Industry hits back at meat consumption claims

Meat industry representatives have refuted claims that meat production is unsustainable and facing imminent decline.

Over the past few weeks, The Guardian, The Independent and the Daily Mail have all run stories suggesting that we are facing a reduction in meat sales, citing a myriad of reasons including price inflation, climate change, health concerns and high-profile anti-meat campaigns.

The Daily Mail claimed that a recent jump in beef mince prices by up to 25% was pushing family favourites, such as spaghetti bolognese, off the menu. The paper said mince, which had now broken the £1 barrier for a pack in retailers including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons, was now proving too expensive for families.

The Independent ran an article claiming that “sales of meat have slowed to a crawl around the world”, with a growing number of consumers are either adopting a vegetarian diet or significantly cutting their meat intake.

The paper pointed to a recent Euromonitor International report, which revealed that meat was one of the worst fresh food performers in the 2005-2010 period, with sales growing less than 14% over the six-year timeframe and second only to vegetables. It claimed that celebrity chefs, campaigns such as Meat Free Mondays and health concerns are the key reasons behind the slow growth.

Food writer Felicity Lawrence made a similar argument in The Guardian, writing that while people have been traditionally opposed to reducing meat consumption, “meat reducing… may just have acquired fresh momentum”. She used the example of notorious carnivore Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who proclaimed in The Guardian last month that he is now eating little or no meat and is “almost evangelical about persuading other people to do the same”.

She added that food inflation had added its own deterrent effect, with supermarkets “unwittingly bolstering consumers ethical resolve by increasing the price of minced beef by 25% in the last month”.

Responding to Lawrence’s article, assistant communications manager at Eblex Jo Biggs said: “It is very disappointing to read yet another article painting a picture of livestock production that very few of us who work in the UK industry would recognise,” pointing out that the livestock sector in the UK is “on the front foot when it comes to improving efficiency”.

On the topic of a decline in meat consumption she added: “The fact that the vast majority of the population continues to consume meat as part of a healthy balanced diet indicates that most people are still far from adapting a ‘meat-reducing’ habit.

“Per capita meat consumption in the UK has remained steady over recent years, and the latest market figures show that volume sales of beef have increased slightly over the last 12 months. FSA figures show that 97% of the UK population continue to consume meat as part of a healthy balanced diet, in line with government recommendations.”

Eblex has also refuted claims that mince prices have affected consumption, pointing to recent data from Kantar Worldpanel, which reveals that beef mince volumes were up 2.4% in most recent 52-week data.

Peter Hardwick, head of trade development for Eblex, said: “Our own modelling shows that, of all beef products, demand for mince is most resistant to price change. It is a staple of many recipes and still remains relatively cheap.”

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