People control their diets, not governments

By Clare Cheney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Meat, Nutrition, Obesity

The evergreen Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University London, has never been afraid to rattle cages and elicit strong reactions.

The Daily Telegraph recently reported that he called for a huge reduction in consumption of meat to fight the twin evils of obesity and climate change.

His anti-meat sentiments are likely to have only minority support, especially from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whose raison d'être is to support farmers. Livestock farming represents an important part of our economy.

The Department of Health (DH) also promotes the importance of meat in the diet. When the Swedish Karolinska Institute published a report in January indicating a link between meat products and cancer of the pancreas, the DH responded to a request for an official statement by providing a link to the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition 2010 report on Iron and Health.

Whether this was a cop-out or whether the DH felt that iron in the diet is more important than the very small increase in risk of pancreatic cancer, is open to interpretation. I prefer to think it was the latter. The report's preface suggests that people should restrict their meat intake to about 70gm a day because of the relationship with colorectal cancer. This is quite a large allowance, particularly when considered on a weekly basis but, given the leanness of the meat we buy today, it is less likely to be sufficient to contribute to obesity. Also, rises in meat prices will help to minimise meat consumption.

Those who call for meat-free diets need to face the fact that we live in a world of meat eaters and unless there is some kind of catastrophe that kills all livestock, meat eating will continue. And it is growing on a world basis in line with growth in affluence in the Far East. Even if the UK stopped eating meat today it would have no effect on world consumption. Our exports would be replaced by those from other countries where the climate is less appropriate for livestock production and more damaging to the environment.

People themselves decide what they eat and no government would dare to interfere with the right to freedom of choice. No, the only way the diet can change to become "healthier"​, is if people take concerted action of their own volition to modify their diets. Government politics is incapable of tackling this in a meaningful way, unless it brings about a voluntary change in people's attitude to food. But that would take more than the lifetime of several parliaments to achieve. There is no quick fix.

Related topics: People & Skills, Meat, poultry & seafood

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