The NFU has accused Sainsbury’s of peddling an anti-meat agenda following revelations that scientists from Oxford University are to help redesign its stores to persuade customers to buy less meat.
The supermarket giant has chosen to take part in a new project run by the Wellcome Trust, Our Planet, Our Health, which encourages people to cut their meat consumption to ‘benefit their health’ and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As part of the trial scheme, traditional vegetarian aisles will be scrapped and vegetarian alternatives to products such as sausages and pies will be placed on the same shelves as their meat counterparts.
Vouchers and loyalty points will also be given to shoppers who choose vegetarian products and stores will provide recipes and leaflets which show how customers can reduce their meat intake.
Judith Batchelar, director of brand at Sainsbury’s, said customers should be offered the chance to buy ‘healthier, more planet-friendly alternatives’ to meat.
“Shoppers can now choose from a much greater variety of produce than they did in the past, especially when it comes to fruit and vegetables”, she added.
“That gives them a greater opportunity to make meat-free choices, which is what we are seeing today. The question is: how can we take that further?”
A range of Sainsbury’s branches from local stores to superstores, as well as the online service, will undergo the changes.
Farming unions have slammed the move, with NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe saying: “The NFU has major concerns over the anti-meat agenda that Sainsbury’s is pursuing in its recent involvement with in-store trials attempting to change customer buying habits.
“The trials are based on analysis from Oxford academics on the impacts of eating meat on climate change and public health – analysis the NFU firmly contests.
“Many farmers have worked with Sainsbury’s closely to reduce their carbon footprints. Livestock farmers are committed to playing their part in tackling climate change by carrying out activities as part of the farming industry’s Greenhouse Gas Action Plan. They also manage the large reserves of carbon stored in the soil of UK grasslands.
“The high-quality meat products produced by British livestock farmers are naturally rich in protein and are a good source of iron, zinc and essential vitamins. Unfortunately, the positive role red meat plays in a healthy, balanced diet is often overlooked.
“We are seeking urgent talks with Sainsbury’s to ensure all British produce can have pride of place on their shelves for customers to make up their own mind about what they buy.”
Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) president Glyn Roberts also raised objections.
He said: “A healthy diet is a balanced diet, and initiatives such as this risk oversimplifying matters and pointing people in the wrong direction – away from a healthy balance.
“It would also be refreshing to see such scientists putting their talents towards addressing complex issues, such as imbalances of power along complex food chains and the social implications of overly simplistic policies which hit poorer farmers.
“Those who put forward such ideas seem generally reluctant to acknowledge the complexity of the systems they are dealing with or suggest how any consequential impacts on already low incomes might be redressed.”
Sainsbury’s have responded to our article.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “The NFU has clearly misunderstood the purpose of the research that we are carrying out with the University of Oxford. We can reassure them that we are not anti-meat in any way.
“We recognise that our customers have a wide range of dietary requirements. The research will examine how we can encourage long term sustainable and healthy eating habits. This does not exclude meat and we are pleased to clear up any confusion.”
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