Industry rejects WWF call to tackle meat consumption

Livestock organisations have reacted angrily to a WWF report which calls on the government to take action over meat consumption.

WWF says that debate over meat consumption has reached a “deadlock” due to the complex environmental and nutritional issues surrounding meat. The charity wants to kick start a debate on consumption and has released a report written by the Food Ethics Council (FEC) outlining a range of possible government interventions.

The interventions range from those that directly seek to influence consumer behaviour, to fiscal measures and policies that would result in higher prices for products that have higher emissions. WWF-UK and the FEC have urged the government to use the framework to "open constructive debate on consumption and climate change with the livestock industry and environmental groups."

WWF’s One Planet Food programme head Mark Driscoll said: “Producers, processors and retailers are already making progress in terms of reducing emissions from their businesses and products.

"However, until now they have had little guidance on the possibilities of making further reductions through changes in consumer behaviour. It’s up to government to give them that direction. This report provides a useful starting point for that process.”

A number of interventions considered by the report have been slammed by the livestock industry, however. National Beef Association (NBA) director Kim-Marie Haywood said that the suggestion of a public health campaign to reduce consumption of some livestock products on disease grounds was “wholly unsubstantiated”.

“There are numerous claims made about the consumption of beef in relation to possible diseases, which are unfounded,” she said. “The NBA supports encouraging people to eat more whole beef products like steak, diced beef, etc. We certainly don’t support the concept of eating less beef - as some in the population already have a shortage of iron and vitamin B12.”

Haywood claimed that reducing consumption of beef would not reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and said that the industry will be able to meet its target to reduce GHG emissions by 6% by 2020 through production efficiencies alone.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said that the government has an imporant role to play in improving knowledge on health and nutrtional values of foods and blamed “varying agendas” of non-governmental organisations and the subsequent media coverage for lack of clarity.

A NFU spokesperson said: “The NFU also believes that a solution based, practical recommendations approach, that empower people to make life long changes, such as the excellent Change 4 Life programme, would have a far higher degree of success than any negative or disease risk based campaign that consumers are renowned for being immune from - there is no substitute for eating the correct portions of a balanced diet.”

The report, ‘Livestock Consumption and Climate Change: A Framework for Dialogue’ was commissioned from the FEC as part of WWF’s One Planet Food programme. It recommended that the government expand its mandate for action on the issues of climate change and focus research further on understanding GHG and wider impacts of land use change.

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