Public prioritise eating less meat to tackle food system challenges

Eating Better welcomes new research published today demonstrating strong public support for eating less meat as the most effective and achievable step that consumers could take to reduce the impacts of their diet on the climate. By comparison lab-produced meat was strongly rejected as unnatural though eating insects was seen as a possible option in the longer term.

The findings come from a Public dialogue on food system challenges and possible solutions jointly commissioned by the consumer organisation, Which? and the Government’s Office of Science. The dialogues brought together people from different backgrounds in England, Scotland and Wales over two days to explore people’s attitudes and understanding to food security and sustainability challenges. The participants learned about the challenges facing the food system from a range of experts, including Eating Better's Sue Dibb.

Although participants were generally aware of rising obesity and health issues, they were ‘shocked’ to hear about the impact of food production on climate change and the environment. They questioned why these issues were not publicised more widely and concluded that it was essential to change our food consumption habits.

Meat was one of the issues participants considered as part of their deliberations leading many to consider consuming less meat, recognising the benefits for the environment and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing food bills, health and reducing costs to the NHS. Follow up two months after the research, typcially found that those who had taken part were buying less meat.

Participants proposed a range of necessary actions from consumers and from governments and food companies to help and encourage people to eat less meat, including introducing government targets for reducing meat production, better information and education within the National Curriculum, supermarkets to promote meat-free recipes and caterers to provide more meat-free/reduced-meat choices.

Food System Challenges: Public Dialogue on food system challenges and possible solutions by Which? and the Government Office for Science, 2015. You can read Harriet Pickles' blog for Which? Conversation here.

Eating Better comment: We welcome the publication of this research that demonstrates the public’s willingness to consider eating less meat once they are aware of the impacts that its production has for sustainability and food security. But as the dialogue participants recognised, encouraging this behaviour change will need help and support from governments, the food industry and educators to raise awareness and help make sustainable choices the easy choices. 

Eating Better’s Let’s Talk About Meat report identifies 10 ways to motivate behaviour change towards less and better meat eating. As a first step to help this dietary transition, our Eatwell for the Planet campaign is calling on government to update national dietary guidelines – the eatwell plate – for sustainability as well as health. We also want the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affair’s (DEFRA) to ensure its 25 Year Food & Farming Plan is based on climate smart, sustainable and healthy food production and consumption.