Foodservice Footprint shutterstock_120104677-copy Campaigners demand sustainability standards for ready-made meals Grocery sector news updates  news-email email-news

Campaigners demand sustainability standards for ready-made meals

Standards should be set for the health and sustainability of ready-made meals, according to campaigners, after research found unhealthy, high-carbon options dominate the European market.

The study, conducted by system change company Systemiq for 10 Europe-wide consumer and environmental organisations, concluded that the European Union could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by almost 50 million tonnes annually by requiring that ready-made meals align with established health and sustainability standards.

Ready-made meals make up more than a sixth of calories consumed in the EU and contain disproportionately large amounts of salt, sugars, fats and animal proteins, according to the study.

On average, they contain three times more salt than recommended by WHO guidelines, twice as much meat as the average European diet and more than four times as much red meat as recommended by the Eat-Lancet planetary health diet. This makes them an “outsized contributor to the health and environmental problems caused by European diets”, according to the report.

The research found the current ready-made meals market to be dominated by a relatively small number of large businesses, including supermarkets, foodservice companies and restaurant chains, who shape consumer choice and determine the nutritional profile of meals.

The organisations that supported the study called on the EU to require large food businesses to comply with minimum health and sustainability requirements for the ready-made meals they sell in the EU. In practice, this would mean reducing the meat content of meals and increasing volumes of legumes and vegetables.

They claimed this could help reduce the main diet-related diseases in the EU, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and diabetes and save EU consumers €2.8bn (£2.4bn) every year in cheaper and healthier food due to reduced ingredient costs.

It could also reduce the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions by around 40-48 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) annually, the same as removing up to 38 million new cars from the road every year.

Eduardo Montero Mansilla of the Spanish Consumers and Users’ Federation, CECU, described the case for setting standards for ready-made meals as a “no-regret policy”.

“Healthier and more sustainable choices don’t have to cost the earth, quite the opposite in this case. As the popularity of ready-made meals soars, this timely finding shows a win-win-win solution, where we can improve the health of people and the planet at affordable prices,” he added.