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Prime cuts: Valuing the meat we eat

04/02/13
A new report published today [4th February 2013] by WWF-UK and the Food Ethics Council [1] examines whether reducing meat consumption, and instead placing greater value on the meat we consume, could potentially be beneficial for people’s health, the environment, and for producers and consumers.
Prime cuts: Valuing the meat we eat

High meat consumption is associated with a number of factors related to important challenges facing the global food system, including climate change, obesity, water scarcity, land use change, global poverty and inequality.

Yet a simple ‘eat less meat’ message is controversial and overly simplistic. Producers and primary processors raise legitimate concerns about impacts of reduced meat production on their businesses, and politicians remain wary of industry and public reactions to the message. Some have argued that a ‘less but better’ approach could be more broadly beneficial. This report is a first step to defining what that message might look like.

‘Valuing the meat we eat’ suggests that talking about ‘less but better’ allows people to consider the many other aspects of meat production and consumption, including animal welfare, biodiversity, farmers’ profitability, taste, waste and broader health issues. It also provides an insight into where the win-wins and trade-offs may be. Although only a short study, our report suggests that, with focused discussion and government-led engagement and research, this approach is worth pursuing.

One aspect of the ‘less but better’ message shone through in the research. This is the recognition that meat should be seen as a valuable, high-quality food and that consumers, retailers, farmers and producers should be encouraged to see it as such.

The report’s key recommendations include:

 

  • leadership, through initiatives like the Green Food Project, to explore mechanisms and policies that would support transition to ‘less but better’ meat consumption;
  • Research to assess marketplace barriers to ‘less but better’ and mechanisms to overcome these;
  • Research to better understand the relevance and impact of ‘less but better’ meat consumption and production on different socio-economic groups, particularly those on low incomes.

 

Mark Driscoll, head of corporate stewardship, food and water, at WWF-UK, said:

“Whilst the term ‘better’ is not easy to define, the report demonstrates that society needs to value the food we eat, especially meat, much more than we do. This may ultimately mean paying more to reflect the true social and environmental costs, whilst rewarding producers for looking after the environment.

“We know there are good reasons for reducing our meat consumption in the West – it’s better for the environment and for health, and we eat far more than our fair share. However a simple ‘less meat’ message could have unintended consequences for farmers’ livelihoods, rural communities and landscapes and runs the risk of alienating consumers who want to eat meat. Some have suggested ‘less but better’ meat could be the answer, but no-one has really looked in to what this means. That is what we have done in this report.”

Dan Crossley, Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council, said:

“It’s time we started recognising that our choices about what we eat have huge impacts – not just on our own health, but also on other people, animals, the planet and future generations.

“We must learn to appreciate our food more – and critically that includes meat. ‘Valuing the meat we eat’ sets out to explain what that might look like. We hope that it will trigger much-needed research into how such a transition could happen.”

Notes to editors

  1. WWF-UK & the Food Ethics Council: Prime Cuts: valuing the meat we eat (4 February 2013): http://www.wwf.org.uk/research_centre/?6466
  2. Prime Cuts is the final report in the series The Livestock Dialogues. Conducted by WWF-UK and the Food Ethics Council, and funded by the Esmée Fairburn Foundation, the series has engaged with farming groups, consumer groups, producers and retailers to examine issues around the eating of meat: http://www.wwf.org.uk/what_we_do/changing_the_way_we_live/food/the_lives...
  3. The Food Ethics Council is a charity that conducts independent research on the ethics of food and farming. Our aim is to create a food system that is fair and healthy for people, planet and animals. Our thirteen council members are all leaders in their relevant fields, and appointed as individuals. They bring a broad range of expertise to our work, from academic research through to practical knowledge of farming, business and policy.