It is time to stand up for better meat, as well as less meat – for climate, for health and for nature, writes Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association.
We cannot shy away from the need to change diets if we are serious about tackling climate change.
There is overwhelming agreement that this needs to happen with both the recent EAT-Lancet and UK Climate Change Committee reports highlighting this need for dietary change including a shift towards less but better meat. But which meat should we eat less of, and what is meant by better meat? This is where our position differs from EAT-Lancet and the Climate Change Committee.
The Soil Association believes that we urgently need to join the dots between the climate crisis and the biodiversity and land degradation crises to answer this question.
An agro-ecological future for farming that works for nature, climate and health means there has to be a crucial role for grass-fed ruminants.
We must also find ways to overcome the barriers to feeding food waste to pigs and poultry.
To eat less meat, we should be phasing out intensive farming of pigs and poultry, which globally is fuelling antimicrobial resistance, diverting up to two thirds of cropland to produce livestock feed and driving rainforest clearance, with devastating implications for climate and biodiversity loss.
Livestock farmers have been facing many challenges of late; it is not an easy time. But there are also opportunities. Organic and nature friendly farmers everywhere are pioneers in showing that farming presents the solution to the many challenges we face, including climate change.
A recent report from French think tank IDDRi – Ten Years of Agroecology in Europe – found that a wholesale transition to agroecological systems like organic can feed a growing population healthily, whilst radically reducing greenhouse gases and restoring biodiversity and soil health, but this will mean eating 40 per cent less meat overall – to be achieved by reducing grain-fed meat in our diets.
Eating ‘less’ is a vital part of the equation in making ‘better’ possible. It is time to make better meat normal in schools, and less meat is part of this.
Meat is nutritious – it forms part of a healthy diet – but we do not need to eat it every day. With all this in mind, the Soil Association firmly believes schools need more support to make it normal for children everywhere to eat a healthy and sustainable menu, with a little less meat overall making higher welfare, grass-fed meat affordable for all.
A ‘plant-based protein’ day in schools would not only benefit children nutritionally, through increased fibre consumption, it would form part of the dietary changes we need to see to reduce our impact on the planet.
Through the Soil Association’s Food for Life Served Here scheme well over a million children, many of them in more deprived areas of the country, eat from a school menu each day that includes organic ingredients and higher welfare meat.
These schools are putting ‘less but better’ into action, offering plant proteins one day a week, using the cost saving to ‘trade up’ to better meat for the rest of the week.
Now is the time to speak up, and not to shy away from difficult conversations. The mood music has changed so rapidly over the last couple of months.
With the Parliamentary declaration of ‘an environment and climate emergency’ and climate change protests, what we now need to see is urgent action.
It is the Soil Association’s job to provide radical and practical solutions, so that the right actions are taken. This sometimes means grappling with difficult messages.