We need to talk about meat.
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We need to talk about meat.

Sue Dibb, coordinator of the Eating Better alliance, writes about the urgency to change the world's insatiable demand for cheap meat

We need to talk about meat. For too long it’s been a sensitive subject for the public, not to mention politicians and much of the food and farming industry. But times are changing writes Sue Dibb.

Eating Better: for a fair, green, healthy future was launched with the backing of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Tristram Stuart and Jonathan Porritt last year. Now with over forty national supporting organisation and partner networks, including FoodTrade, Eating Better is demonstrating that eating ‘less and better’ meat is fairer, greener and healthier for people and the planet.

The message to eat less meat is coming through loud and clear. Too much is not good for our health, its production is a major contributor to global warming and feeding grains to animals exacerbates world hunger.

It’s encouraging to see that public attitudes are starting to reflect similar ideals. Our public opinion research indicates a growing interest and awareness in our message to eat ‘less and better’ meat. The YouGov survey we commissioned found around one third of the British public say they are willing to consider eating less meat, with a quarter saying they have already cut back on the amount of meat they eat over the last year.

This year’s best selling book, Farmageddon has done much to expose the true cost of cheap meat. Supermarket price-war driven promises of ever cheaper food squeeze farmers and farm animals alike. We can see the horsemeat scandal last year and now campylobacter contamination of mass chicken production as the symptoms of this race to the bottom.

So it comes as no surprise that for the meat we do eat, there’s a growing demand for better quality meat. Despite rising food prices, Eating Better’s YouGov survey last year found that around half of people said they would be willing to pay more for better meat if it’s tastier, is healthier, produced to higher animal welfare standards or supports local farmers. Willingness to pay more was not restricted to higher (ABC1) social groups.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall sums up our feelings perfectly in his message of support to Eating Better: “As the world’s insatiable demand for cheap meat continues to ramp up, the message of reducing our overall meat consumption and committing to the highest welfare and environmental standards in the meat we do chose, is a no brainer. It’s right for our health, right for the planet and only fair to the millions of farm animals we raise for food.”

There is growing expert consensus that a shift to more plant-based diets and eating less meat can help have win-wins for health, slash greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity and help feed the world more fairly. And with over one-third of the global grain harvest and 97% of soymeal used for animal feed, meat and livestock is at the heart of the debate about how best to meet the food needs of a growing and more affluent world.

There’s even a new lexicon to describe the growing movement that’s already influencing many peoples’ eating habits. Whether you call yourself a flexitarian or a part-time carnivore or simply want to eat better, the message to ‘eat more plants and less meat’ cuts through the cacophony of often apparently conflicting healthy eating advice.

It’s a message neatly put by food writer Michael Pollan in his now famous quote: ‘Eat food, mainly plants, not too much’. And the win-win is that diets centred on a diverse range of foods from plants with animal products eaten sparingly, is not only healthy, it also has a lower environmental impact. Meat is typically the most greenhouse gas intensive part of our diet.

Eating Better wants to encourage a culture where we place greater value on the food we eat, the animals that provide it and the people who produce it. That’s why we’re calling for action by governments and food companies, caterers and all those who can make a difference to help people adopt diets that are better for us and the planet.

We also want greater support for farming that produces meat in ways that benefit the environment, health and animal welfare. Indeed, raising livestock can be an efficient way to use poor quality farmland that could not otherwise grow crops and to provide livelihoods. Keeping livestock on semi-natural habitats such as plant and wildlife-rich meadows and pastures is an important conservation tool and helps maintains valued landscapes. Permanent pasture for grazing can act as a carbon sink.

We’re delighted to have FoodTrade as one of our partner networks. Helping people and food businesses source locally, ethically and sustainably produced meat is an important part of eating better. There’s never been a better time to join the Eating Better movement for a fair, green and healthy future.

Sue Dibb is coordinator of Eating Better alliance. To find out more about Eating Better: for a fair, green, healthy future and how to get involved visit the website: www.eating-better.org, sign up for their free e-newsletter, follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

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