New campaign champions environmental benefits of meat
The initiative comes amid the rising threat to the meat industry posed by the growing number of consumers considering cutting their meat consumption or switching to an entirely plant-based diet for environmental reasons.
David Attenborough, for instance, ahead of the airing of his latest documentary, advised people to cut back on meat or switch to a vegetarian diet and plant more forests. He said: "We must radically reduce the way we farm. We must change our diet. The planet can’t support billions of meat-eaters."
The BMPA said the new SustainableBritishMeat.org website aims to become a rallying point to highlight the key differences between British meat and products from other farming systems.
CEO Nick Allen told FoodNavigator: “Most people rely on information in the media to help them make their diet and lifestyle choices. But not all that information is correct. In fact, some of it is quite misleading.
“It’s become very difficult to navigate the confusing and often contradictory opinions, pseudo-science and genuine science in the media that are currently shaping ordinary people’s choices about what they should and shouldn’t be eating.
“If we want to make meaningful changes to how we live and what we eat in order to help the planet, then we need to base our decisions on information that is accurate and specific to our situation here in the UK.”
He said that livestock is responsible for just 5.7% of methane emissions in the UK, much lower than the average global figure of 14% that most often gets quoted in the media, but which includes environmentally unfriendly farming systems in countries like Brazil.
“Giving up eating British meat will be of much less environmental benefit than giving up eating Brazilian meat. Substituting British meat for a more environmentally damaging processed plant-based alternative could even have the opposite effect.”
Is British meat part of the solution?
The British Meat campaign argues the solution to both climate change and the need to feed a global population of nearly 10 billion people by 2050 will require a ‘balanced approach’ that considers other causes of emissions such as food waste.
“This will include eating less meat, as well as choosing meat that’s been sustainably reared. It will also require us to develop less intensive, more innovative ways to farm food, coupled with the adoption of new technologies. We should also strive to reduce the £3 billion worth of meat we waste every year, mainly from our own fridges.”
It added that the plant-based trend receives disproportional attention. “Currently 600,000 British people (less than 1%) eat a vegan diet. The vast majority get their nutritional requirements from a mix of meat and plants. The question we have to ask is: what effect would it have on the planet if all 66 million people were to give up meat and dairy and, instead, rely on plant-based foods?”
The scapegoat for climate change?
Frederic Leroy, Professor of Food Science and biotechnology at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, agreed that the increasingly polarised debate between meat vs plant-based is counterproductive.
Leroy’s recent paper argues, among other things, that the consumption of animal source foods is being unfairly scapegoated as a cause of a public health crisis, climate change, pandemics, and societal class anxieties.
He told FoodNavigator: “We are seeing a lot of aggressive depicting of animal husbandry as extremely harmful to our health, the planet, and the animals, not only by vegan activists but increasingly so by celebrities. What this ignores, however, is that the use of an animal/plant divide is counterproductive. There are disastrous practices at both sides of that binary; why not amplify the best of both worlds and draw red lines where needed?”
Leroy sees the shift in the food industry to focus on plant-based innovations and alternative food sources such as cultured meat as one that ignores the many other benefits animal agriculture can offer to ecosystems and livelihoods.
He said: “There is a reason why animals have been so important to our ancestors: they are excellent at making use of land that is not suitable for cropping and upcycling materials that are otherwise inedible into high-quality foods, offering key micronutrients that are not always easy to obtain from plants.”
He added: “The West may romanticize nature and rewilding, but this overlooks real-world priorities: a need for healthy soils, healthy animals, and healthy people. A veganized food supply system, and the abominable alternatives to animal foods our markets are now flooded with, may serve investors well but will undermine our best chances on improvement.”