Comment: A balanced debate about meat

The British Meat Producers Association has launched a new website to promote the environmental benefits of eating meat, respond to misleading information and spotlight the differences between British production systems and those overseas. A more “balanced debate” is needed so does the new site deliver? By Mark Driscoll.

I welcome the website as a contribution to the debate that meat plays within a healthy and sustainable diet. It makes some very valid statements and I would agree that we need much more of a “balanced debate” about the role of livestock in a healthy and sustainable diet. I also welcome their statement that it includes “eating less meat, as well as choosing meat that’s been sustainably reared”, or a less but better approach to meat consumption.

The evidence is clear from a health, sustainability and animal welfare perspective that we have to eat less meat – and when we do eat meat it should be meat that supports regenerative farming systems that measurably improve soil health, biodiversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve farmer incomes and livelihoods and treat animals as sentient beings. These grass-fed beef systems give the UK a clear advantage and the UK government needs to be incentivising and rewarding farmers who produce these meats using high sustainability standards, alongside ensuring any future trade agreements do not undermine them.

The website focuses on beef production bit does not tackle poultry and pork production – production systems that I would argue are far more concerning and damaging to the environment than beef in many ways. White meats use huge quantities of soya as feed, often imported from South America, and can contribute to significant deforestation. And it is poultry and pig consumption that is seeing huge growth globally (and in the UK), not beef. This comes at a huge environmental and animal welfare cost. With some 65 billion chickens (over 8 million chickens per person alive today) and 1.5 billion pigs produced each year and increasing, we have to prioritise less but better white meats. Significantly reducing consumption of poultry and pork whilst significantly improving production standards must be the key priority of the meat industry over the next few years.

The debate over the future role that livestock plays within our food system has become more polarised and acrimonious over the last few years, resulting in entrenched positioning which does little to address the human and ecological crises the world is facing. We need a diversity of actors to come together to create a new, positive and inspirational vision for the future of sustainable livestock farming; one that moves us from the polarising debates to constructive dialogue and action.

I would argue that in the UK and elsewhere we should be pulling farmers, citizens, academics, policymakers, NGO’s and others together to create a new, positive and inspirational vision for the future of sustainable livestock farming. One that inspires us to move from the polarised debates to constructive dialogue and action.

Mark Driscoll is founder and director of sustainable food systems consultancy Tasting the Future.

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