Farmers urged to challenge ‘anti-meat’ agenda

January is a huge opportunity for livestock and dairy farmers to counter criticism levelled at the sectors by the meat-free movement, according to the AHDB.

The first month of the year is being promoted as “Veganuary”, an annual campaign which urges consumers to try vegan and adopt a plant-based diet.

But farming organisations are reminding consumers of the benefits of meat and dairy at the heart of a healthy, balanced diet.

See also: Myth buster – the BBC’s anti-meat programme examined

Organisers of Veganuary claim that switching to a vegan diet is “great news for animals and the planet”.

But food nutritionists have warned that a vegan or vegetarian diet can leave people short of essential nutrients, including protein, fatty acids, vitamin B12 and iron.

Meat, dairy and the vegan lobby

  • 82% of UK households do not have any “meat reducers” – Kantar 2019
  • 94% of UK households continue to buy meat, fish and poultry on a weekly basis (the same as the previous year) – Kantar 2019
  • 99.8% of UK households buy dairy products – Kantar 2019
  • According to Kantar Usage Data, the actual proportion of British people who are strict vegans is only 0.6% (which remains unchanged year-on-year) – Kantar July 19, using food diaries

Source: AHDB

In a blog on the AHDB’s website, Will Jackson, strategy director for beef & lamb, said: “More eyes are on us than normal so let’s showcase what we do and how well we do it to keep this country eating a healthy, balanced diet.”

Farmers trusted

Recent research from AHDB showed that farmers are, by far, the most trusted link in the supply chain (71% of consumers agree, whereas only 6% disagree with this sentiment).

It found that 62% of people feel positive about British agriculture, with only 5% of people negative towards it.

“This is what our industry should be taking heart from and look towards the new year positively – not feeling under siege from the tiny minority of the population who cut out all animal products from their lives,” said Mr Jackson.

In the past year, 98% of UK households bought red meat, while 99.8% bought a dairy product. AHDB’s work with research company Kantar also reveals that 78% of food consumption decisions are based on taste and enjoyment – something both red meat and dairy “offer in spades”, he added.

More than 90% of the nutritional needs of cattle and sheep in the UK are met by grass or conserved silage. Few additional inputs are needed. “Despite what others would say, we contribute only about 3% of carbon emissions in the UK,” Mr Jackson noted.

Highest welfare standards

In addition, grazing livestock makes best use of up to 60% of UK agricultural land that cannot easily (or at all) be used to grow anything else for human consumption.

“Without it, we would be forced to import much more to feed the growing population,” said Mr Jackson.

The UK also has some of the highest welfare standards in the world. Some products sourced on the international markets lack the same levels of transparency within the supply chain.

And the myth that farmers don’t take care of their animals “needs to be busted”.

“Livestock farmers do not follow this career because they don’t like animals, any more than a mechanic chooses to fix cars if he hates engines,” said Mr Jackson.

“We need to call out though those who do not uphold the standards expected. The bad practices of the few reflect on the many but are not reflective of the agriculture sector more generally.”

Key facts – meat

  • Red meat is naturally rich in protein, low in salt and provides a range of vitamins and minerals that contribute to good health, including iron, potassium, zinc, vitamin B12 and niacin
  • Protein helps the maintenance of normal bones and growth in muscle mass
  • Potassium contributes to normal muscle and nerve function and helps support normal blood pressure
  • B vitamins can help with energy production in the body. They also help with the normal function of the immune system, psychological function and the reductions of tiredness
  • Zinc helps with fertility and reproduction
  • Red meat is low in salt (sodium), reducing consumption of sodium supports normal blood pressure
  • Our bodies absorb iron and zinc from meat more readily than they can from plants

Source: AHDB

Livestock ‘part of solution’

Kevin Roberts, chairman of the meat levy body for Wales, Hybu Cig Cymru, said:

“Major international studies, such as the IPCC report on global land use for the United Nations, have said that sustainable forms of livestock farming are part of the solution to climate change and food security, not part of the problem.

“Consumers can therefore be reassured that the majority of beef and lamb that’s available in UK supermarkets and independent butchers is produced domestically, by farmers whose environmental practices are in many ways examples to be followed by the rest of the world.”

In response to Veganuary, the dairy industry will launch Februdairy next month. The social media campaign aims to dispel some of the the myths perpetrated about dairy and urge consumers to support British farmers and buy more dairy products.

Key facts – dairy

  • A single 200ml glass of semi-skimmed milk provides 31% of our daily recommended calcium
  • It also contributes 74% of our recommended intake of Vitamin B12
  • A 30g serving of hard cheese (for example cheddar) provides 15% of our daily recommended protein
  • A 150g pot of low-fat fruit yogurt provides 48% of our recommended daily intake of iodine
  • Calcium is needed for maintenance of normal bones, and helps nerve and muscle function.
  • Vitamin B12 helps us feel less tired and benefits our immune system
  • Protein helps the maintenance of normal bones and growth in muscle mass
  • Iodine contributes to the production of thyroid hormones and function

Source: AHDB