Politicians are lagging behind public opinion on the need to reduce meat consumption and promote animal welfare, a think tank warns today.
A new survey conducted by the Social Market Foundation has found that nearly three-fifths (58%) of people have made some effort to eat less meat. Moreover, 57% think that the country as a whole should consume fewer animal products, motivated by combination of concerns about animal welfare, health and environmental harm.
The public support a range of government measures to improve the food system, and encourage a shift away from lower welfare meat. Nearly three-quarters (74%) would support government-mandated animal welfare labels on meat products, and that 91% of people would be in favour of stricter regulations to protect farm animal welfare. Most people also say that they would favour public money being used to support meat-free alternatives: 62% support investments to develop better alternative proteins, and 58% would get behind a 20% subsidy in the price of plant-based alternatives.
SMF polling, conducted in April amidst the cost of living crisis, found that two-thirds of people (66%) would be willing to pay higher prices that accompany better regulations.
Yet British politicians have failed to take serious action to improve the food we eat. In July, the Government shelved plans to add animal welfare labels to chicken and pork products, even as Germany has announced plans to develop a labelling scheme of its own. The UK Government has also failed to take forward the target of reducing meat consumption by 30% over a decade, set out in the National Food Strategy it commissioned. Meanwhile, senior figures like Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Michael Gove have all lined up to reject the possibility of a meat tax, despite no serious proposal being raised for such a policy.
The SMF research found that alternative proteins, such as plant-based sausages or burgers, can play a role in helping people to eat less animal products, though there are some qualms over taste and many argue that products currently on the shelf are too pricey. 51% of people are not enthused about existing products, but would be open to eating them in the future, with some holding out for cell-cultivated ‘lab grown’ meat. 44% say existing products are not affordable, compared to 28% who say that they are.
SMF analysis of polling also categorised people according to their views on animal welfare and meat reduction policies (See notes). It found that Brits are overwhelmingly (81%) ‘persuadable’ on reducing their meat eating, and have largely already taken steps to do so. Whilst 1 in 5 are diehard ‘Meat Lovers’, 12% are ‘Animal Lovers’, 32% are Animal Sympathisers, and 37% do not hold strong views.
The SMF paper is the second in a series exploring the likelihood and potential of alternative proteins to reshape our food systems, reduce the animal suffering involved in intensive farming. The project is sponsored by Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The SMF retains full editorial independence.
Aveek Bhattacharya, SMF Interim Director, said:
“Our research shows that far from being a fringe concern, efforts to eat less meat are entirely normalised and mainstream within British society. The question is when politicians will catch up and help the rest of us to make the changes to our diets necessary to better our health, protect the environment and improve animal welfare.
Acknowledging the meat reduction target in the National Food Strategy, and the necessity of significant changes to our food system and our habits to meet it, would be a good start. But beyond that, there is substantial appetite for stricter welfare standards and investment in alternative proteins to help accelerate these societal trends.”
Gemma Hope, Assistant Director Policy, Advocacy and Evidence at the RSPCA, said:
“The public is clear that we all need to be eating less meat for the sake of animals, our health and our planet.
“Even during the depths of a cost of living crisis, a majority want their taxes spent on subsiding plant-based alternatives to meat. This is a priority issue for them and they want action.
“The quickest and cheapest first step is to have clear labelling of meat products telling shoppers how animals were reared. The public want this, it was promised as part of the National Food Strategy, so the Government can deliver on this.”
- The SMF report, Chewing it over, will be published at https://www.smf.co.uk/publications/politics-of-meat-reduction/ on Tuesday, 5th September 2023.
- Part 1 of the report series, Fair or fowl? , was published earlier in the year, and can be found at https://www.smf.co.uk/publications/fair-or-fowl-uk-animal-welfare/
- The report is sponsored by RSPCA. The SMF retains full editorial independence
- SMF categorisation of UK population based on views on animal welfare and meat reduction policies
- 19% are Meat Lovers:
- They are more likely to be men, middle aged (average age 50), and to vote Conservative, with 50% university educated.
- They generally tend to view animal products as healthy and environmentally unproblematic.
- 19% are Meat Lovers:
- Yet 27% of people in this group still say they have some discomfort with the way animals are treated on farms, and nearly a third want to ban factory farms.
- 12% are Animal Lovers :
- 58% are vegetarian or vegan, and 96% have made some effort to avoid or limit meat.
- 70% are women, and 63% are university educated., They are typically middle aged (48 years on average) and they are most likely to vote Labour.
- They are disproportionately drawn from both high and low- income groups (as opposed to middle income).
- 32% are Animal Sympathisers:
- Only 6% are vegetarian or vegan, but they tend to have pro-animal views – 83% have tried to reduce their meat consumption.
- They are disproportionately likely to have high or low incomes but are less likely to be in middle income brackets. Their average age is 47.
- 37% hold no strong views, and are broadly reflective of the general population in terms of gender, age and income.
- The table below presents the proportion of people in each UK region that have made some effort to reduce their meat consumption
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