Environmental concerns come only fourth on the list of reasons to reduce meat consumption. Photo: Flickr.com / Rachel Docherty CC BY

Europeans expect to cut back on meat

New policies, health concerns and innovative food businesses can all contribute to reducing the climate footprint of European dinner tables.

One out of four Europeans plan to reduce their meat consumption in the next five years. Only one out of twenty-five plan an increase. These were the findings when the economic and financial analysis consultancy ING Think recently surveyed 13,000 Europeans in 13 countries about their attitudes towards a shift in diet. The results are published in the report “The protein shift: will Europeans change their diet?”.

The negative impacts of livestock production, as a major source of greenhouse gas and nitrogen emissions, has increasingly appeared on the agenda. However, the potential for technical improvements to reduce emissions is limited. As stated in the report, livestock farming in Europe is already very efficient and “many cost-effective measures to improve efficiency on the production side have already been taken”.

A dietary shift from animal-based proteins towards plant-based proteins would have several environmental benefits. However, according to the survey, environmental concerns come only fourth on the list of reasons to reduce meat consumption. The main motivation is health, followed by animal welfare and believing meat to be too expensive.

Getting people to eat differently is more complicated than a shift from old mobile phones to smart phones, the authors conclude. But they also see that there is great untapped potential to use policy as a tool for a protein shift, and suggest:

Direct and indirect subsidies – animal and plant products already receive some direct and indirect subsidies. Support for innovation and marketing are also examples.

Differentiating tax regimes ¬– in general animal- and plant-based products fall under the same tax regimes, but this could change.

Using legislation to set production standards – standards governing the production of animal protein have been widely adopted, but the bar could be raised even further.

Creating awareness through education, media campaigns and/or food guidelines ¬– dietary guidelines that propose a more even balance between animal and plant-based products is influential, but so is the marketing of food producers, retailers and restaurants.

However, there are several factors that discourage politicians from proposing taxes and increased environmental requirements on livestock production. Not least is the economic importance of the animal food industry. Animal foods represent the largest share of the EU food market, which is dominated by some of the biggest food companies and provides the highest number of jobs in the food industry. Public opinion is another undeniable factor. Only a minority, 14 per cent, of the respondents in the study thought that governments should be leading a reduction in meat consumption. Even fewer, 13 per cent, would advise their governments to introduce a meat tax.

Even though politicians are hesitant, it does not prevent big food companies from investing in a growing market for alternative proteins. The report cites Paul Grimwood, Chairman and CEO of Nestlé USA, “we’re experiencing a consumer shift toward plant-based proteins. One of Nestlé’s strategic priorities is to build out our portfolio of vegetarian and flexitarian choices in line with modern health trends”.

Some meat-free alternatives, based for example on soy, wheat and mycoprotein, are already widely available and accepted by a large group of consumers. Novel proteins based on lab meat, insects and algae are still in the development phase. A majority, 75 per cent, of the respondents say they would not eat food from those sources on a regular basis.

But although the vegetarian market is gaining ground, it is still the norm among Europeans to eat meat for dinner. According to the survey, 74 per cent of the respondents identify themselves as regular meat eaters. A small group, 4 per cent, state that they never eat meat, and another 22 per cent indicate more flexitarian habits, eating meat once a week or less.

The team behind the report also asked Europeans what animal food they would miss the most if they couldn’t have it any more. It turns out that Europeans love cheese, with 20 per cent identifying it as their favourite product. It was followed by chicken, 17 per cent, and milk, 14 per cent.

Kajsa Pira

Source: The protein shift: will Europeans change their diet? https://www.ingwb.com/insights/research/the-protein-shift-will-europeans...


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