The Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has said Defra’s upcoming Food Strategy should ‘absolutely’ encourage people to eat less meat.
Sir Patrick, who previously worked as an NHS consultant and has expertise in the areas of medicinal chemistry and structural biology, suggested a move towards more plant-based diets is ‘the right direction to push in’.
Defra’s own chief scientific adviser, Professor Ian Boyd, also said recent research showed if people ate less meat environmental impacts would be ‘significantly less than they are now’.
The two men were giving evidence to MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee as part of an inquiry on planetary health.
Sir Patrick said: “To lift spirits… [on] trends in diets, things are moving in a unified direction, in other words to a reduction in meat consumption.
“The ability to reduce meat and increase plant-based things does entirely align with the environmental agenda and is one I think is the right direction to push in. It is already happening and there is some movement there.
“It seems to me a food strategy should absolutely cover issues of consumption and how that consumption is modified.”
Though Professor Boyd refused to offer advice on whether people should move towards a plant-based diet, he pointed to the Eatwell Guide and recent EAT-Lancet report, which was heavily criticised by farm industry bodies, as evidence of the benefits of reduced meat eating.
“The analyses of both of those types of diets have suggested if we all ate those diets the environmental impacts would be significantly less than they are now and that would be delivered partly through the fact we are producing less meat,” he said.
“Meat production does tend to produce greenhouse gases and has other significant effects on the environment through the release of nitrates, for example, and deforestation of tropical landscapes because of the need to grow cattle and that sort of thing.”
Last month, Farmers Guardian reported on how the Government’s Food Strategy had been delayed by Brexit preparations, with the terms of reference not even having been set out yet.
Defra Minister David Rutley, who has responsibility for the food chain, has now said it will take at least a year to get the strategy in place.