Are we falling out of love with meat?

A new YouGov survey of the British public commissioned by Eating Better and Friends of the Earth has found around one in three people (35%) say they are willing to consider eating less meat, with one in five (20%) saying they have already cut back on the amount of meat they eat over the last year. Only 5% say they are eating more.

The findings are published in Eating Better’s new report: Let’s talk about meat: changing dietary behaviour for the 21st century. This report concludes that despite strong evidence of the benefits for health and climate change, as well as public willingness to eat less meat, their efforts are unsupported by governments and most food companies.

The Eating Better report identifies ten potential drivers for motivating behaviour change towards more plant-based diets and ‘less and better’ meat eating. Promising drivers include concern for health, concern for farm animal welfare and cost savings of eating less meat. High levels of meat consumption particularly red and processed meats are associated with adverse health including cancer and heart disease.    

Concern for climate change, the environment and feeding the world more fairly rate less highly as potential motivators of behaviour change. The latest YouGov survey found low levels of awareness that meat-eating has such impacts – only 28% of people agree that livestock production has significant impacts on the environment.

Eating Better’s findings are echoed by a new 12 country survey from Chatham House which found a lower level of awareness of meat’s contribution to climate change compared to other factors.

Eating less meat is a simple way for people to benefit their health and the health of the planet,” said Sue Dibb, the report’s author and coordinator of Eating Better. “Significant numbers of people are waking up to the message of flexitarian eating by having meat-free days and enjoying better quality meat in smaller portions.

“There are also opportunities for businesses: eating less and better meat is becoming trendy thanks to top chefs putting vegetables centre-plate. But much more is needed to take this mainstream: that’s why, as our report says, we need to talk about meat.

Eating Better makes a number of recommendations for government, public health bodies, food businesses, researchers and civil society organisations. Specifically it calls on:

  • Government to update the Eatwell Plate and publish official health and sustainable dietary guidance - including advice about reducing consumption of meat - that can be used by health professionals, educators, businesses and the public; and ensure that policies support healthy, sustainable and humane food and farming;
  • Food businesses to make low meat/meat-free options more available, affordable and attractive and support farmers producing ‘better’ meat;
  • Researchers and funding bodies to prioritise and fund practical research projects to test behaviour approaches to reducing meat consumption;
  • Civil society organisations to work collaboratively to develop shared messaging and campaigns.

Clare Oxborrow, from Friends of the Earth and Chair of Eating Better said: “Governments and food companies have been slow to act on meat consumption, despite growing evidence of the benefits of eating less and public willingness to do so. They must now show real leadership and work with health bodies and civil society organisations to help people change their diets, and support farmers to produce meat that is better – better for the planet, animal welfare and our health.”


Download our press release here.

Let’s talk about meat: changing dietary behaviour for the 21st century by Sue Dibb and Dr Ian Fitzpatrick is published by Eating Better, 3 December 2014. Copies can be downloaded here (pdf).