Meat and dairy-reduction policies would help meet net zero targets and improve population health in the UK

LSHTM’s Silvia Pastorino comments on a new study comparing different real-life food policies to help the UK meet net zero targets
Silvia Pastorino said: "Our analyses contribute new evidence on the potential of food policies to help reach the Climate Change Committee meat & dairy reduction targets."

To meet the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommended to reduce current meat and dairy intake by 20% by 2030. Compared to plant-based, animal products have significant higher carbon emissions and land and water footprints. A shift towards plant-based diets, rich in fruit and vegetables, nuts and wholegrains would also reduce the risk of mortality and chronic disease morbidity, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Although red meat intake has declined in recent years, consumption of fruit, vegetables and other healthy plant foods is still low particularly among low-income households. There is an urgent need to implement policies that help accelerate existing trends in meat reduction while facilitating a shift towards healthier and more sustainable diets.

In our new study published in Global Sustainability, we aimed to model the environmental and nutritional impact of meat and dairy reduction policies for average and low income UK households. We used purchasing data from the Family Food module of the Living Costs and Food Survey (LCF), UK price elasticities and willingness to pay studies, to model four scenarios: a) Business as usual scenario following existing trends in consumption; b) two fiscal policy scenarios combining either a 10% meat and dairy tax and a 10% fruit and vegetable subsidy, or a 20% tax and 20% subsidy on the same foods; c) and an ‘innovation scenario’ substituting traditionally-produced meat and dairy with plant-based alternatives and animal proteins produced in laboratories.   

The results showed that making meat and dairy alternatives affordable and acceptable to consumers in terms of taste could lead to greater meat and dairy reduction (the equivalent to about one large steak or three medium sausages a week), lower GHG emissions and lower water use than applying fiscal disincentives. However, policies that subsidise fruit and vegetables would lead to a greater increase in their purchase (equivalent to about a quarter of a portion a day) compared with a scenario where animal food is substituted with either plant-based analogues (largely cereal, soya and pulses-based) or laboratory produced animal foods.

Our analyses contribute new evidence on the potential of food policies to help reach the CCC meat and dairy reduction targets. If no action is taken and current trends continue into the future, the UK food sector will not be able to meet its zero net emission targets, and so policies such as the ones modelled here should be given urgent consideration.

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