Industry can help climate by reducing meat in products

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Meat

As a UN expert urges a reduction in meat consumption to help tackle climate change, food manufacturers can help by using less meat in products and ensuring what meat they do use is reared with higher welfare standards.

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and winner of the 2007 Noel Peace Prize, is scheduled to speak this evening at a lecture hosted by Compassion in World Farming (CWF).

“Meat production represents 18 per cent of global human-induced GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions,”​ he said in advance of the event – and that figure is expected to double by 2050. “While the world is looking for sharp reductions in GHGs responsible for climate change, growing global meat production is going to severely compromise future efforts.”

An average household would reduce their GHG by more if they halved their meat consumption than if they halved car use, it is claimed.

Industry actions

While Dr Pachauri puts the onus on individuals to reduce their meat consumption, Joyce D’Silva, ambassador for CWF, told FoodNavigator.com that “it would be really good if the food industry takes the meat message to heart”.

She would like to see less meat use in packaged and prepared products, with more vegetables “and other more benign materials”​ used to bulk them up.

Moreover, the industry could contribute by using meat raised in compliance with higher welfare standards. Meat used in pies, pastries and other meat-centered products is often from animals reared using intensive methods, which have more of an impact on the environment than free-range practices, for instance.

D’Silva agreed that using higher welfare meat might come in at a slightly higher cost. She pointed out that organic chickens cost more because they tend to live longer.

But she said that supermarkets may mark up products as they are seen as specialty, and said it would be “snobbish”​ to think that people on a low income or on benefits would not be interested in higher welfare meat products.

Moreover, if less meat where used and the space made up with vegetables, which are cheaper, this would balance out the overall product cost and not have an impact on manufacturers’ margins.

Lessons from eggs

D’Silva is convinced that higher welfare meat products are already starting to garner interest in Europe, the US, and Australia and New Zealand. In the future, it could even extend to other important markets like China.

The declining use of battery-farmed eggs in the last few years is taken as a strong indication of how the market can adapt to better practices. You cannot buy battery eggs in Switzerland now, for instance, and would have difficulty finding them on shelves in The Netherlands.

“There has been a huge swing on battery eggs,”​ she said. “No doubt there will be an equal swing on meat”.

Moreover, using more ethical ingredients can translate into attracting marketing messages for manufacturers; notably, Hellman’s mayonnaise now makes a big deal on product packs of the fact that it uses only free-range eggs.

“It would be nice for the industry to sometimes take a lead,”​ said D’Silva.

In defense of beef

The UK’s National Beef Association (NBA) has responded to Dr Pachauri’s comments with “a weary lack of surprise”. ​It has called it “yet another unproven scare story is being devised to frighten consumers away from beef.”

Chairman Christopher Thomas-Everard questioned the 18 per cent figure, which he claims “has been disproved many times since it was first invented in 2006 in a FOA report”.

The report in question included the affect of clearing the Amazon rainforest, and this activity is said to have contributed to one-third of the 18 per cent impact.

Thomas-Everard’s comments are largely in defense of the UK beef industry. “Concerned consumers should know that grass-fed UK beef has a lower carbon footprint than any alternative,” ​he said, adding that all the UK’s beef cows graze grass in the summer and are either fed hay, silage or straw in winter, or in many cases remain grazing throughout winter too.

In his opinion, grass-fed UK beef may even be better for the environment and for human health than a diet weighted towards lentils, pulses and cereals, since these require tractor fuel for their production.

“It takes ten units of fossil fuel energy to produce every unit of this type of food,” ​he said. “In contrast, grass-fed UK beef involves less food miles, has higher health giving omega 3 levels, provides otherwise unobtainable forms of iron and vitamins and reduces the use of fertiliser used in farming because of the organic matter co-product (dung) cows leave behind.”

“It also offers an opportunity for sustainable organic farming”.

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