Brits are eating 17 per cent less meat overall but still consume on average one portion a day and have increased their white meat consumption, new analysis has shown.
From 2008 to 2019, average meat consumption per day decreased from 103·7g to 86·3 g per day (a reduction of 17 per cent), including a reduction in red meat of 13·7g, a reduction in processed meat of 7g, and a 3·2g increase in white meat consumption.
Five per cent of respondents self-identified as vegan or vegetarian between 2018-19, a three percentage point increase over the data period analysed.
The data, which was gathered from the rolling National Diet and Nutrition Survey and published last week in The Lancet: Planetary Health scientific journal, comes as one of the main messages for how an individual can reduce their carbon footprint is to reduce consumption of meat and dairy.
The government’s Eatwell guide recommends no more than 70g of meat to be eaten per a day, while research previously published in The Lancet and looking at meat for both its health and environmental impact recommends around half that. The UK Committee on Climate Change has called for a 20 per cent reduction in consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy by 2050.
The impact of exactly what meat you eat and how it is produced is also a subject of debate, with the UK farming industry becoming increasingly vocal on the fact they raise livestock that can be primarily grass-fed, and their role as natural fertilisers, which in turn can help reduce the need for nitrogen fertiliser – a potent greenhouse gas emitter itself.
In addition, those choosing to reduce red meat in place of white may also not be as environmentally beneficial as they hope. A recent report by Greenpeace suggested that poultry was where British consumers are most likely to be unknowingly causing environmental damage, due to the high volume of soy used in poultry feed, which is often grown on deforested land in valuable ecosystems like Brazil’s Cerrado region.
Writing in the Guardian in response to the new data, Professor Marco Springmann, of Oxford University, said, despite the headlines, “British diets are as bad as ever”, pointing out the health and environmental impact of citizens still eating one portion of red or processed meat per day on average.
Globally, animal agriculture is a driving cause of deforestation and biodiversity loss, as well as its carbon impact. Livestock is estimated to produce around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, by producing methane emissions, as well as associated emissions from producing their feed, often made from soy and grown on deforested land.
The data analysis also found that white individuals were the highest meat consumers, meat intake increased over time among people born after 1999. It was unchanged among Asian and Asian British populations and decreased in all other population subgroups. There was no difference in intake with gender or household income.
“The results suggest that in the UK, self-reported red-meat and processed meat intake is decreasing slowly, although other sources of food-supply data are more equivocal and can even suggest an increase,” researchers said.
“There is consistent evidence, however, of an increase in white-meat consumption. There is a clear need for a greater focus on meat-eating habits if health and environmental targets are to be met. Differences in the trends in population subgroups suggest that a stratified approach to interventions might be required.”