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Will we still be eating meat in 2050?

Last Monday was heralded as World Meat Day and yet again we were urged to give up meat for the day as ‘one small step for our planet’.

'World Meat Free Day' was yet another initiative encouraging us all to relinquish our more carnivorous ways and, according to information from several of the meat industry’s adversaries, many of us are already on a headlong journey to a vegetarian lifestyle.

A recent blog on Linda McCartney Foods website ('Veggies take root in Britain') predicted that 24% of the population will be vegetarians by 2041.

In February this year, the media gave significant exposure to research published by the Vegetarian Society, based on findings from the NatCen British Social Attitudes study, indicating that 44% of the population either do not eat meat, have stopped eating meat in the last year, have eaten less meat in the last year or are considering stopping or reducing meat eating in the future.

The report also stated that just 3% of the population are either ‘vegetarian’ and ‘vegan’. The author of this blog also happens to be a long term meat industry ‘watcher’ and, if his memory serves him well, this three per cent figure has remained fairly constant in the last 20 years or so.

In May, the Vegan Society proclaimed that veganism was “one of Britain’s fastest growing lifestyle movements”, and the number of vegans has tripled in the last ten years, now accounting for “at least 1.05% of the 15 and over population”. They also more or less concurred with the figures issued by the Vegetarian Society, stating that 3.25% of the population were either vegan or vegetarian.

My elementary mathematical and deductive skills tell me that if the overall numbers of vegetarians or vegans have remained fairly constant in the last decade, then, assuming the Vegan Society’s figures are correct, the main development which has occurred is that a significant number of vegetarians have converted to a vegan lifestyle – which, in itself, hardly constitutes a devastating threat to meat industry interests.

In any case, all the research quoted above is based on claimed rather than actual behaviour.

If one looks at actual behaviour, probably the most reliable measure of overall consumption of meat is the crude figure of the net supplies of meat arriving on the domestic market, divided by the estimated population, to provide a figure of average per capita consumption. This approach will take into account meat eaten in-home and ‘out of home’, as well as fresh meat, processed meat and meat used in ready meals, either as a major or minor ingredient.

AHDB data shows that average per capita consumption of beef, lamb, pig meat and poultry was just under 80 kg in the year 2000. In the year 2014 it was just under 80 kg per capita.

During this period, poultry consumption increased, consumption of lamb declined and consumption of beef and pig meat remained fairly steady over the period.

So, the ‘what’ and the ‘where’ of meat consumption is continuously evolving. In particular, more processed meat has replaced traditional ‘meat and two veg’ meals in the home, and more meat is now eaten out of home. But there has been virtually no change in the average amount of meat consumed per individual.

But, lest we are accused of complacency, most in the meat industry would concede the likelihood that in future a significant number of our customers may choose to eat more ‘meat free’ meals and meals containing less meat. This will inevitably affect the total amount of meat consumed overall.

However, I would hope that our adversaries would also concede that this development may be linked as much to the evolution of new tastes and dietary preferences as opposed to a considered choice to eat less meat or avoid meat altogether.

For the moment, my bold prediction is that, in 2041, the number of committed vegans and vegetarians will be much closer to the 3 per cent of the population which it is today, than the 24 per cent recently predicted by one of our adversaries.

15th June 2016