Recently WWF UK has been asked about our work on livestock and our position on eating meat. This has become a hot topic, with large numbers of people, especially millennials, choosing to eat less meat or to go vegan. This is a positive development as it shows we are become more attuned to the impacts our choices have on the natural world.
Undoubtedly livestock has a large environmental impact; 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions come from livestock, which is bigger that the entire transport sector.
Seven years and counting
We have been working and campaigning on this emotive subject for over seven years. We were the first global conservation organisation to call for people to eat less meat. The decision to engage on meat consumption came from our ground breaking report How Low Can You Go, which demonstrated that if we wanted to decarbonise the global food system in line with Climate change commitments making production more sustainable and embracing technology alone would not be enough. We have to tackle consumption.
When we first started talking about the need to eat less meat, not no meat, we were accused by some livestock bodies, amongst others, of being anti-meat, whilst some vegan organisations accused us of being pro meat. It seems we couldn’t win. However this has not stopped us. Since How Low we have embarked on a journey to learn how much meat, if any, we can eat to ensure both people and planet thrive and what steps different people need to take to make this shift.
This led us to looking at nutritional advice and what health professionals were saying. Most professionals agree the average person needs around 45 to 70 grams of protein a day and this can come from many different sources. From here we looked at whether sustainability and healthy eating messages can be married. With our LiveWell work WWF UK became the first organisation to define a sustainable diet, even though we were told by the UK government at the time it was not possible.
We launched our Livewell program in 2010. This was followed by our food campaign which had 2 parts: Save the Cerrado – a fabulous ecosystem, which contains 5% of global biodiversity and which is threatened by the expansion of soy production, primarily to feed industrial livestock systems in the EU and China; The second was our LiveWell campaign, which highlighted how sustainable diets are tasty, varied and a real win win win for people, planet and our pockets.
Since then we have continued to develop the work. We have defined sustainable diets for 3 other EU countries – Spain, France and Sweden – though our LiveWell for Life Project. We have worked with many different companies and have even briefed the Whitehouse.
Currently we are updating LiveWell and will continue to develop this work inside the UK and globally. It is a core part of Earth Hour, with our candle lit dinners and a many different recipes on our Earth Hour Website from a smorgasbord of chefs including Beca Lyne-Pirkis and Tom Aikens.
Our work on meat is not just focused on sustainable diets. We continue to push the UK government, the EU and international bodies on livestock and feed. We work with many different companies and trade bodies. We are on the steering group for Protein 2040, convened by Forum for the Future looking at how to move to a sustainable protein system by 2040. WWF is one of the original NGOs that came together and set up Eating Better. A UK based NGO coalition that has over 45 members from many different sectors. Its aim is to promote eating less and better meat.
Change is happening
More and more organizations and people are recognizing the need to look at our plates and change what we put on them. The evidence is conclusive: we need to produce and eat less meat. We need to produce and eat more plants. Even some of the staunchest opponents of this message are starting to change their tune. A few years ago I called for more ready meals to be reformulated to include less meat and more veg. I was attacked by the NFU for being anti-meat and anti farmer. However this year the NFU produced Fit for the Future; Helping Consumers Eat More Fruit and Vegetables. One of the tools they advocate is reformulation.
We’re not anti-meat. We know the role meat plays in culture and traditions, and the other services livestock plays. It provides income and security for many people. Livestock can be part of a wedding gift, demonstrate social standing and the manure is a readily available form of fertiliser and fuel for cooking fires.
Yes in the UK and other countries people eat too much meat and dairy. This is a relatively recent phenomena that has come about with the advent of industrial livestock farming. In other countries meat is a key, available source of protein for poor, rural communities.
If a person wants to be vegan, vegetarian, pescatarain or an omnivore that is their choice. We just urge people to do it in a responsible manner that respects people and planet and ensures they have a sustainable, nutritious diet.