- Soil Association
- What do we mean by less but better meat?
Less but better meat – for climate, for health and for nature
We can’t shy away from the need to change diets if we’re serious about tackling climate change.
There’s overwhelming agreement that this needs to happen with both the recent EAT-Lancet and UK Climate Change Committee reports highlighting this need for dietary change including a shift towards less but better meat. But which meat should we eat less of, and what is meant by better meat? This is where our position differs from EAT-Lancet and the Climate Change Committee.
The Soil Association believes that we urgently need to join the dots between the climate crisis and the biodiversity and land degradation crises to answer this question.
An agro-ecological future for farming that works for nature, climate and health means there has to be a crucial role for grass-fed ruminants. We must also find ways to overcome the barriers to feeding food waste to pigs and poultry. The focus of the drive for less meat in our diets should be on phasing out intensive farming of pigs and poultry, which is driving antimicrobial resistance, diverting up to two thirds of cropland to produce livestock feed and driving rainforest clearance, with devastating implications for climate and biodiversity loss.
Eating ‘less’ is a vital part of the equation in making ‘better’ possible.
The Soil Association translated a recent report from French think tank IDDRi – Ten Years of Agroecology in Europe – which found that a wholescale transition to agroecological systems like organic CAN feed a growing population healthily, whilst radically reducing greenhouse gases, despite a relative drop in yields. But this will require changes in both diet and land use. We will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, maximise soil carbon sequestration, and eliminate ‘food-feed competition’, such as the 58% of wheat and 68% of oilseed crops that currently go to feeding livestock instead of people. This will mean eating 40% less meat overall, with the greatest reductions in grain-fed animals.
Now is the time to speak up, and not to shy away from difficult conversations. The mood music has changed so rapidly over the last couple of months. With the climate change protests from Extinction Rebellion and school children, leadership from Sir David Attenborough and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) warning that we have only 10 years to make the changes needed, there is finally momentum and energy behind positive change. The recent Parliamentary declaration of ‘an environment and climate emergency’ is welcome. What we now need to see is urgent action. It is the Soil Association’s job to provide radical and practical solutions, so that the right actions are taken. This sometimes means grappling with difficult messages.
It’s time to make better meat normal in schools, and less meat is part of this.
Meat is nutritious – it forms part of a healthy diet – but we do not need to eat it every day. Indeed, many of us need to curb our consumption if we are to ease our impact upon the planet. A sustainable farming system with agroecology and organic at its heart requires that we eat differently. This means supporting children to eat differently too.
With all this in mind, the Soil Association firmly believes schools need more support to make it normal for children everywhere to eat a healthy and sustainable menu, with a little less meat overall making higher welfare, grass-fed meat affordable for all. Through the Soil Association’s Food for Life Served Here scheme well over a million children, many of them in more deprived areas of the country, eat from a school menu each day that includes organic ingredients and higher welfare meat. These schools are putting ‘less but better’ into action, offering plant proteins one day a week, using the cost saving to ‘trade up’ to better meat for the rest of the week.
The Government is currently reviewing the School Food Standards in an effort to boost fibre consumption. Beans and pulses are a good source of fibre, and one of the changes the Government is considering is the requirement that schools serve more of these proteins. We support this ambition. A ‘plant-based protein’ day in schools would not only benefit children nutritionally, through increased fibre consumption, it would be consistent with the ‘less but better meat’ vision of an agroecological and organic future. This is why we have issued the call to Government.
Livestock farmers have been facing many challenges of late; it is not an easy time. But there are also opportunities. Our Soil Association licensees are pioneers in showing that farming presents the solution to the many challenges we face, including climate change. We are incredibly proud of their achievements, and we are committed to championing our farmers so that policy makers can see what ‘better meat’ looks like in reality.