A study by an Oxford-led research team found that many meat alternatives have a fifth to less than a 10th of the environmental impact of meat-based equivalents.

The research compares the environmental impact of meat and meat alternative products such as plant-based sausages or burgers. The team estimated the environmental impact of 57,000 food products in the UK and Ireland. Lead author Dr Michael Clark said: “By estimating the environmental impact of food and drink products in a standardised way we have taken a significant first step towards providing information that could enable informed decision-making.”

The challenge now is how to effectively communicate this information to consumers. The research used publicly available information to estimate the environmental impact of 57,000 food products, which make up the majority of foods and drinks for sale in UK and Irish supermarkets.

It looked at greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water stress and eutrophication potential. These four scores were then combined into a single composite environmental impact score per 100g of product. It could prompt retailers and food manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of food supply thereby making it easier for all of us to have healthier, more sustainable diets, according to Pete Scarborough, Professor of Population Health at the University of Oxford.