Defending LCHF in the climate change debate

Our last post which questioned in passing aspects of the plant-based position on climate change caused quite a fuss in some circles. We were accused of being science-deniers, on a par with Trump and the anti-vaxxers, by some. There’s a recent blog about us here.


Modelling the effects of increasing fossil fuel emissions before withdrawing from the Paris Accord

The atmosphere is warming, the sea levels are rising, species are dying and habitats becoming sterile, and the major contribution – certainly the largest modifiable contribution – is the fossil fuel combustion which has gone on since the beginning of the industrial era and shows no sign of decreasing. A secondary contribution is increased methane emissions from intensive agriculture and the huge quantities of landfill waste that modern consumerism is able to generate without thought or effort. No denying that!

This is not in question. What is in question are the most effective ways to deal with it and, with regard to agriculture, what to do also about the tsunami of metabolic diseases which threaten to swamp us here in the Pacific before the sea can. People will always need food and the world will always need animals; this may not always be true for fossil fuels, which can potentially be replaced almost completely by various other forms of energy.

We are not experts in climatology, energy, or agriculture – we can only point out the things that seem obvious. One of these facts is that as long as there have been animals on earth, they have breathed out CO2 and emitted methane. They have not always burned fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil, diesel, petrol) or burned down forests. According to a 2013 FAO report, farmed ruminants contributed 14.5% to the total greenhouse gas effect, a figure which did not take into account carbon sequestration in pasture (which has not been properly measured yet) and which included ongoing deforestation, which is not a current farming practice in NZ (although it may contribute to some imported feeds).[1,2,3]

A recent modelling of 10 possible dietary patterns found that 3 dietary patterns that included some animal foods were more environmentally sustainable than a diet of only plants.[4]

Carrying capacity was generally higher for scenarios with less meat and highest for the lacto-vegetarian diet. However, the carrying capacity of the vegan diet was lower than two of the healthy omnivore diet scenarios.” 

However a limitation of this paper was that the environmental impact of meat was based on the US model of intensive beef production in feedlots, and that nutritional value was based on the US dietary guidelines, so that animal fat, full fat dairy, and organ meats were not included, making the use of animal foods much more wasteful than is necessary in the context of the LCHF diet.

One of the trends in NZ farming is that extensive farming of high country land for traditional meat and fibre herds like sheep is being replaced with intensive land use to produce dairy, with consequent harmful effects on our rivers and increased emissions. As a result of this, which is primarily to feed world markets, lamb and mutton are being priced out of the reach of New Zealanders. A further effect of this change on the environment is that wool production has decreased to be replaced with synthetic fleeces which shed minute plastic fibres into the environment when washed, killing fish and other small sealife.


Methods of production of meat from sheep and goat locally produce least GHG [2]

Environmental benefits of LCHF

There are important ways in which the LCHF diet is more sustainable than the standard diets it replaces. Here are a few we can think of….
1) the appetite control effects of the LCHF diet mean that less food will be eaten overall at a population level, and if weight loss is an effect in an overweight person, their energy requirement thereafter also goes down.
(If someone exercises then, unless they are losing weight, their need for food will increase, but no-one is telling us not to exercise; besides, the cost of exercise is partly offset by a decreased use of fossil fuel for common exercises such as cycling, walking, and running).
2) the LCHF diet supplies a mechanism (reduction of serum SFA and increased LDL particle size) by which a higher intake of saturated animal fats is less likely to be harmful; the consumption of fats from animals reduces the need for plant crops, including palm oil. The production of palm oil is an environmental scandal, but the demand for it is entirely an unintended consequence of advice to avoid animal fat.
3) the LCHF diet is not a high protein diet, includes a variety of animal and plant protein foods, and allows the use of organ meats and bone broths, another way of preventing waste and reducing the numbers of animals required to feed a population that has been entirely overlooked in dietary guidelines.
4) the LCHF diet can easily be a lacto-etc-vegetarian diet, with more difficulty has been managed as a vegan diet, and is usually a plant-based diet if by that is meant a diet in which most food, by volume, is unprocessed plants and fruit oils (however the term plant-based, as used in the literature, does seem to be entirely interchangeable with vegan). Unlike the Paleo diet LCHF includes the use of legumes, a low-environmental impact protein source, for people with a sufficiently healthy carbohydrate tolerance.

You can read some criticisms of our last post from a plant-based consultant here. We must point out that their criticism of Zoe Harcombe is out-of-date to say the least. She does have a PhD now and is a published author of important peer reviewed articles in prestigious medical journals. Her expert analysis of the biased and error-ridden Naude et al meta-analysis, which when the errors were corrected said the opposite of what its authors, six supposed experts in their field, claimed it said, helped secure the acquittal of Tim Noakes and looks set to become a textbook case of forensic statistical analysis.[5]

The Zoe Harcombe article we linked to in our last blog post did not contain her own research but quotations from a published work written by an expert in sustainable agriculture, and her conclusions from this were so reasonable and climate-aware that only someone with an ideological agenda could ignore them in favour of an ad hominem dismissal.

We wanted to comment on the blog containing these plant-based criticisms of us, but comments were not allowed. However, the author complains in his post that we had censored comments he tried to place on this blog; we have never seen such comments in moderation and would not censor them. We welcome them, so please send them in.

The author, who is friendly enough, engaged with one of us (GH) on twitter and informed us that glycotoxins from the flesh of animal species increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.

This seems to us like pseudoscientific scare-mongering  in pursuit of an ideological agenda. Firstly, even in the NIH-AARP study which was heavily weighted against red meat for mortality outcomes, red meat had a protective association with Alzheimer’s mortality alone. Secondly, the world’s oldest people have consistently been omnivores with red meat in their diets, not vegans, and have kept their wits about them to the end. Thirdly, Alzheimer’s is identified as an insulin resistance disease and the role of processed carbohydrate cannot be overlooked. Fourthly, there is no evidence that glycotoxins from meat have been related to any specific case of Alzheimer’s. Fifthly, glycotoxins are also known as AGEs and are formed from a wide variety of foods due to high-temperature cooking, not just from meat, and are also formed in the body under high-sugar conditions.

In fact the reduction of AGE exposure for health was the subject of a chapter in Dr Atkins; Age Defying Diet back in 2000AD.

Plant fibres and polyphenols normally thought to be beneficial can form large concretions called bezoars, familiar to fans of Harry Potter, in the intestines of people eating them, with deadly and painful consequences. This is a thing that actually happens – there is no doubt about it, it is not just a hypothesis like the meat->glycotoxin->Alzheimer’s claim. Should we then warn people against eating plants in case they get a bezoar? Of course not. Bezoars are extremely rare (which is why they are valuable to magicians) and result from very imbalanced diets.[6]

We’re going to stick our necks out here – you can safely eat plants without worrying about bezoars (but please don’t sue if we’re wrong).

What can we do?

Agricultural climate science, and agriculture’s role in nutrition and health, are too important to be captured by a special interest lobby which represents less than 1 percent of the population, a relatively privileged 1 percent at that, for whom climate control is not the primary motivation for the ideology, and who frequently resort to pseudoscientific scare-mongering tactics (“nutritional terrorism”) to influence people’s dietary choices.

But if you want to stop this happening, and to prevent the destruction of our planet in the most human-friendly way possible, everyone needs to take a bigger interest in the subject, and vote, shop, travel, and if necessary eat accordingly. Support farming methods you agree with and give feedback to industry when you can. Support the stalled campaign to label palm oil in food the next time you write to an MP or meet one (seriously, what is wrong with people that this didn’t happen?). We are not experts, you are not experts, but the future surely depends on what we all do much more than it depends on what the experts decree. If we sweep this issue under the rug, then we are giving away control of it.

The Bottom line – when we rediscover how to control our weight and appetite, and how to include animal fat and organ meats in our diets, we will need fewer animals and fewer plants per capita to be nourished and healthy.
Beyond this, attitudes to family planning, energy use, and the consumption of natural resources are at the root of our problems. Reduce, recycle, reuse, repair; use public transport or your own muscle power whenever possible, if not try to carpool. Use dinner leftovers for breakfast. All this will make you wealthier too – what’s not to like?


{1] Gerber, PJ, Steinfeld, H, Henderson B, Mottet A, Opio C, Dijkman J, Falcucci A and Tempio, G. Tackling Climate Change through Livestock – A Global Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO 2013, Rome.

[2] Opio, C., Gerber, P., Mottet, A., Falcucci, A., Tempio, G., MacLeod, M., Vellinga, T., Henderson, B. and Steinfeld, H. (2013) Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ruminant Supply Chains – A Global Life Cycle Assessment. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome.

{3] There is a good discussion of the WHO estimates and other aspects of sustainable animal farming from Richard H Young, Policy Director of the Sustainable Food Trust and Beef cattle and sheep farmer Sustainable Food Trust, here

[4] Peters CJ, Picardy J, Darrouzet-Nardi AF et al. Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios. Elementa. 2016. DOI: 10.12952/journal.elementa.000116

[5] Harcombe Z; Noakes TD. The universities of Stellenbosch/Cape Town low-carbohydrate diet review: Mistake or mischief?. South African Medical Journal, [S.l.], v. 106, n. 12, p. 1179-1182, dec. 2016. ISSN 2078-5135.

[6] De Toledo AP, Rodrigues FH, Rodrigues MR, et al. Diospyrobezoar as a Cause of Small Bowel Obstruction. Case Reports in Gastroenterology. 2012;6(3):596-603. doi:10.1159/000343161.



22 Comments on “Defending LCHF in the climate change debate

  1. If we were to raise animals using Holistic Grazing as advocated by Savory Institute we would build topsoil to store Carbon and reverse climate change

  2. Superb! I thought Gore/Bush was bad, but Trump is the worst political misstep for the world in my lifetime. We are in an age where reason is up for debate – often without any actual debate. Keep up the good fight!

  3. Talk to a greenhouse owner and he/she will tell you that increased CO2 increases plant growth. We are seeing the ‘greening’ of the planet as we speak, which you would think the plant-based adherents would love. Of course the bigger problem with a plant-based diet is, what do you eat when temperatures plummet and the price of vegetables goes through the roof. We are currently entering a solar minimum which is already leading to food price rises. Sadly, many environmentalists will still be claiming global warming while wiping the snow off their solar panels. That’s the level of cognitive dissonance we are seeing in the environmental movement right now.

    • I will believe it when the icecaps start growing again. But even if experts are bad at predicting the results of current trends in atmospheric gases and temperatures, the end effect, combined with that of deforestation and all the other forms of pollution from fossil energy, is very unlikely to be a happy one. In New Zealand food prices have risen due to storms decimating the vege growing gardens, and lack of sunlight, yet the season has been warmer than ever, and still is, going into winter. The earth and its solar system are inherently unstable, but that is no reason to keep pushing the former in one direction.

  4. If you aren’t already aware of Peter Ballerstedt then I suggest you look him up as he has a lot to say on this subject. I encountered him in the same LCHF circles as I did you (primarily on YouTube) and let’s just say that I, with a degree in environmental studies and a bit of knowledge of agriculture, unlearned a lot from him. Your mention of US grain feeding practices for beef cattle being a primary example as, according to PB, even US cattle are not raised the way in which the ‘environmental’ world thinks it is. He should know as his profession is determining the best way to feed beef cattle.

    On the subject of climate change I have gone from being an ardent believer to being highly skeptical in the last six months and LCHF is to blame. Once I really started delving into the nutrition field and understanding just how inaccurate the thinking behind the current guidelines are I have been revisiting my previous studies (engineering and environmental studies) and asking myself how well my ‘knowledge’ tracks with actual evidence. I’m happy to say that I haven’t encountered any flaws in Newtonian physics so engineering appears sound but I now question everything, I mean everything, anyone says regarding environmental impacts of human beings on the planet. I am not denying climate change but I am now very skeptical about the issue for much the same reasons I am now highly skeptical (that is an understatement) of the current dietary guidelines.

    • Hi Hugh,
      Yes, we’re aware of Peter and he has some good points.
      When it comes to dietary guidelines and climate science there is a huge difference. Each individual can easily experiment and see if the premises underlying the classical dietary guidelines are true for him or her. The response to a diet higher in fat and saturated fat is often so immediate and obvious that the answer is clear – and it only needs to be known for each individual. We can’t do that with the climate – we need to be cautious and assume that the status quo was better than the changes we have made through industry (which is actually the same as our cautious position on diet – the safest diet is closer to the pre-industrial status quo). We can’t experiment and find out safely, but we can apply the same heuristic that works for diet, and that tells us that the experts, though they can be wrong in detail (fat vs sugar, or meat vs oil), are unlikely to be wrong about the overall trend (empty calories and pollution are not good for us).

  5. Puddleg
    The thing most cited against red meat eating- is usually water usage. Where do these foigures come from, and what type of feeding, in pens or free range?

    • Diversion of rivers to water intensified dairy farms is definitely an environmental issue in NZ, but meat herds use a lot less – the sheep near me eat grass grown with only rain water and don’t drink much. So there must be a huge variation in water usage between different methods. If rainwater that falls directly on farm land is counted, that could be misleading too; any run-off from the farms near me only travels a short distance to the sea and cannot be used by anyone else.

  6. Some of these vegan twirps so determined to enforce their dietary dogma on the world (backed no doubt by Big Food) should actually try living in the country and meeting some farmers.

    Hear the Big Arable guys complain about the fuel consumption of their 400hp tractors and 600hp combines and the cost of all the agrochemicals, then visit the beef sheep or dairy farmers down the road with 30 year old sub-100hp tractors because the land doesn’t need much working to grow grass, only to cut silage/haylage for winter feed and who would completely understand the likes of Peter Ballerstedt, Allan Savory, Joel Salatin etc. – as would their fathers.

    Grain based diets fall apart when you look at the inputs. Without cheap oil they are completely unsustainable. Vegetable growers fall in between, a combination of mass irrigation, big machines and here (UK) immigrant workers to keep the harvest price down.

    Animals can graze where crops cannot be grown. That’s where most of my meat comes from. Dairy too. A lot of the veggies are local and don’t require transporting far.

    If cow farts are destroying the atmosphere how about vegan farts? I think we should be told.

  7. So true, this is the case where I live. Some big dairy farms and monoculture plant crops here use cheap migrant labour, beef, sheep, and goats are more likely to be family-run on the smell of an oily rag, and fresh veges are grown locally in mixed-crop market gardens.
    Every country probably needs to model its own land use efficiently for its own citizens and not pay too much attention to any US or homogenised global scheme, or we’ll fall into the kind of traps the USSR created with idealised central planning.
    I’ve just been reading about PETA releasing liberated salt water lobsters into the fresh-water Mississippi to die, and British animal rights activists releasing liberated mink into the New Forest to wipe out the indigenous species. These people are not thinking straight.

    • Too true, sadly they get their knowledge of ecology from sentimental Disney films. Otters and other things are only now recovering after years of relentless trapping of the mink which they made necessary.

  8. I recognized more than 40 years ago that carbohydrates were a problem for me but it took until recently to accept that I am seriously carbohydrate intolerant and will have to eat LCHF for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, I never had the knowledge or ability to counter the arguments of vegetarians and vegans who kept telling me that the moral thing to do and the only way to save the planet is to stop eating meat. However, I recently read the book “The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability” by Lierre Keith, a woman whose 20-year experience as a vegan led to serious health problems, a return to eating meat, and a serious study of the real effects of vegetarianism on many people and on the earth. Her book and my own personal experience with the negative health effects of a high carbohydrate diet have allowed me to accept that my physiological need to eat meat is not something for which I need to apologize. It does, however, make me realize the necessity of spending my food dollars so as to encourage the humane treatment of animals. Thank you, Dr. Grant and team, for all your work explaining the real benefits of the LCHF diet and pointing the way towards health for all those in New Zealand who are struggling with the serious consequences of eating too many carbohydrates.

    • Hi Jo and Anna,

      ironically I can write a comment on your blog, but doing so removes the button needed to post it; so I’ll post my response here instead.

      Thanks for allowing comments here. Grant and I will address some of your statements on the original blog eventually, but I can point out a couple of things here.
      1) we do not claim to be experts in the field of climate science, animal husbandry and so on. Nor are you. To date no-one qualified in this field has engaged with our arguments, and it is telling that our summary of ways in which LCHF can be expected to benefit the environment by increasing food use efficiency has gone unanswered by you. This was really the whole point of the exercise.

      2) the following comment is disingenuous.
      “what he fails to mention is that livestock are responsible for 45% of NZ’s total greenhouse gas footprint- an amount equivalent to transportation, energy and industrial sectors combined [1]. This is the highest share in the OECD- in other developed countries, agricultural emissions typically fall at around 12% [2]. This presents us with a serious dilemma that simply cannot be overlooked.”

      This dilemma seems to be caused by the fact that almost all electrical power used in New Zealand is generated by hydroelectricity or geothermal power, and by the fact that New Zealand is also a world leader in renewable energy technology. Thus we do not have many coal fired stations or even coal fireplaces to close down to reduce emissions further. We also have a small human population and a large animal population which is used to feed other countries. This does create an imbalance in the sources of our GHG emissions.
      “In 2004, New Zealand’s emission of carbon dioxide, a gas which contributes towards global warming potential, was lower than average at 8.6 tonnes per capita compared with an OECD average of 11 tonnes.”
      Currently, the situation for all GHG is thus; While the country only accounts for a tiny share of global emissions, New Zealand has the second-highest level of emissions per GDP unit in the OECD and the fifth-highest emissions per capita.

      As we have stated, a shift in our farming from extensive to intensive farming – to feed the global market and grow our economy, not to feed our own people any better at all – has increased animal numbers and is harming our environment. Ironically, this is in the name of producing more milk rather than more meat, and uses a byproduct of palm oil production as a stock feed. Palm oil goes into non-dairy spreads and cooking oils – so dietary guidelines to replace meat with other sources of protein including low-fat dairy and replace animal fats with plant oils, regardless of the case made for this being nutritionally desirable, would seem to have had an unintended consequence of underwriting the current environmental harms in New Zealand.

      We are not responsible for Cameron Slater, have no connection to him, have never agreed with his comments on matters of public health, and are independently critical of the food industry. We are not even aware that people still read Slater’s blog, and consider the link you have made between us and Slater specious – you seem to be saying that we are not allowed to criticise any claims by any experts because Slater has criticised some experts in the past for mercenary reasons. This is a rhetorical fallacy. Experts who have insisted that we need to eat highly processed foods such as non-dairy spreads, increasing the market for these and other products, are hardly white knights fighting the influence of the food industry.

      If there is any evidence of food industry lobbying in the NZ guidelines it lies in the failure to mention highly processed foods, not in the inclusion of animal foods, which so far as we know the experts who advised on the first draft did not seek to exclude at any stage.
      We’ve said that people need to take personal responsibility for decreasing pollution and food waste, because if we won’t, the experts can’t save us on their own. Somehow you’ve twisted this into an attack on all experts who would recommend ways to make the world a better place, rather than a criticism of the culture of waiting to hear what experts say, then assuming a problem has been solved, without actually changing our behaviours in significant ways.


  9. Thanks Gary – in fact, even George Monbiot has recently admitted he was too hasty in promoting vegan diets as the solution to environmental problems.

    “If pigs are fed on residues and waste, and cattle on straw, stovers and grass from fallows and rangelands – food for which humans don’t compete – meat becomes a very efficient means of food production. Even though it is tilted by the profligate use of grain in rich countries, the global average conversion ratio of useful plant food to useful meat is not the 5:1 or 10:1 cited by almost everyone, but less than 2:1. If we stopped feeding edible grain to animals, we could still produce around half the current global meat supply with no loss to human nutrition: in fact it’s a significant net gain.”

    I would also say that if we start eating fat and offal again, this conversion will become even more efficient, closer to 1:1.

    “Similarly daft assumptions underlie the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s famous claim that livestock are responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a higher proportion than transport. Fairlie shows that it made a number of basic mistakes. It attributes all deforestation that culminates in cattle ranching in the Amazon to cattle: in reality it is mostly driven by land speculation and logging. It muddles up one-off emissions from deforestation with ongoing pollution. It makes similar boobs in its nitrous oxide and methane accounts, confusing gross and net production. (Conversely, the organisation greatly underestimates fossil fuel consumption by intensive farming: its report seems to have been informed by a powerful bias against extensive livestock keeping.)

    Overall, Fairlie estimates that farmed animals produce about 10% of the world’s emissions: still too much, but a good deal less than transport. He also shows that many vegetable oils have a bigger footprint than animal fats, and reminds us that even vegan farming necessitates the large-scale killing or ecological exclusion of animals: in this case pests. On the other hand, he slaughters the claims made by some livestock farmers about the soil carbon they can lock away.”

    “many vegetable oils have a bigger footprint than animal fats” – Nina Tiecholz was probably the first to put this in writing, we’ve been saying this for ages – throwing away animal fat isn’t only wasting food, replacing it with oil unnecessarily is wasting the planet.

  10. If you’d read more fully you’d realize that we are not referring to cameron slater as being explicitly linked to you in any way. The discussion is based around criticism of expert opinion for the sake of being critical of experts.
    We have indeed criticized/responded to your summary of ways in which LCHF can be expected to benefit the environment by increasing food use efficiency … it is one of the very first discussion points in our blog post. Please do read fully before producing your next blog post- it will save us all a lot of time, thanks! Anna deMello (plant-based living initiative)

    • Oops- thought you were referring above to the carrying capacity study (which is one of the first points we bring up). Please write more clearly! 🙂

    • Hi Anna, we’re not critical of expert opinion for the sake of being critical of experts. In fact we have obviously relied a great deal on the work of experts in many fields in our scientific publications and past blog posts.
      We do try to evaluate the way the evidence of experts is presented in the media, as it is often misrepresented for all sorts of reasons.
      Would we go as far as Richard Feynman? Maybe not, but the following quote from the late Seth Roberts makes the case

      ““Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” said the physicist Richard Feynman in a 1966 talk to high-school science teachers. I think he meant science is the belief in the fallibility of experts. In the talk, he says science education should be about data — how to gather data to test ideas and get new ideas — not about conclusions (“the earth revolves around the sun”). And it should be about pointing out that experts are often wrong.

      Our entire economy is based on expertise. I buy my car from experts in making cars, buy my bread from bread-making experts, and so on. The success of our economy teaches us we can rely on experts. Why should high-school science teachers say otherwise? If we can rely on experts, and science rests on the assumption that we can’t, why do we need scientists? Is Feynman saying experts are wrong 1% of the time, and that’s why we need science?

      I think what Feynman actually meant (but didn’t say clearly) is science protects us against self-serving experts. If you want to talk about the protection-against-experts function of science, the heart of the matter isn’t that experts are ignorant or fallible. It is that experts, including scientists, are self-serving. The less certainty in an area, the more experts in that area slant or distort the truth to benefit themselves. They exaggerate their understanding, for instance. A drug company understates bad side effects. (Calling this “ignorance” is too kind.) This is common, non-obvious, and worth teaching high-school students. Science journalists, who are grown ups and should know better, often completely ignore this. So do other journalists. Science (data collection) is unexpectedly powerful because experts are wrong more often than a naive person would guess.

      Yet [Feynman] bought meat from meat experts, clothes from clothes experts, electricity from electricity experts, and so on. He flew on planes flown by flying experts. He trusted them with his money and safety. I suppose if I had said this to him he would have said something like “expertise expands to fill areas of ignorance.”

  11. Pingback: Episode 18 - Peter Ballerstedt PhD: better nutrition through sustainable agriculture - BreakNutrition

  12. Pingback: Defending LCHF in the climate change debate - Low Carb Diet HQ

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