Becoming a vegetarian can do more harm to the environment than continuing to eat red meat, according to a study of the impacts of meat substitutes such as tofu.

The findings undermine claims by vegetarians that giving up meat automatically results in lower emissions and that less land is needed to produce food.

The study by Cranfield University, commissioned by the environmental group WWF, found that many meat substitutes were produced from soy, chickpeas and lentils that were grown overseas and imported into Britain.

It found that switching from beef and lamb reared in Britain to meat substitutes would result in more foreign land being cultivated and raise the risk of forests being destroyed to create farmland. Meat substitutes also tended to be highly processed and involved energy-intensive production methods.

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