Studies & Numbers

UK Government Reports First Decrease in Meat Production in Over a Decade

The UK government’s annual Agriculture in the United Kingdom report has found that meat production declined by 3.7% last year, marking the first decrease in total production in over a decade.

Over 70% of this decline was due to a significant 11% reduction in home-fed pig production. However, total meat production is still 13% higher than a decade ago at 4.1 million tonnes. Additionally, the total value of production increased by 5.8% to £10.9 billion last year, following price rises for cattle, pigs, and poultry.

Government figures published last October also show that per capita meat consumption fell by 14% between 2012 and 2022, reaching the lowest level since records began in the 1970s. This was true across all types of meat, but particularly notable for red meat. Rising prices were believed to be a key factor, along with lifestyle changes as consumers become more concerned about animal welfare, sustainability, and their health.

Government inaction

Despite these positive trends, a report published by the Food Foundation in November criticised the UK government for its inaction on reducing meat sales. The report says it should be mandatory for retailers and food service providers to disclose the percentage of their sales coming from animal versus plant-based proteins, and recommends other areas for improvement such as reducing the cost of meat alternatives.

UK- Reduced unsold meat free products on supermarket shelf
© William-stock.adobe.com

A Climate Change Committee report from last year also criticised the UK government’s approach to climate mitigation measures, saying that legislators have “set out no plans to support the public to shift to a lower-carbon diet”. The authors acknowledge that many British people are already reducing their meat consumption, but say it is too early to tell whether the decline will be quick enough; consequently, they recommend a 20% reduction in meat consumption by 2030, rising to 35% by 2050. It remains to be seen whether the UK’s approach will improve following the recent change in government.

Earlier this year, the government also came under fire for backing a campaign advocating meat consumption as a source of protein, zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. The Doctors’ Association UK and Plant-Based Health Professionals UK called for the Let’s Eat Balanced campaign to be retracted, saying it was “at odds with established scientific evidence on healthy and sustainable diets”. They also pointed out that the campaign went against the government’s own climate and health guidance, which says that a diet rich in plant-based foods and lower in animal products is beneficial for health and the environment.

“Dietary change is the single most impactful action we can take to improve the health of the planet,” said Dr. Shireen Kassam, director of Plant-Based Health Professionals UK. “Luckily we don’t need to choose between a liveable planet and our health. A shift away from eating meat and dairy to a mostly or exclusively plant-based diet can be associated with significant health benefits, with studies showing their ability to add healthy years to life.”

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