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Despite environmental claims against beef, the Sustainable Food Trust argues that these British red meats could become the backbone of a sustainable diet in the future in its latest report, Feeding Britain from the Ground Up.
As fine food retailers champion high-quality, sustainably produced meat products, this spells good news for indies over the multiples.
A focus on regenerative farming
The report is part of a plea for the UK farming industry to make significant moves away from factory farming and focus on regenerative agriculture.
The war in Ukraine and subsequent spiralling prices of fuel and fertiliser and shortages of vegetable oils have shown that British food security is of the upmost importance, and regenerative farming could be the solution.
As Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, explained, “With food prices soaring, we can’t afford to stay locked into a food system that’s not fit for purpose. Far too much of the food we eat is produced in ways that are fuelling the climate crisis and driving catastrophic nature loss, yet failing to deliver affordable, healthy food for all.
“To make our food system truly shock-resistant we need to accelerate a shift to sustainable production, including rethinking the way we are using huge quantities of the UK’s most productive land to grow food for livestock instead of people.
“UK governments can futureproof our food and bring huge benefits for nature and climate at the same time by ramping up support for farmers to transform our landscapes, making space for nature in farms and forests, fields and fens.”
Speaking to Speciality Food, Patrick Holden, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, added, “Achieving the transition to sustainable and regenerative farming will be a major challenge, but doing so would allow us to harness the potential of farming to help address climate change, reverse biodiversity loss, reduce diet-related disease and improve food security.
“In order to realise our vision of a sustainable food future, we will need to adapt our tastes and our diets, to support the food products from the farming systems which will best suit our climate, and our landscape.
“Our report shows that if this transition were enacted, current levels of food security could be maintained and perhaps even improved, provided we ate differently, ate less (in line with EU dietary guidelines) and wasted less food.”
Less but better meat
The Sustainable Food Trust states in the new report that “As part of the transition to sustainable food systems, we will need to move away from the consumption of intensively reared, grain-fed meat, milk and eggs. Instead, 100% grass-fed and mainly grass-fed beef, lamb and dairy, would form an important part of our diets, becoming the new staple livestock products.”
In doing this, “Roughly the same amount of UK-produced beef and lamb would be available as today, and about 30% less dairy, all produced from high welfare, mainly pasture-based systems. In contrast, a transition to sustainable farming would result in significantly less chicken, eggs and pork – with production coming from free-range systems with high standards of welfare.”
In fact, in the Sustainable Food Trust’s vision, the amount of UK-produced chicken available in our diets would reduce by roughly 75%, from 50 grams per person per day to 13 grams. This would equate to eating, on average, no more than one breast fillet of chicken every other week.
To make up the rest of a sustainable diet, the nationwide transition to sustainable farming would lead to increased availability of UK-grown seasonal vegetables, fruit and pulses, and roughly the same amount of grain-based foods, but from a greater variety of cereals including more oats and rye.
How indies can champion sustainable farming
Independent fine food retailers are in a unique position to champion sustainable meat products from regenerative and pasture farms, highlighting the need for better quality meat.
Vicki Hird, head of the sustainable farming campaign at Sustain, told Speciality Food, “Local food retailers can make a real difference by promoting organic and pasture-based meat and dairy and helping consumers and the public understand why it is better to eat this than cheap intensively farmed meats, especially pork and chicken products.
“It is abundantly clear from the evidence and made clear in this new report that we need all farmers to get on the ladder to more agroecological and regenerative farming and that needs action from the government but also the supply chains and consumers too – buying less but better and so helping farmers move towards really great meat production by getting a fair reward from responsive customers.”.
Patrick concluded, “There is a large and growing desire among many to support sustainable and ethical food production, however, most people remain confused about how they should harness their purchasing power to be part of the solution. The food sector would need to provide the tools and information to enable the public to make informed choices - and this applies to the fine food sector too.
“Retailers have a major role to play in ensuring producers are paid a fair price for their products, and that consumers are given full transparency about where and how the food they purchase has been produced. Supply-chain transparency and commitments around sustainable sourcing would be key to this.”