So how much meat should we all be eating? After three months of reading, thinking, debating, meeting MPs, policymakers, academics, campaigners and farmers, some things are clear, others less so. This is where we have got:
1. We need to eat much less meat (also eggs and dairy). What would be sustainable? No credible answer exists, but there is consensus in academia of around 600g/wk; about 40% of the average UK consumption (1600g/wk) or marginally less than global consumption (800g/wk). Clearly a huge challenge, but not impossible, as demonstrated by the UK’s 3-4 million vegetarians. Collectively, we need to decide our priorities and face up to our responsibilities.
2. If we carry on as we are, livestock production will account for our entire global CO₂ emissions allowance (as defined at the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change) by 2050. Despite this I’m told the issue doesn’t feature in Defra’s soon-to-be-published 25 year Food and Farming Plan. Increased consumer awareness will help, but farming practices won’t change without amends to government policy; the environmental costs of meat production must be internalised and reflected in price as increasingly the case in other sectors.
3. Feeding grain and soya to ruminants, like beef and dairy cows, is insane. In addition to driving climate change, this form of agriculture is the least efficient use of land and given that one in nine of the global population is already going to bed hungry, it is morally questionable. The arguments around the relative environmental costs of different animals and agricultural systems are complex, but buying grass-fed meat and dairy seems the best way to go. As I originally suspected, the evidence suggests we must eat more veg, and eat less and better meat; look for organic accreditation and the new ‘Pasture for Life’ label, which guarantees livestock have never eaten grain in their entire life. Meanwhile, in the longer term, we are looking into lobbying Defra on addressing this incredibly important issue. We simply can’t afford to ignore it any longer.
Missed our How Much Meat London debate?
Watch the highlights at www.riverford.co.uk/how-much-meat.