Article

UK Food Tsar Shines Light On Politically Sensitive Issue Of Meat Consumption

Fitch Solutions / Agribusiness / United Kingdom / Wed 24 Aug, 2022

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Key View

  • On June 13 2022, the UK Government published a new food strategy intended to support the UK’s agribusiness sector, to enhance national food security (in light of the pressures applied to the UK’s food system by the Covid pandemic), to ensure that a healthy, varied diet is both affordable and sustainable, and to develop export opportunities while preserving consumer choice through imports.
  • One element of the independent National Food Strategy to be excluded from the subsequent government strategy was its call for the UK’s meat consumption to fall by 30% by 2032 (when compared to 2019), included as part of a wider analysis of the changes needed to be made to the typical UK diet should existing government commitments related to health, climate and nature be met.
  • The environmental impact of livestock farming on the environment arises in two principal forms: directly, in the form of enteric methane emissions and, indirectly, as a result of land-use conversion, either to grassland for livestock grazing or to cropland to produce animal feed inputs.
  • We at Fitch Solutions do not expect that mandatory measures to reduce meat consumption will be introduced through the foreseeable future.

On June 13 2022, the UK Government published a new food strategy intended to support the UK’s agribusiness sector, to enhance national food security (in light of the pressures applied to the UK’s food system by the Covid pandemic), to ensure that a healthy, varied diet is both affordable and sustainable, and to develop export opportunities while preserving consumer choice through imports. The new strategy was designed in response to the conclusions of the government-sponsored National Food Strategy, led by Henry Dimbleby, a restaurateur, and has since been criticised as a ‘missed opportunity to make a significant difference to public health and to reduce food poverty’ by the Association of UK Dieticians and of ‘fall[ing] well short of what is required to tackle polluting emissions from agriculture, land use and food production, and create a sustainable food system’ by the UK Climate Change Committee. Conversely, the strategy was welcomed by the UK Food & Drink Federation, who described it as ‘an endorsement of the success and centrality of the UK’s food industry, from farming to manufacturing, retail and hospitality’.

One element of the independent National Food Strategy to be excluded from the subsequent government strategy was its call for the UK’s meat consumption to fall by 30% by 2032 (when compared to 2019), included as part of a wider analysis of the changes needed to be made to the typical UK diet should existing government commitments related to health, climate, and nature be met. Quoted in the Guardian newspaper on August 16 2022, Henry Dimbleby, the report’s author, stated that to fail on reducing meat consumption would be ‘to fail to meet [the UK’s] biodiversity or climate goals’ while he also highlighted that political inertia in the face of tackling the sustainability concerns associated with the production and consumption of meat is both a global, rather than UK-specific, concern as well as one that faces significant public opposition, founded on cultural grounds as well as the unpopularity of additional levies on meat and meat products in the context of a sustained period of rising food prices and a wider increase in the cost of living.

Mixed Opinions On Policies To Reduce Meat Consumption

Survey Of The UK Public

Source: National Food Strategy Report, Fitch Solutions

The environmental impact of livestock farming on the environment arises in two principal forms: directly, in the form of enteric methane emissions from either manure or gastroenteric releases produced as part of the digestive process in ruminant animals (that account for 30-35% of global anthropogenic methane emissions) and, indirectly, as a result of land-use conversion, either to grassland for livestock grazing or to cropland to produce animal feed inputs, such as corn and soybean. According to emissions data from the UN FAO, average annual UK emissions generated from agriculture and forest land in the 2010s amounted to 21,929 kilotonnes (kts) of CO2-equivalent (CO2-eq.) of which enteric fermentation accounted for 108.6% and methane use (including application to soils, left on pasture, and management) accounted for a further 38.9% (these figures exceed 100% due to the net negative emission function of forestland, which on average sequestered 17,908 kt of CO2-eq. per year in the UK in the 2010s). This reflects the emission-intensive nature of livestock farming, the CO2-eq. emissions that result from the production of 100g of beef protein (a global mean value of 49.89kg) are equal in size to the amount generated producing 251g of lamb and mutton protein, 875g of poultry protein, 1,848g of cereal grains protein, 2,520g of tofu protein, and 11,339g of pea protein.

Livestock Farming Is Emission-Intensive...

CO2 Equivalents Per 100G Of Protein Output

Source: Our World In Data, Fitch Solutions

On a global basis, 67.1% of all agricultural land is non-cropland, with the majority used for livestock grazing, and if cropland used to produce animal feed is factored into an evaluation of the land use for livestock, the figure rises to almost 80% - in the UK, the figure is closer to 85% but the import of animal feed inputs from elsewhere implies that the UK’s livestock ‘footprint’ is likely even larger. The disproportionate land use required by livestock farming is reflected in the land use required to produce 100g of livestock protein relative to other protein sources: according to an academic meta-analysis 38,7000 farms, lamb and mutton require 184.8 metres squared (sqm) (per 100g of protein output), beef requires 163.6 sqm, and pork 10.7 sqm while nuts require 7.9 sqm, peas 3.4 sqm, wheat and rye 3.2 sqm, and tofu 2.2 sqm. The impact of livestock grazing on soil quality, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and other relevant factors is disputed and it seems probable that the impact is highly sensitive to the particular livestock in question, the relative intensity of the grazing, the local conditions and type of land use prevalent prior to grazing, and the management and treatment of manure.

... And Requires More Land Than Other Protein Sources

Square Metres Per 100G Of Protein Output

Source: Our World In Data, Fitch Solutions

Between 2017 and 2021, the UK imported 3.61mn metric tonnes (MT) of soya beans (HS Code: 1201) and 10.32mn MT of soya-based solids (HS Code: 2304), with the principal use for each being the manufacture of animal feed, with Brazil supplying 57.3% of the former (equivalent to 2.07mn MT) and Argentina 53.3% of the latter (5.49mn MT). Over the same five-year period, the average soybean yield achieved in Brazil was 3.46MT per hectare (HA) and so the UK’s average annual imports (414,276MT) can be linked to 119,733 HA of Brazilian croplands, in turn equivalent to about 7% of the area harvested for wheat in the UK. The UK Roundtable on Sustainable Soya estimated that almost one-third of all soybean equivalents imported into the UK in 2019 were covered by a deforestation and conversion free soya standard – if the import share representing soya considered to be sourced at a low risk of deforestation and conversion is also considered, the share rises just under two-thirds (62%). However, this does not account for the displacement effect of an increase in the demand for aggregate land use insofar as an expansion of certified acreage is compatible with a concurrent acreage expansion based on deforestation and/or conversion if overall crop consumption is rising.

Slight Upward Trend In Soya/Soya-Based Imports

UK Imports (MN Metric Tonnes)

Source: Trade Map, Fitch Solutions

At Fitch Solutions, we consider it unlikely (ie it is not included in our base case assumptions) that the UK government will make a concerted effort to reduce meat consumption via mandatory regulations in the short- and medium-term. However, a 2021 study published in the Lancet reported that average per capita meat consumption per day in the UK decreased from 103.7g in 2008 to 86.3g in 2019, driven by a 13.7g reduction in red meat consumption and a 7.0g reduction in processed meat consumption, while the consumption of white meat increased by 3.2g over the same period. In spite of this reduction, the report concluded that ‘reaching meat-consumption targets that align with sustainable diets will require a substantial acceleration of this trend’. For context, the Association of UK Dieticians, based on recommendations from Public Health England, states that the typical 19 to 64-year old male requires 55.5g of protein per day, while the typical woman in the same age bracket requires 45.0g of protein per day.

Fitch Solutions - UK Livestock Production And Consumption Forecast (2017-2026)

Indicator 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021e 2022f 2023f 2024f 2025f 2026f
Poultry consumption, kg per capita 30.7 32.3 33.0 34.4 35.2 35.6 36.3 36.9 37.5 38.0
Pork consumption, kg per capita 21.3 21.3 21.5 20.8 21.2 21.4 21.1 20.8 20.5 20.2
Beef & veal consumption, kg per capita 16.7 17.1 17.2 16.6 16.9 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.2 17.2
e/f = Fitch Solutions estimate/forecast. Source: DEFRA, Fitch Solutions

This report from Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research is a product of Fitch Solutions Group Ltd, UK Company registration number 08789939 ('FSG'). FSG is an affiliate of Fitch Ratings Inc. ('Fitch Ratings'). FSG is solely responsible for the content of this report, without any input from Fitch Ratings. Copyright © 2021 Fitch Solutions Group Limited. © Fitch Solutions Group Limited All rights reserved. 30 North Colonnade, London E14 5GN, UK.

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