Industry warns of perils of reducing meat consumption

Further reducing red meat consumption in the UK could have a detrimental impact on public health, AHDB has warned in response to a high profile report recommending a major reduction in how much meat we eat.

The EAT-Lancet report recommends a ‘planetary health diet’, characterised by a big shift away from meat and dairy, to a more plant-based diet where most of the protein comes from nuts and legumes in order to improve public health and make farming systems more sustainable.

The headline recommendations are eye-catching to say the least, including reducing individual red meat consumption to just 14g per day. Current UK Government guidelines suggest we should eat 70g of red meat a day, with average population intake in the UK currently below this figure.

The report also recommends that people eat just 29g of chicken each day, 250g of dairy (about one glass of milk) and just over one egg per week. In contrast, it suggests people should strive to eat 300g of vegetables and 200g of fruit, along with 50g a day of nuts and 75g of legumes, such as beans and lentils.

The EAT-Lancet group of 37 scientists from around the world took two years to come up with their conclusions, said this dietary shift would help ‘feed a growing global population a healthy diet while also defining sustainable food systems that will minimise damage to our planet’.  The scientists argue that the change would lower agriculture’s carbon footprint, helping reduce emissions often associated with beef and lamb production, for example.

Will Jackson, AHDB’s strategy director for Beef and Lamb, said the report appeared to be ‘another example of well-intentioned but potentially flawed thinking on how we reduce our impact on the environment’.

“Farming, in particular dairy and red meat, is part of the solution, making best use of naturally occurring assets to feed a growing population. They an important nutritional part of a healthy, balanced diet,” he said.

He pointed out that red meat contains an efficient package of essential nutrients important for the body and any suggestion that we should further reduce our intake below the recommenced government levels ‘could have unintended detrimental consequences on health’.

“Meeting the nutritional needs of a growing UK population from plant-based proteins would likely rely much more heavily on imported food, which may be produced to lower environmental standards. Many of the meat alternative products we are seeing on supermarket shelves are ultra-processed, often from cheaply available materials.

“The real danger of this report is that, because it is so well backed financially and is being launched across the globe with little acknowledgment of regional differences, it will be taken at face value by people in the UK who may then put their health at risk and even worsen their personal carbon footprint”.

NFU vice president Stuart Roberts said: “Scientific communities agree that red meat plays a vital role in a healthy, balanced diet as a rich source of essential nutrients, minerals, amino acids and protein. It is overly simplistic to target one food group for a significant reduction in consumption and it ignores its medically accepted role as a key part of a healthy, balanced diet.

Frank Clark, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers president, described the report as a ‘lobby push by an anti-meat organisation which is selective with the truth, at very best’.

“Scotland’s red meat industry is a major contributor to the health and well-being of those who maintain a healthy and balanced diet in which red meat provides consumers with essential nutrients, including iron, zinc and B vitamins,” he said.

“Everyone has a right to their opinion and the freedom to choose how they live and what they eat, but let’s deal in scientific facts, not blind rhetoric and emotive language.

But the Soil Association welcomed the report which it said helped shatter the myth that agro-ecological farming cannot feed the world. “This important report must be reflected immediately in Government policy, including amending the draft Agriculture Bill to make public health and agro-ecological farming specific objectives, and ensuring adequate support is available for farmers to make the necessary transition,” the organic body’s policy director Joanna Lewis said.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.