Is meat facing an existential threat from the vegan movement?
If we thought that 2018 was bad for attacks on the meat industry, we can only, as an industry, expect 2019 to be even more challenging. Meat eating is under attack almost on a daily basis on the grounds of either health and nutrition, the environmental impact or animal welfare.
Many of these criticisms are inaccurate or misinformed and often lack evidence to back them up. However they get media coverage because encouraging a vegetarian diet and criticising meat eating are very much in fashion at the moment.
In their enthusiasm to jump onto the bandwagon of criticism, people often conflate the separate issues of where and how meat is produced in order to enhance their commentary. The result is that a lot of the information put out about meat eating and the impact of meat production on the environment is incredibly confusing to the person on the street. With that in mind, it was great to hear Minette Batters the NFU President at the Oxford farming conference highlighting the dreadful reporting of food systems where global figures are used to criticise our local production.
How the industry reacts to all this needs considerable thought and coordination, which, unfortunately, is not there at the moment. We cannot as an industry just keep claiming that our critics are ‘talking nonsense’ and react to these challenges and issues in a piecemeal fashion.
Instead, we need to build a body of clear, accurate evidence from both sides of the debate. We may also have to accept that some of the criticism is justified and demonstrate that we are prepared to change where logic and evidence suggest a better path. At the moment it feels as though the industry is burying its head in the sand and hoping it will weather the storm rather than working together to develop a coordinated approach.
The obvious organisation to coordinate this response, gather solid evidence, develop the positive stories, and run a coordinated campaign to help ensure we maintain a viable UK livestock industry that is producing meat in a sustainable way is the AHDB. They have the funding and they have the expertise. But, we need them to recognise and acknowledge that this has got to become a key priority for the industry and then channel the right funds and activity into making it happen.