The YouGov survey, conducted on behalf of the Eating Better alliance, indicated 25% of the British public claimed to be eating less meat – with animal welfare topping the reasons for their change in habits.
But the latest data from the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX) suggested an opposite trend and the survey should to be treated with an air of caution.
Jo Biggs, assistant communications manager at EBLEX, added: “We certainly haven’t seen any noticeable reduction in beef and lamb consumption over the last year. In fact, the latest Kantar Worldpanel data for the 52 weeks ending October 13 showed combined beef and lamb volume sales are up 1.9% year–on–year (an extra 6,830t sold over the year.)
“The data also showed that every [British] consumer bought 15.7kg of beef and lamb over the year, up 1.3% on the previous year.”
The British Meat Processors Association’ director Stephen Rossides told FoodManufacture.co.uk that the figures from the YouGov survey and that the change was driven by animal welfare was “slightly strange”.
“Frankly that [animal welfare being the main reason for eating less meat] is more surprising. I’d be less surprised if they said it’s to do with the price of meat.”
He added there was likely to be a difference between what people say they do and what their shopping habits actually were.
‘Were willing to cut back’
However, the YouGov survey suggested that 34% of the British public were willing to cut back on meat consumption.
Ready meals and processed meats were most likely to be shunned as the public remained wary, following the horsemeat scandal, of cheaper meats likely to be less healthy and of questionable origin and quality, the Eating Better alliance claimed.
It added that animal welfare was now viewed as the number one reason for the decline in meat consumption, ahead of cost, quality, safety and health.
Tim Lang, professor of Food Policy at City University London, said: “This survey shows that despite the rising cost of food, many people are prepared to put values before value for money. The horsemeat scandal showed where a race to the bottom leads. This is good news for farmers, as well as the health of the public and the health of the planet.”
Around half of those surveyed said they would be willing to pay more for meat if it tasted better, was produced to higher animal welfare standards or provided better financial returns for farmers.
The Eating Better alliance’s chair Vicki Hird called on food manufacturers to do more to help consumers to switch to healthier and more environmentally friendly diets.
“We’re delighted that more and more people are waking up to the benefits of eating less and better meat for health, animal welfare, the environment, farmers as well as saving money,” said Hird, who is also senior campaigner for the Land Use, Food and Water Security programme at Friends of the Earth. “Food companies must take note and do more to help people switch to healthier, sustainable diets.”
Increase in awareness
The survey estimated an increase in awareness of the significant environmental impacts of producing and eating meat from 14% in a YouGov survey for Friends of the Earth in 2007 to 31% in 2013.
The survey also found support for more information and better labelling, including country of origin and how animals were reared. 67% agreed it was hard to tell which meat was more environmentally friendly.
The most dramatic change was in people aged between 18–24, with an increase in awareness from 8% in 2007 to 40% today.
Young people were nearly three times more likely to say they don’t eat any meat at all – with 17% of young people saying they don’t eat any meat.