Climate Change Committee report encourages making vegan food “the default” in supermarkets

Climate Change Committee report encourages making vegan food “the default” in supermarkets

Meat industry trade bodies have responded to a report published by the UK Government’s advisors on climate change that recommends making plant based foods “attractive, accessible and affordable”, to steer customers towards making more plant-based purchases.

The report suggested that plant-based products should be “the default” in supermarkets.

The report, published by the Climate Change Committee and commissioned by the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations, makes a series of recommendations to encourage people to eat less meat and more “plant-rich” foods. 

It is suggested by the Committee that policymakers may achieve a reduction of meat in people’s diets by making plant based options “more visible and the default in supermarkets and restaurants, alongside introducing financial incentives” (e.g. price reductions in plant based foods).

It also details how consumers are more interested in achieving a ‘balanced’ diet rather than just a vegan or vegetarian diet. However, the Committee also claimed that many people are already reducing their meat and dairy consumption and are willing to reduce it further.

Sustainability labels are said to have potentially small effects on consumer behaviour, but the report encourages their use as revealing a product’s environmental impact may influence how green the manufacturing process becomes.

It stated how “using co-benefits and combining message framing (e.g. health, animal welfare, environment) and supporting skill development can be important components of successful interventions” when attempting to reduce the rate of meat consumption.

Policy decisions must be based on robust evidence

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said: “We agree with the ‘less but better’ axiom, and would apply it to both animal and plant-based foods. First and foremost, any policy decisions should result in equitable access to quality nutrition, particularly to those on lower incomes.

“However, if political or social engineering drives people to make what they think are more environmentally friendly choices by steering them away from natural, nutritious whole foods towards unhealthy, highly processed substitutes, then a decline in public health will be an unwelcome unintended consequence.

“It’s important to take account of the origin and method of production of food when changing our diet for environmental rather than nutritional reasons.

“Countries that benefit from ideal conditions to rear livestock (like the UK and New Zealand’s grass-fed systems amongst others) need to be cautious of the unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies that ‘backfire’. Policy decisions should be made using scientifically robust metrics that accurately distinguish between different farming systems.”

Any financial incentives must come from the producers, not the taxpayer

The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) spokesperson Tony Goodger said: “Supermarkets and restaurants will always sell and promote what consumers wish to buy. We already see many of the meat alternatives sold in highly ‘visible’ packaging and in some circumstances alongside fresh meat on the fixture. Surely this already provides the plant-based options with the visibility that the report recommends.

“Any financial incentive to purchase will need to be paid for by the producers and not in the form of any taxpayer funded subsidy.

“As regards the out-of-home sector, most – if not all – chains use menu engineering software to inform where dishes are best placed on the menu. I suggest that these have already ‘informed’ the sector that plant-based should be grouped into a ‘call out’ section on the menu.

“The Climate Change Committee appear to rapidly be moving towards being the nations nanny with the arrogance of they know best when in reality consumers are more than capable of making up their minds as to what they wish to purchase as well as foods they’d prefer to avoid.”

The report called for the UK to set its mind on a coherent vision of what its future food system might look like, requesting more political leadership to facilitate and communicate “net zero compatible diets.” This comes just days after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak scrapped the idea of implementing a meat tax in order to meet net zero targets.

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