Government report calls for moderation in meat

A new government report has recommended that people moderate their meat consumption to improve health and the environment.

The report, published by Defra yesterday (29 July), followed on from the Green Food Project and took a closer look at the roles that diet and consumption play in the sustainability of the food system. It included the findings of working groups made up of industry representatives, NGOs and academics, who focused on three key themes: principles of a healthy and sustainable diet, consumer behaviour, and sustainable consumption and growth.

The report concluded that there was a “clear potential compatibility” between pro-environmental eating patterns and healthy eating as defined by the government’s Eatwell recommendations.

Eat less meat

It outlined eight draft key principles for health and sustainable eating, which included a moderation of meat consumption, an increase of vegetable and fruit consumption, sustainable fish sourcing, the inclusion of dairy products and a reduction in foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

The report recommended that these principles should be circulated for peer review by experts in the fields of nutrition and environment before being finalised.

“Once a final version has been agreed, we recommend that the principles are adopted by government and other relevant stakeholders (including industry and NGOs) as a basis for developing policies and strategies to increase the adoption of healthy, sustainable diets,” it said.

Stronger government backing

The report also recommended stronger government leadership in encouraging sustainable food consumption, supported by government and industry activity to ensure that sustainable food choices are available, and cross-stakeholder collaboration to promote British food and farming.

It stated that government had a “key role to play” on sustainable food issues, and said there was a need for the food system to be addressed in an integrated manner, taking into account both production and consumption.

“Changing the global food system is clearly not something that can happen overnight. But the challenges are now better understood and the environmental, economic and social drivers more powerful than in the past. What seem to be needed at this stage are ways of integrating developments which are already taking place and providing a strong direction of travel, so that they become mutually reinforcing and deliver genuinely sustainable growth,” it said.

“This should not be taken as calling for a top-down prescriptive model. But there are legitimate questions as to where leadership can be found and how supply push and demand pull can be made to work together. There are also questions as to where the boundaries between informed choice and choice editing should lie.”

Report welcomed

The report has been welcomed by environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth (FOE).

FOE food campaigner Kirtana Chandrasekaran said: “This report highlights a clear link between a healthy diet and a healthy environment – Ministers must now get on with the important task of improving the nation’s eating habits.

“Moderating UK meat-consumption must be top of the menu. This would be much better for people’s well-being and reduce the livestock industry’s huge impact on climate change and the wider environment.”

Hovewever, James Wilde, Eblex communications manager pointed out that most people in the UK already have an average, or moderate red meat intake.

He praised the report for offering a "sensible" approach to a healthy and sustainable diet rather than calling for a dramatic cut in meat consumption.

"Red meat continues to play an important role in a balanced diet. Indeed many sections of the population suffer deficiencies of some components of red meat, like iron, so suggesting eating less could be counterproductive to public health."

He added that the livestock sector took environmental challenges "very seriously" and was actively striving to reduce its carbon footprint.

“There are also a series of benefits grazing livestock bring to the environment, such as managing the landscape, encouraging biodiversity and managing pasture as a carbon sink, which mitigate the emissions argument to some extent, but are rarely aired when the topic is debated.”