If the world is to avoid catastrophic climate change, greenhouse gas emissions will have to be reduced across every sector of the economy. Unpopular though it may be, that will include diets. As things stand, there’s really no way for everyone in the world to consume as much meat – especially beef – as people do in the richest countries.
Not that this is anything to grumble about, to be honest. A lot of people are eating too much meat than is good for them, so a reduction in meat consumption would bring a variety of health benefits and savings to healthcare providers. And you don’t have to be vegetarian or vegan to make a difference if you’re not so inclined. It’s not an all or nothing proposition.
One thing that would help us on our way here in the UK is if the supermarkets were able to support this shift. There are several things they could be doing, as the sustainable food agency Feedback point out. First, they could be more transparent about where their meat comes from and the impact it has. They could be working to avoid meat from parts of the world where deforestation is rife, as clearing forests for meat production is a recurring problem.
Supermarkets can also support a reduction in meat eating by avoiding meat promotions, and by selling more vegetarian and vegan products, including ready-meals. There’s a growing range of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products – some of them very good – and it’s only through supermarkets stocking them and making them widely available that they will become mainstream choices.
So how are the supermarkets doing? Feedback have surveyed the big players across these sorts of criteria, and produced a ranking.
Not great then, is the answer to that question. They award ‘golden turnip’ awards to Lidl for its lack of transparency, and Iceland for its absence of commitments on meat. Tesco gets singled out for its made-up farm names on products, which create a fiction around their meat sourcing.
On the other hand, the Co-op performs best, and it’s the only retailer that has stated emissions targets for its meat products. You can see Feedback’s report for all the details.
Feedback suggest that the supermarkets ought to have deliberate targets to sell less meat, which will be a tall order for corporations whose raison d’etre is to sell more stuff. But they have all made climate commitments at the corporate level, and they will all have to fall in line with the country’s net zero by 2050 targets. That will eventually have to influence the food they sell, and the food we serve in our homes. What I look forward to seeing is who is going to step up, frame that as a positive around healthy and ethical choices, and actively sell sustainable diets to UK consumers.