UK supermarkets accused of over-producing low-quality meat

Anti-hunger charity Feedback is calling for big-name UK supermarkets such as Iceland, Lidl and Asda to offer "less and better" meat, in order to minimise their climate impacts.

Iceland was criticised by Feedback for failing to stock any meat sourced through sustainable certification schemes

Iceland was criticised by Feedback for failing to stock any meat sourced through sustainable certification schemes

Specifically, the organisation would like to see all British supermarkets pledge to halve their overall meat sales by 2030 and to shift the meat products they stock to pasture-fed alternatives.

The call to action comes in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) landmark report on land use, which found that almost one-quarter (23%) of human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are accounted for by land use. Of these emissions, the majority are accounted for by two trends – habitat destruction and livestock.

GHG emissions associated with the human consumption of meat and dairy are currently estimated to account for 15% of the world’s carbon budget. But with the global population set to surpass 9.5 billion by mid-century, that figure is set to hit 80%.

With this in mind, Feedback is arguing, through its “meat us halfway campaign”, that supermarkets could play a key role in transforming global food systems to prioritise the low-carbon transition.

The campaign is centred around a scorecard which ranks 10 of the UK’s largest supermarket chains on 24 metrics, taking in their efforts to stock meat-free alternatives, source through certification schemes and implement corporate responsibility policies around animal welfare, carbon reduction and habitat preservation in the meat supply chain.

Data to compile the scorecard, which gives retailers a percentage score based on all these factors combined, was taken from publicly available information on corporate policy as well as public data from organisations such as FAIRR, the Food Foundation and the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Feedback also sent “mystery shoppers” to the supermarkets to see whether meat-free alternatives and products sourced through certification schemes were given prominent shelf positions, and how much of the overall offer they accounted for.

Waitrose & Partners and Marks & Spencer (M&S) were jointly ranked highest, each receiving 63 points out of a possible 100. M&S notably unveiled its range of 50+ plant-based products, Plant Kitchen, in January, and uses a digital map to help customers trace all of its beef.  

The worst-performing supermarket, meanwhile, was Iceland. Feedback criticised the retailer for failing to publicly disclose a sustainability policy on animal feed and claims that it offers no meat products certified through schemes such as free-range or RSPCA-assured.

Other supermarkets assessed were Tesco and Sainsbury’s (both 50%), Co-op (46%), Aldi UK (36%), Morrisons (33%), Asda (299%) and Lidl (26%).

“Whilst there are signs of progress for some stores, most of them have a long way to go,” scorecard author Phil Holtam said.

“Supermarkets, as the main provider of groceries for the majority of UK households, have a vital role to play for dietary change to happen. By giving customers access to better quality meat and dairy produce, as well as offering meat-alternatives to help people reduce their meat and dairy consumption, they could make a real difference.”

Food for thought

Feedback’s call to action comes at a time when meat-free diets are becoming more pervasive for a number of reasons, including concerns over environmental degradation, social challenges and animal rights abuses in supply chains.

The number of people identifying as vegan in the UK has increased by 350% since 2008, according to research by the Vegan Society. Similar trends in consumption have been tracked across the world, with veganism having grown by 600% in the US over the past three years and the amount of Portuguese citizens identifying as vegetarian and vegan having quadrupled since 2008.

In China, meanwhile, the government is encouraging citizens to halve their meat consumption – a recommendation that has led experts to predict that the nation’s vegan market will grow by 17% by 2020. And in Hong Kong, 22% of the population is already practising some form of a plant-based diet.

Back in the UK. Goldsmiths, University of London, made headlines this month over new warden Frances Corner’s decision to ban beef from campus outlets. The move was made as part of a wider ‘Climate Emergency’ declaration, which has also seen the University set a carbon-neutral ambition for 2025.

Corner’s decision was widely welcomed by members of the green economy – but UK farmers have begun to argue that “less and better” beef would be a more nutritious and climate-friendly option. Specifically, they criticised her for focusing on the global meat production system, rather than the national industry.

Sarah George



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