Several movements have sprung up in recent times to encourage consumers to cut back meat consumption, as production makes a large contribution to greenhouse gases through animal emissions. Moreover, excess meat consumption has been linked to lifestyle diseases such as heart disease and certain cancers.
A campaign for Meat Free Mondays, supported by stars including Paul McCartney, launched in the UK earlier this month. In the Belgian city of Ghent officials are also encouraging institutions and the general public to go meat-free one day a week.
In Sweden, food and environment officials are seeking feedback on a set of food guidelines that take environmental considerations into account as well as health and nutrition.
The latest proposal from the World Wildlife Fund would send a direct message to consumers at time of purchase that the pack of meat they are buying represents ‘1 of 3 a week max’. It also calls for greater promotion of meat substitutes like soy or rice; and suggests food manufacturers should reduce the amount of meat used in composite foods like ready meals.
Charlotte Lee-Wolf, one of the authors of a report to be published by the WWF, reportedly told The Grocer newspaper that at a population level the UK is eating 70 per cent more meat than it should, and 40 per cent more dairy.
The new Swedish guidelines said people in that country are eating an average of 65kg of meat per year, 10kg more than a decade ago and way more than is required for nutrition.
The WWF says it is not telling people to stop eating meat altogether – rather that they should reduce portions or eat it less often.
Since WW2 the emphasis has been on producing abundant food cheaply, and this has led to changes in animal rearing practices towards intensive methods. The reduced demand would have an effect on elements in the food chain, from farmers through to meat processors.
Philip Hambling of the British Meat Processors Association told FoodNavigator.com: “Our view on this issue is that all food production and consumption has a complex ‘footprint’ and that the food industry, like every other responsible industry, needs to play its part in lightening its footprint wherever possible.
“We should also bear in mind that food, including livestock and meat production, has important environmental, social and economic benefits too.”
He pointed at projects already underway to reduce the environmental impact of meat production, including a product ‘roadmap’ that is being developed for the whole meat supply chain that will build on developments in reducing energy and water consumption and waste reduction and set medium and long term targets.
Jim Begg, Dairy UK responded to the report by saying: “WWF suggests that removing some of the nation’s most popular foods from the shelves and ‘educating’ consumers to choose different foods. Dairy UK believes this is a dangerous principle that will alienate consumers and the food industry alike.”
He offered to work with WWF to tackle environmental issues, but also noted the social, economic and cultural importance of the industry. In dairy, too, projects are underway to reduce the carbon footprint, handle waste slurry more efficiently, stop sending waste to landfill and use more recycled plastic bottles.