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Focus on eating better meat rather than less, report suggests

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 11-Feb-2013
Last updated on 11-Feb-2013 at 14:45 GMT

A simple 'eat less' message may alienate consumers, the report says
A simple 'eat less' message may alienate consumers, the report says

Focusing on eating ‘better’ meat could attract broader acceptance than a simple ‘eat less meat’ message and benefit the environment, people’s health and animal welfare, according to a new report from WWF-UK and the Food Ethics Council.

The report, “Prime Cuts: Valuing the Meat We Eat” , says that eating less meat has been a controversial and simplistic message, and producers and processors have justifiably raised concerns about the impact of reduced meat consumption on their businesses. Politicians have also been wary of reactions to such a message, from industry and the general public alike, even though there is broad agreement that reducing meat and dairy consumption in developed countries would lead to more sustainable diets.

The study suggests that the focus should move toward encouraging consumption of meat that comes from pasture-fed animals, perhaps from local farms – and paying a higher price for it.

Head of corporate stewardship, food and water at WWF-UK, Mark Driscoll, said: “We know there are good reasons for reducing our meat consumption in the West – it’s better for the environment and for health, and we eat far more than our fair share. However a simple ‘less meat’ message could have unintended consequences for farmers’ livelihoods, rural communities and landscapes and runs the risk of alienating consumers who want to eat meat. Some have suggested ‘less but better’ meat could be the answer, but no-one has really looked in to what this means.”

So, what does better mean?

Driscoll said: “Whilst the term ‘better’ is not easy to define, the report demonstrates that society needs to value the food we eat, especially meat, much more than we do. This may ultimately mean paying more to reflect the true social and environmental costs, whilst rewarding producers for looking after the environment.”

The report defines ‘better’ in nine different ways: Better for health, for climate change and the environment, for biodiversity, animal welfare, farming profitability, fairness (in terms of accessibility to those on lower incomes and globally, as well as for producers), for reducing waste, for quality and taste, and for reconnecting producers with consumers.

Specifically, the report says that the UK government’s Green Food project should define what is meant by ‘sustainable diets’, including the role for less-but-better meat consumption.

Food Ethics Council executive director Dan Crossley said: “It’s time we started recognising that our choices about what we eat have huge impacts – not just on our own health, but also on other people, animals, the planet and future generations.

“We must learn to appreciate our food more – and critically that includes meat.”

Crossley said he hoped this new report would help trigger more research into how that might come about.

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