll stop selling beef on campus as part of a push to combat climate change. The decision was met with opposition from Britain's National Farmers Union, which said it was ‘overly simplistic’ to single out one food product as a response to global warming.
The United Nations has also hit out against eating meat, saying agriculture, forestry and other land use contributes about a quarter of greenhouse emissions.
So what is the best way to feed the world without overtaxing the land? It seems legumes are the answer! The UN says governments around the world must grow more legumes and shy away from meat.
Legumes are the diet of the future
It seems we have to get best value for our farm land because there are now too many people and not enough fertile land. In 1960, there was one-third of a hectare of farmland per person on the planet. By 2050 that will have fallen to 0.14 hectares. This trend is a consequence of increasing population and growing cities. Most cities are on good farm land close to water supplies, and urban expansion continues to take over productive land.
Use farm land better
Currently we are not using farmland efficiently. The world is growing crops to feed animals in feedlots. About one-third of grains grown globally (mainly corn) is fed to animals. This is how they raise beef and pork in Europe and North America. Turning away from grain and instead growing legumes would significantly improve the amount of plant protein available to people. Legumes (such as chickpeas) are high in protein and use much less land and water to produce than meat.
Believe me, reporting this doesn’t make me happy. I am an Italian who loves meat. Do I have to give up spaghetti bolognaise? But to feed future populations we have to change the way we farm. There will still be some areas of the world that are only suited to animal production not crops. Arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid climates can only sustain livestock not crops.
The value of legumes
According to the experts, legumes are the world’s future diet. Legumes are 20 to 30 per cent protein compared to corn, which is only 10 per cent protein.
By growing legumes you simply get better value from farm land. According to research from Pulse Breeding Australia, legumes should make up 25 per cent of global crops, but at the moment they make up only 10 per cent.
However legumes are harder to grow than grains and require more management. Legumes are also more susceptible to diseases, including viruses and insect pests, and are significantly impacted by temperature extremes and drought. As global temperatures rise, legumes will be harder to grow. That means scientists need to come up with ways to make it easier to grow them.
How do we get farmers to start growing legumes?
If the UN is serious about encouraging us to eat legumes then governments may have to subsidise farmers to grow them. That means that lentils and chick peas will no longer be a cheap option. The move to a world fed on vegetable protein will be made against a diminishing amount of land per person and deteriorating farming environment as global warming bites.
Rising temperatures will impact farmers and traditional crops will no longer be viable in some areas. That’s when governments will really start backing legumes.
Dietary benefits of legumes
I’m a meat man but eating too much meat has been linked to cancer. According to the Australian Cancer Council, eating processed meat (sausage) increases your risk of bowel and stomach cancer. Redmeat, such as beef, lamb and pork, has been classified as a Group 2A carcinogen which means it probably causes cancer.
Legumes are a healthier source of protein. They contain a wide variety of nutrients. They are high in dietary fibre, which helps to keep your bowels healthy. They are also a good source of soluble fibre which can help lower blood cholesterol levels. Legumes are a source of carbohydrate and have a low glycaemic index (GI), which means they are broken down more slowly so you feel fuller for longer. Legumes are also high in B-group vitamins, iron, calcium, phosphorous, zinc and magnesium; a good source of folate, rich in antioxidants and low in saturated fat.
The healthiest legumes are …
Chickpeas are particularly good at reducing blood sugar and increasing insulin sensitivity when compared with other high-carb foods. A study of 19 women, those who ate a meal containing 50 grams of chickpeas had significantly lower blood sugar and insulin levels than those who ate the same amount of white bread or other wheat-containing foods.
Lentils are a great source of protein and like chickpeas reduce blood sugar levels.
Peas have been shown to combat high cholesterol, insulin resistance and belly fat. They also cut down blood sugar.
Kidney beanscan help slow the absorption of sugar into the blood and so reduce blood sugar levels
Soya beans, black beans, pinto beans and haricot beans are also packed full of nutrients.
Legumes are the most underrated foods on the planet. They are excellent sources of dietary fibre, protein, B vitamins and other vitamins and minerals. There is evidence that they can help reduce blood sugar, improve cholesterol levels and help maintain a healthy gut. And one day they will be the world’s staple food.