The U.K.’s meat consumption has to fall by 30% in the next decade to reach targets related to health and climate change, according to a newly released independent review by the country’s National Food Strategy .
Commissioned by the government in 2019, the National Food Strategy is the first food strategy for England in 75 years. Among the proposals put forward to encourage positive changes in the food culture and system, the report recommends shift in land use and management, trade rules, and meat consumption.
This is not just in light of national environmental targets. Ahead of COP26, the G20 group of advanced economies has a crucial role to play in addressing the way on how to feed growing populations in a net-zero economy. Together, the G20 members account for 75% of our greenhouse gas emissions, and 80% of our economic output. This economic influence represents a clear environmental responsibility.
The G20's Food Sustainability Index (FSI), published earlier this month, measures the sustainability of food systems around three main pillars ( food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges). The U.K. scored 68/100, nowhere near the top of the ranking among the G20 nations.
According to the findings of the National Food Strategy report poor diets and eating habits contribute to around 64,000 deaths every year in England alone at a cost to the economy of an estimated £74 billion.
Overconsumption of red and processed meats was found as the most risky produce to both human health and the environment. U.K. beef has a smaller carbon footprint at a global average but it is bigger than most OECD countries. Still, animal protein production systems, have higher carbon footprints than any other proteins.
The report calls on the government to commit to a package of reforms in order to limit the adverse impact of current agricultural and farming practices on the environment. The proposal to cut 30% meat consumption by 2032 is one of the recommendations of the report, which also suggests changing sugar and salt taxes to reduce the negative impact these ingredients have on people's health. The experts calculate these measures would cost £4.2 billion ($ 5.81 billion) over three years, but expect long-term economic and health benefits to be worth up to £126 billion ($174 billion).
Meat in transition
Seizing the opportunity presented by alternative protein innovation will be key to move away from animal meat consumption. The groundbreaking targets set out for 30% less meat consumption in 10 years' time might not be unachievable considering the current meat consumption trends and advancements in cellular agriculture.
Protein diversification is already seen as a profitable investment option. The country’s startup ecosystem and increased interest by food retailers chains to propose plant-based product lines are leveraging protein transition towards meat-free or lab-grown meat alternatives.
The report encourages the government to put extra £50 million ( $59 million ) towards building facilities in a commercial cluster for the development of national alternative proteins. Developing and manufacturing alternatives within the U.K. would create around 10,000 new factory jobs and could foster investors' confidence and commitment to divert from investing within traditional agriculture and farming.
Meat intake reduction within diets will not only improve the health of citizens. A 30% reduction in meat will translate in land repurposing, and the creation of at least 400,000 hectares of woodland, while restoring 325,000 hectares of peatlands.
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