There has been growing debate about the role of meat in the diet, as more evidence has emerged to link high intakes to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Meanwhile, agriculture is a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
The subject was tackled in a food synthesis review for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affair, published last December. It said that reducing meat and dairy consumption are behaviours that “are shown to have some of the highest environmental impacts”, however gaps in the consumer evidence base must be filled before any intervention approaches can be designed.
The new data comes from an industry source rather than academia, but it does give some indication of the sway of public opinion. It was conducted by ICM on behalf of Volac, a supplier of whey protein to the food industry, and polled the views of 2000 UK adults.
Some 12 per cent of the respondents admitted changing their diet to include more non-meat protein sources in the last five years. Volac dubs this group ‘flexitarians’, and their number is in addition to the approximately 5 per cent of the population that is ‘vegetarian’.
The biggest reason for the switch was seen to be weight management, with the cost of meat following hot on its heels. But around a third of those changing their diet said they were driven by environmental or climate change concerns, or ‘vegetarian principles’.
Younger people were seen to be more likely to talk about the principles of eating less meat, and body composition and nutritional issues. People aged 35-44 were more likely to mention weight matters.
Volac says its survey has highlighted a need for more education amongst consumers about suitable non-meat protein sources. Some 26 per cent of respondents were unable to think of a suitable non-meat protein source.
Of those foods they did mention, protein fortified vegetarian meals scored highest, followed by cereals and cereal bars, and soups.