A report published by the International Development Committee today (4 June) warned that the current increase in global meat consumption was “unsustainable”. It stated that urging the Western world to stop consuming meat would be “disproportionate and unrealistic”, but said that meat should be promoted as “an occasional product rather than an everyday staple”.
It recommended there should be a movement away from grain-fed livestock towards more sustainable systems, such as pasture-fed cattle.
Chair of the Committee Malcolm Bruce said: “With the UK never more than a few days away from a significant food shortage, UK consumers should also be encouraged over time to reduce how often they eat meat. Meanwhile, as a nation we should place a stronger focus on more sustainable extensive systems of meat production, such as pasture-fed cattle, rather than on highly intensive grain-fed livestock units.”
Global demand for meat is increasing and is expected to double between now and 2050. This has primarily been driven by emerging economies, particularly China, where average meat consumption per person has increased from 20kg per person in 1985 to to 50kg today. However, meat consumption also remains high in the west, and average consumption in the UK was 85.8kg per person in 2007.
As demand for meat grows, more and more crops are being used for animal rather than human consumption. The UK Food Group has suggested that this causes a “calorie loss” equivalent to the annual “calorie need” of 3.5bn people.
However, the Committee did acknowledge that livestock production was not the only factor affecting global food security, and recognised that the use of crops for biofuels was having a “major detrimental impact”.
It claimed that EU targets to get 10% of transport energy from renewable sources by 2020 were likely to cause “dramatic food price increases” and called on the UK government to revise its Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to specifically exclude agriculturally-produced biofuels.
“Biofuel crops not only displace food crops, but are in some cases providing energy sources that are potentially more damaging to the environment than fossil fuels. So while we recognise that refining the RFTO will make it harder for the UK to meet current EU obligations, the relevant target does not kick in until 2020, so there is nothing to stop the UK from revising the RTFO now to exclude agriculturally-produced biofuels,” said Bruce.
The report also called on the UK government to launch a national consumer campaign to reduce domestic food waste, and said the government should set national targets, with sanctions for companies that did not meet them.