September 8/Press Association -- Britons should start abandoning meat in a bid to save the environment, a world authority on climate change has said.

Changing diet was more important than cutting down car usage in the battle to reduce the average household's greenhouse gas output, it was claimed.

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, sparked controversy by calling on families to stop eating meat for at least one day a week.

"The need to change our diet is increasingly urgent," Pachauri said.

"Meat production represents 18% of global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, including 37% of global methane emissions, which has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and 65% of nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide."

Government ministers and farming groups disagreed with Pachauri's comments, saying the meat industry had been unfairly targeted.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw told Sky News' Sunday Live, "I haven't looked at the details, but I suspect meat consumption is not the biggest contributor to climate change.

"There are a lot of other human activities we can change first that will help with climate change.

"There are very sensible reasons to have a healthy balanced diet, and I think some people eat too much meat, but I think there are other more useful things one can do to reduce one's carbon emissions."

The National Farmers Union said "simplistic measures" to reduce meat consumption will actually "create more problems than they solve."

A spokeswoman added, "The NFU is committed to ensuring farming is part of the solution to climate change, rather than being part of the problem."

Stuart Roberts, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said he was "disappointed" by the comments.

He said, "The British meat industry already takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously, and I believe methane levels on U.K. farms are actually falling already.

"We have been working closely with the NFU to reduce emissions in our process. It's important this is all kept in context."

Pachauri, one of the world's leading experts on climate change, maintained people "don't fully realize" the impact of livestock production on climate change, however.

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization estimated meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions and warned meat consumption is set to double by the middle of the century.

Pachauri added, "While the world is looking for sharp reductions in greenhouse gases responsible for climate change, growing global meat production is going to severely compromise future efforts.

"There is, as yet, inadequate awareness on this subject, though voices are rising.

"A small reduction can make a difference. For example, a study from the University of Chicago showed that, if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by 20%, it would be as if they switched from a standard Sedan to the ultra-efficient Prius."

Joyce D'Silva, ambassador for Compassion in World Farming, supported his comments.

She added, "If we continue to consume meat and dairy at the current rate, both animals and the planet will suffer. Factory farming is unsustainable and inhumane. The best thing people can do is eat less meat and dairy and eat only higher welfare -- organic and free-range."

D'Silva has been involved in organizing a lecture on the subject taking place tonight at the Institute of Engineering and Technology, Westminster, London

From the September 15, 2008, Prepared Foods e-Flash