Advising consumers to reduce their red meat intake for health and environmental purposes is potentially flawed and misguided, industry groups have said.
Their remarks were in response to the EAT-Lancet Commission report which suggested current farming practices were damaging to the environment, biodiversity and human health, and consumers should instead be looking to consume only 14 grams of red meat per day.
Its daily recommendations included 7g of beef or lamb, 7g of pork, 29g of poultry, 13g of eggs and 250g of dairy.
It would mean a global reduction of red meat and sugar by about 50 per cent, while consumption of nuts, fruits and legumes must double.
And immediate changes, such as refocussing agriculture to produce varied nutrient-rich crops, must be implemented, it said.
“To be sustainable, food production must occur within food-related planetary boundaries for climate change, biodiversity loss, land and water use, as well as for nitrogen and phosphorus cycles,” the Commission said.
“In some contexts, animal farming is important to nutrition and the ecosystem and the benefits and risks of animal farming should be considered on a case-by-case basis.”
But experts in the industry raised concern its recommendations of only 7g of red meat per day was at odds with the national suggestion of 70g.
Will Jackson, AHDB’s strategy director for beef and lamb, said the report was ‘potentially flawed’ in its thinking on how people could reduce their impact on the environment, with a reliance on plant-based proteins requiring more produce to be imported, often produced to lower environmental standards.
He said: “Despite the modelling presented by the EAT-Lancet Commission, no study has specifically assessed the environmental impact of diets based solely – or largely – on plant-based protein, as opposed to a mixed diet containing animal protein.
“Naturally occurring rain makes grass grow which cattle consume and convert into protein that humans can eat. It is a completely natural cycle that has been running for thousands of years in tune with, and complementary to, our natural environment”.
Mr Jackson said he worried that because the report was well backed financially and launched across the globe ‘with little acknowledgement of regional differences’, ‘it would be taken at face value by people in the UK who may then put their health at risk and even worsen their personal carbon footprint’.
The NFU also highlighted the importance of a need to re-evaluate the report while ‘[looking] through a local lens’.
Professor Nigel Scollan, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University, Belfast, welcomed the report for its admission an omnivorous diet was ‘optimal’ but said too much emphasis on demonising animal-based foods was distracting from ‘more harmful environmental factors such as the carbon monoxide produced by cars or by carbonised energy production’.
Kate Rowell, chairlady of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) agreed, adding: “Our industry produces quality beef and lamb from the grass and rough grazing which make up around 80 per cent of Scotland’s agricultural land and could not be used for cereal, fruit or vegetable production.”
The Soil Association however said the report made ‘game-changing recommendations’ in shattering the myth that agro-ecological farming could not feed the world.
Sustainable Food Trust chief executive Patrick Holden added: “The failure to make a stronger recommendation in relation to reducing poultry meat consumption is misguided.
“We recognise that meat consumption overall needs to be reduced, but poultry are in direct competition with humans for grain. ”
The EAT-Lancet Commission was founded in 2013 by Gunhild Stordalen, an animal rights activist for the Norwegian Animal Welfare Alliance.
Its main contributors include:
• Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). She has previously compared meat eaters to smokers, believing they should be having their meal outside of the restaurant;
• Harvard's professor Walter Willett, who has claimed that one in three early deaths could be saved if we all gave up meat;
• Oxford's vegan researcher Marco Springmann, who has called for a meat tax to prevent over ‘220,000 deaths’ and save billions in healthcare costs;
• Khaled bin Alwaleed, a Saudi Prince who sees dairy as ‘the root of all environmental evil’ and is on a ‘mission to veganise the Middle East’;
• Anna Lartey, professor and director at Nutrition Division FAO;
• Francesco Branca, WHO director of general nutrition for health and development;
• Dania Nishtar – cardiologist and WHO Commission on ending childhood obesity.