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UK meat consumption drops to lowest level since records began

According to a new government report, meat consumption in Britain has dropped to its lowest level since records began.

It’s finally Friday, so let’s serve up some good news for the planet and national health, too.

It is widely known that meat production is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis. Globally, the use of cows, pigs, and other animals for food is responsible for 57 percent of agricultural emissions and 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted annually.

Cutting back on meat consumption – or adopting a fully vegetarian or vegan lifestyle – has long been touted as a way to significantly reduce our own carbon footprint. Now, new data is showing that this is finally happening in the UK, but campaigns promoting plant-based diets might not entirely be the reason why.

As meat consumption in the UK drops to its lowest level since records began in the 1970s, experts are saying that the cost of living crisis, likely paired with broader environmental and health concerns, is what is truly driving this trend.

Let’s look at some of the details of their findings.

Rising costs of meat produce

It’s no secret that simply existing has become more expensive over the last year as the UK grapples with inflation, supply chain issues, and debt caused by the pandemic.

The cost of food has not been exempt from a rise in prices, and it is causing people in the UK to rethink their dietary habits, no matter what their income.

A study published in August of last year found that 28 percent of Brits were actively cutting down on meat consumption due to the rising cost of living. Digging deeper, it found that the highest 10 percent of earners were eating 10 percent less meat per week than a decade ago, while the lowest income groups were eating 19 percent less.

Overall, the figures suggest that the average quantity of meat consumed by Brits at home dropped from 976 grams per week in 2021 to around 854 grams a week in the year leading up to March 2022.

This amount may not seem like much at face value, but it is hugely impactful when this new behaviour has been adopted by people all over the country.

In more great news for the planet, red meat – the most carbon-heavy produce of all – is disappearing from the menu in many British households. It’s no wonder, when the market price of a beef steak rose by 10 percent over the last year.

Even the cost of the global favourite (and traditionally cost-friendly) chicken has gone up by 9 percent. The same is happening with fish consumption, with people consuming 135 grams of seafood per week – down from 148 grams before the pandemic.

People aren’t just cooking less meat at home, either. They’re being mindful when eating at restaurants, ordering fewer burgers, kebabs, and meat. The data shows that takeaway meat consumption dropped significantly in the year 2021-2022, matching levels not seen since the 1980s.

This data shows that the cost of food has a massive impact on how we decide to meet our nutritional needs. But what about environmental concerns?

Ethical and environmental concerns

In the UK, around 1.2 billion land-dwelling animals are raised and killed for food each year.

The vast majority of these animals grow up inside factory farms, where they are forced to live in cramped environments and are later killed using brutal methods.

Awareness about the dark side of the meat production industry is growing thanks to popular documentaries and campaigns driven by animal rights organisations.

Not only are people beginning to ask deeper ethical questions about the journey their steak took to land on their plate, but they’re also becoming enlightened about the environmental cost that comes with eating meat.

Raising cattle and other farm animals requires having large areas of land for grazing. This need for space is driving deforestation and biodiversity loss in some of the most nature-rich areas of the world, including the Amazon rainforest.

The loss of these natural wonders is upsetting from a moral standpoint, but the consequences related to climate change are also dire. Not only does the clearing of global forests release tons of stored CO2 into our atmosphere, it also leaves us without vital carbon sinks which do the natural job of helping to keep our planet cool.

While entirely vegetarian and vegan diets haven’t been adopted across the UK by the majority, this downward trend of meat consumption is a huge win for the planet regardless of whether it is driven by cost or social and environmental concerns – or both.