Should the UK Government follow veganuary and restrict meat?

Meat consumption is a hotly contested topic, with animal rights groups and climate change campaigners alike advocating for a global reduction in consumption and production.

Meat production is a considerable contributor to global emissions. Fossil fuels are in use at almost every stage of meat production; from fertilisers, farming machinery and transporting animals as well as in factories and then transporting meat products to supermarkets. Agriculture contributes to 25% of global emissions, 80% of which is livestock production.

As well as some environmental damage, many believe we should reduce meat consumption because of the health implications. The World Health Organisation ranked processed meats, such as ham and bacon, as a group 1 carcinogen. Additionally, the Cancer Council found 1 in 6 new cases of bowel cancer in Australia were linked to red meat consumption.

So, should the British government step in and reduce the consumption and production of meat?

Michael Mansfield QC, a top British barrister, said he believes the government will make meat consumption illegal, and believes ecocide should be considered on the same level as genocide and crimes against humanity. In 2016, the Chinese government outlined plans to cut its 1.3bn populations meat consumption by 50%.

In the UK, the number of people following a plant-based diet has risen by 340% in the past decade. This Wednesday, the editors will be debating whether the government should take action to cut meat consumption and production and ways this could be achieved.

Written by POI Correspondent, Emer Kelly

A Ban is not the answer – Labour article

Full disclosure, I am not vegan or vegetarian. However, since coming to university I have eaten significantly less meat. But this is borne out of the cost, rather than due to ethical and environmental concerns. A happy accident.

Almost all of the meat I get is from the reduced section of the local Waitrose. My flatmates and I scavenge at Nine O’clock at night, every night, like clockwork. You could describe me with the term flexitarian, but that label does not have a lot of meaning to most.

I am not in support of the government restricting the purchase of meat and other animal products. Such an approach will only annoy people, drive some to be less sustainable, and is classist. Now I know what you’re thinking, there goes the Labour writer, bringing class into everything, but hear me out.

Low income or working-class people may have to work two to three jobs or visit the food bank in order to make ends meet. They do not generally have the time nor ability to do the necessary research on vegan recipes and then adopt them. People who get ingredients from the food bank often do not have a lot of choice in what they receive. After a long day, especially in manual labour, most people just want to get some protein in them and recharge.

The easiest way to do that is some form of meat or eggs. I know that there are other sources of protein and essential vitamins, many an eager vegan has told me, but the fact of the matter is that this is the easiest way for most. This isn’t limited to just working-class people, you can find the packed workweek all across the socioeconomic spectrum. Additionally, not all people who are working-class are unable to become vegan.

But, to lecture or harass someone for doing this is a startling display of arrogance and privilege; people who do so should be ashamed. These sort of advocates are in a minority but reflect badly on the group as a whole, and push people away from more sustainable lifestyles just out of pure annoyance.

If the government and vegans want to encourage veganism or any reduction in meat consumption, they need to work to make that sort of lifestyle cheaper and more importantly, easy to learn and switch to. This can be in the form of making meat alternatives like Impossible foods and Quorn (not vegan) cheaper.

Often it is less expensive to cook recipes that don’t use alternate or imitation meats. Recipes where that food group is just not present. This means teaching people these recipes early on. This can be through school or at home, or at community centres and libraries.

Now, food tech in my experience and in most of the people I’ve spoken to is a farce. Either there’s not enough equipment, space or time, normally all three at once. Maybe if some more funding was allocated to our schools, this F tier class could rise up the rankings and be used to teach not only a more varied diet but also about sustainable lifestyles.

Lastly, people need to know that just because they are eating less meat and animal products, does not always mean that they are being more sustainable. Soy, for example, could be coming from Brazil where vast sections of the amazon are flash burned in order to make space for soy fields and cattle ranching.

As they say, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Every action you take is likely to be hurting someone or something, somewhere. Whether it is due to single-use plastics, the exploitation of farmworkers in the developing world, or the carbon footprint of importing all foods – vegan or otherwise. Sustainability will be best achieved by millions adopting flexitarian lifestyles, rather than a small number of hardcore vegans.

Here’s a link to a great vegan dhal recipe I use.

Written by Labour Writer, Daniel Orchard

Point of Information

There can be cheaper alternatives – a Conservative response

There are some great points made in this article about how there isn’t room for economic diversity with a vegan diet. However, there have been studies to show how a meat-free diet is actually cheaper than a meat inclusive diet.

Of course, meat alternatives can often be more expensive. Nevertheless, there have been studies that show adopting a plant-based diet could save you around £645 a year. Although this does require a lengthy knowledge of vegan recipes, and it does take more work to ensure that you are receiving all the vital nutrients.

Written by Conservative Writer, Eleanor Roberts

It’s about time we realised Veganism isn’t easy – a Liberal response

Mr Orchard and I seem to agree on a great deal in this debate. The points raised about work, time, and financial constraints are extremely important. When we are buying food, we are looking for three things: pleasure, sustenance and ease. For many people, this will always include meat or animal products in some form.

The proposal for more education in schools is one I have echoed. However, it needs to go a step further. School meals should be working to change the culture of sustainable eating. Every meal a child eats at school is an educational opportunity. Where has this food come from? What nutrition is in this food? Is this food a treat or is it for every day?

‘Start them young’ must be the slogan we use when thinking about sustainable and healthy eating!

Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Olivia Margaroli

Save the World, be a Flexitarian – Conservative article

There are two possible reasons for the banning of meat; environmental reasons and health reasons. Factory produced meat alternatives have appealed to environmentalists with claims of low emissions and superior health benefits. However, these claims are based upon “third party potential estimates of emissions”. This has fooled many into adopting a diet which could have even worse environmental repercussions than a meat-inclusive lifestyle.

Restricting public access to meat will force many consumers to purchase meat substitutes from cell-based meat companies such as Quorn or Beyond Meat. Not only are consumers paying a premium price for less protein, but studies have shown that the effects these products have on the environment are still damaging.

Cellular-based meat alternatives can release up to five times the emissions of chicken (putting their emissions just under beef). Cellular based meat alternatives make up the majority of this market. Although plant-based alternatives seem more emissions friendly, they are still not much better than chicken. By restricting the availability of meat we are pushing onto people highly processed alternatives, with questionable environmental and health impacts.

Meat alternatives aren’t as nutritious as real meat. That is simply a scientific fact. Meat-free burgers contain much more salt, as well as an unhealthy lack of protein, iron and vitamin B. Until we find an alternative that matches the nutrients of real meat, we shouldn’t be encouraging a diet that is still relatively new and lacks research on health complications.

By potentially limiting the availability of meat, and simultaneously encouraging a switch to vegetable fats we will also consume a damaging amount of palm oil. This substance has been responsible for the near annihilation of many endangered species over the past 35 years. The effects that palm oil has on the environment will only worsen if meat becomes less available to us.

A recent documentary on Netflix, “The Game Changers”, demonises a diet inclusive of meat. It suggests that a meat-free vegan world would solve both environmental and health issues. Despite the fact that this documentary has been heavily commended in the press, I believe that this is just another marketing ploy created by radical vegans.

The producer, James Cameron, is the founder of plant protein company “Verdient Foods”. So it is incredibly unlikely that he would show a well balanced, impartial view. In fact, all of the experts and medical professionals partaking in the documentary were sellers of vegan products. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why they are advocating a meat-free world.

This documentary has led even more people to blindly follow a plant-based diet without looking into the facts. It cherry-picks one-sided facts, uses false dichotomies, and bases its claims on controversial studies that have been debunked by many nutritional scientists.

Of course, despite the corruption of some aspects of the vegan market, meat is bad for the environment. A meat-free diet isn’t actually much better in terms of emissions. The best diet for saving the environment is a Flexitarian diet. This includes one portion of meat a day and has found to have a lower carbon footprint than a vegetarian diet which requires meat substitutes.

The production of beef has unarguably a very damaging effect on the environment, and agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases worldwide. Figures like these are thrown around all the time by environmental activists without being properly analysed.

Due to the fact that these figures are all global averages, important information is being hidden. In terms of beef herds, “the highest impact 25% of producers represent 65% of beef herds GHG emissions and 61% of land use”. Except, this top 25% is based mainly in areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, areas with very poor soil and low rainfall. Of course, if these people living in the Global South gave up meat global emissions would fall. They would also however very quickly starve.

Britain’s grass-fed meat industries when looked at closely aren’t the problem. Therefore, limiting the availability of meat would only damage farmers’ livelihoods, the British economy, and farmland. All while not having a very significant impact on the environmental cause. It is time people stopped falling for marketing ploys such as Veganuary and Meat-Free Monday, and just adopted a healthy, natural and inclusive diet.

Written by Conservative Editor, Eleanor Roberts

Point of Information

Fake meat is not the only alternative – a Liberal response

Ms Roberts seems to be saying the only alternative available to people who do not eat meat is ‘fake meat’. This is not the case!

The alternatives to meat are vegetables, beans, pulses and grains, among other animal products (like eggs, milk and cheese). If the government were to restrict meat – I am not saying they should, but if – then people could choose to eat any of these things. They wouldn’t automatically be prescribed a life’s supply of Quorn chicken nuggets and Impossible burgers. Although, personally, I am quite big fans of both!

I must concede, often it is meatless-meat which is the first option for many trying to cut down on meat consumption. As cited, this isn’t always environmentally beneficial. Here, I would recommend the use of educational tools, and collaborative work with supermarkets to encourage fully plant-based meals. It is not an easy task, but culture must change to make eating less meat a behavioural norm, rather than an active choice.

I will jump on the bandwagon and recommend Ottolenghi’s vegan pasta dish. I challenge anyone to cook this and say this dish is missing meat!

Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Olivia Margaroli

Bias on Both sides – a Labour response

Whilst I agree with much of what Ms Roberts has said, she would be wise to look at the bias on both sides. Yes, some of these vegan companies are unlikely to be impartial on the health benefits of the food they directly profit from. However, the same is true for traditional meat companies competing with their plant-based alternatives. Already lobbying groups on the behalf of meat companies have released smear adverts containing dodgy science at best, and outright lies at worst.

It also appears that these companies are playing both sides. They are smearing vegan ‘meats’ whilst also hedging their bets and entering the industry. Big names like Tyson, Smithfield, and Nestlé have rushed out their alternates to the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat. Whilst it is good that there is more choice for consumers, it is slightly disheartening to see companies that have massively pushed against them now reaping profits.

Ms Roberts notes that stopping all the global south from eating meat is probably a very bad idea. However, if only the western world adopts this flexitarian diet she endorses then it may not do enough environmentally.

We should certainly encourage, not enforce, changes in diets across the world. Although many areas do far better than us in the carbon footprint of their lifestyle. Movement into non-Western markets has already been seen by top alternate meat producers. Except this is likely due to profit chasing rather than any environmental or health concerns.

Written by Labour Writerr, Daniel Orchard

A ‘nudge’ in the right direction – Liberal article

I must reveal my cards before writing this article. I have been a vegetarian for four years, and have been trying to have a plant-based diet where possible. Among more philosophical reasons, my main aim is to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Although I am aware that a plant-based diet is not always the most sustainable one.

In short, no, I do not think the government should restrict consumption of meat. For the same reason that I don’t want to be told that I can only have 2 pints in the pub. The fact that these restrictions may indeed be beneficial to me is beside the point. The moment a restriction is placed on autonomy, our individual liberty – something we grasp onto with both hands in this country – begins to dwindle.

However, this does not mean I think the government should leave this issue purely down to the consumer. There is clear evidence as to why lower meat consumption is better for individuals and the environment.

In particular, Study after study has found heavy consumption of red meat to be detrimental to health. The World Health Organisation declared processed meat (such as bacon, hot dogs, and ham) a ‘carcinogen’. Saturated fat (found in all meats) and cholesterol contribute to heart attacks, strokes, and some cancers.

The same evidence is out there for alcohol consumption and cigarettes, and the government has put a restriction on their consumption. Findings surrounding meat consumption are not as damning, but they are still clear. It seems absurd that the government are doing nothing to ensure we are not over-consuming meat.

Now, let’s add to the mix the environmental impact of meat consumption. An in-depth study found that although meat and dairy only provide 18% of calories, it takes up 83% of farmland. It also accounts for 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. ‘A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth’ says Joseph Poore from the University of Oxford, who led the research.

Let’s use the analogy of cars. Pollution from cars is bad for the environment, simple enough. The government and the public know this and so, in London, we have a congestion fee. Obviously this is not an incentive for people living outside of London, but it shows the government acting to reduce environmental impacts.

So, why aren’t they doing this with meat? We can clearly see that meat consumption is a huge polluter, therefore something needs to be done about it.

Heavy meat consumption is bad for individuals and for the environment, that is undeniable. We have a moral quandary, too much consumption of meat is bad, but as a society, we want to maintain freedom of choice. The solution, liberal paternalism. Or a term with less negative connotations, ‘nudging’.

To ‘nudge’ is not to restrict choice. It is to maintain complete freedom but to be steered in the direction of a choice better for individuals and the world around them. One area that has seen promise is the tackling of food habits over a lifetime.

Older people are less likely to want to move away from what they ate as a child. So we should work to change what children eat. If children have access to more plant-based meals through initiatives at schools, this could impact their adult eating habits. Equally, education on the environmental and health benefits of lower meat consumption may lead to changing habits in adult life.

Nudges can take many different forms, the above shows examples. Changing the layout of shops, or giving out recipe cards for plant-based diets are nudges too. Research done in Germany showed nudges in a canteen improved environmentally friendly food choices, but this may not work everywhere. There is no single solution.

Work must be done to lower meat consumption. For the benefit of individuals and our environment. The government must put into place a policy that will work to influence individuals to make this decision for themselves.

Written by Chief Liberal Writer, Olivia Margaroli

Point of Information

Bacon is nowhere near as bad as a cigarette – a Conservative response

I agree with some of the main points in this article as overall, it rightfully doesn’t support government restrictions on meat. However, Ms Margaroli does portray a much more dangerous image of the impacts of meat than is necessarily true.

This article presents the argument that red, and processed meat can lead to health risks such as cancer and heart attacks. However, an international collaboration of researchers has produced an in-depth analysis showing that the advice to avoid meat is “not backed by good scientific evidence’.

The studies mentioned in Ms Margaroli’s argument show very weak links between eating red meat and an increase in cancer risks, and the evidence is also of very low quality. So to compare the consumption of red meat to smoking cigarettes is illogical.

The brilliant infographics from Cancer Research UK demonstrate the extremely high risk of lung cancer that smoking causes. In contrast, there is only evidence of a very casual link between processed meat and cancer. Plus, even this study ignores important factors such as quantity of consumption.

I have shown in my article why the UK meat industry isn’t as alarmingly bad for the environment as the media suggests. Therefore, rearranging shops is pointless. We simply need to educate people about healthy meat inclusive diets.

Written by Conservative Writer, Eleanor Roberts

When does collective need outweigh individual autonomy – a Labour response

I believe Ms Margaroli’s beliefs are bang on. Probably because they are quite close to my own. She is quite correct that a ban or restriction on the purchasing of meat is not the right path for our government to take. It would place a restriction on our autonomy as individuals.

What we do need to consider is at what point is the personal freedom of each individual to eat meat, and other environmentally unfriendly acts, outweighed by the need to deal with the climate challenge that we collectively face.

I am not saying I have the answer to this question. Or even how much importance the consumption of meat has on it, as the science is not yet confirmed. But it will have some impact. All the little things will add up, so such questions will eventually have to be asked.

Ms Margaroli’s prescriptive of the use of nudges to help reduce meat consumption is a good one and has lots of proven science behind it. For further insight into the world of nudges and behavioural economics, I would recommend the book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. It more deeply explores the topic that Ms Margaroli has raised here. Thaler won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his development of the field and helped create the Behavioural Insights Team, a section of the British Government’s Cabinet Office concerning such affairs.

Written by Labour Writer, Daniel Orchard

 

 

Olivia Margaroli
Chief Liberal political writer at | Website

I am second year student reading Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Exeter. Next year I hope to study abroad in Washington DC, a dream for any political student.

Daniel Orchard
Labour political writer at | Website

My journey into politics is pretty different to what most people have. I can’t claim to have watched PMQ’s obsessively since a young age nor did I pour over the broadsheets for every political factoid I could muster.

Eleanor Roberts
Head of HR & Recruitment at | Website

I’m a third year University of Manchester student, currently studying in Lyon on my Erasmus year (by sheer coincidence I’m writing this hours after parliament has voted to end British involvement in the 30 year programme, so just to be on the safe side I promise not to use the NHS/European Declaration of Human Rights/anything at all anytime soon).

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