PARIS (Reuters) - The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) is to study the impact of meat output on climate change in the light of debate about meat's contribution to greenhouse emissions, the Paris-based body said on Thursday.
The initiative, which will be the OIE's first on an environmental issue, follows requests from its member countries to look at a question that has prompted calls to eat less meat.
Meat production is estimated to account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, and some scientists have cited lower meat consumption as a way of tackling climate change.
A campaign led by former Beatle Paul McCartney to get people not to eat meat one day a week has also drawn attention to the issue.
But OIE Director-General Bernard Vallat warned against oversimplifying the issue, stressing factors such as the carbon-stocking role of pasture land would have to be evaluated.
"It's a question that needs to be studied with a lot of distance," he told a news conference. "We want to make a modest and independent contribution."
People also needed to be aware that livestock production generated milk and eggs as well as meat and so could not be sacrificed at a time of fast-growing protein demand among the world's population, he said.
"There is not yet a scientific model that can prove that our planet could do without milk, eggs or meat."
The study would thus likely recommend further research to find ways of limiting the direct effects of meat production on the environment, such as methane emissions, Vallat added.
Another focus for the OIE this year would be reducing cases of rabies, which kills 50,000 people worldwide annually, mainly following dog bites.
The body was notably calling for developing countries to devote more money to vaccinating dogs rather than just treating infected people which was much more expensive, Vallat said.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by Keiron Henderson)