PM’s climate plan says UK can lead world in ‘alternative proteins’

Farming bosses have vented their fury at Boris Johnson for urging Britain to go vegetarian in his desperate bid to reduce emissions.

Livestock groups blasted the Prime Minister for not considering the impact on people’s long term health by trying to get them to eat ‘alternative proteins’.

They warned the government and policymakers not to ‘undermine trust in British food’ as there was a chance after Brexit and Covid to push a positive message.

Mr Johnson said the UK could become a world leader in the production of ‘alternative proteins’ as part of a global push to eat less meat.

The Prime Minister today published his eagerly-awaited Net Zero Strategy which sets out how the nation will reach a target of net zero emissions by 2050. 

Food production is one of the areas targeted by ministers and the document suggests non-meat products could soon be a boom industry.

It states it will ‘take time’ for so-called ‘alternative proteins’ to secure a ‘significant market share’.

But it predicts this increase will ‘align with consumer dietary trends’ and the UK’s ‘lively and growing domestic market’ could then grow ‘to become another great British food export that competes internationally’.

It comes after the publication of the independent National Food Strategy report earlier this year which called for a major reduction in eating meat.

It said meat consumption needs to be cut by 30 per cent by 2030 to reduce methane emissions from cattle and sheep that help drive global warming, and to free up land for absorbing carbon and boosting nature. 

The Prime Minister today published his eagerly-awaited Net Zero Strategy which sets out how the nation will reach a target of net zero emissions by 2050

It states that it will 'take time' for so-called 'alternative proteins' to secure a 'significant market share'

It states that it will ‘take time’ for so-called ‘alternative proteins’ to secure a ‘significant market share’

From insects to lab grown meat: What are ‘alternative proteins’?

What are they?

Alternative proteins are one of the most debated subjects in the food industry over the last few years.

They refer to sources of protein which do not have to be got from an animal – either through meat or milk.

Some come from insects, some from plants and others are grown in a lab.

Which are the most popular?

Plant based protein is by far the most popular. They make up more than 60 per cent of the non-meat market.

Within this group, soy is the most common to be eaten but it is losing its popularity due to allergens.

Pea has rocketed in favour while other new sources include fava beans, chickpeas, chia and quinoa.

Why do people switch to ‘alternative proteins’?

Most people make the leap due to health reasons.

But others opt for them for what they consider to be ethical reasons, with animals not having to be killed or milked to get the nutrients.

Health reasons include muscle building, muscle maintained, weight loss and weight maintenance.

How many have already made the leap?

More than a fifth – 22 per cent – of the UK have suggested they eat more protein from alternative sources than from meat.

For Millennials and iGeneration this rockets to 25 per cent.

Source: Nottingham University 

Chief Executive of the National Sheep Association Phil Stocker said: ‘While much of COP26 will headline on global warming and nature recovery, NSA has consistently said the sustainability of the planet needs to be measured on a far wider set of metrics.

‘We have to work harder to consider the interrelation and trade-offs of everything we do.

‘For example, it is easy to say let’s stop eating meat and wind down the UK’s livestock industry, but do we really know what impact that would have on peoples’ long term health?

‘Do we know what impact a massive increase in the production of protein crops would have on land-use across the world? Or how the loss of grasslands in the UK would affect our wildlife?

‘Britain cannot adopt demanding standards for environmental protection and animal welfare but simply allow food to be imported that doesn’t meet our exacting standards, as then, on a global scale, we achieve nothing.

‘Things may look fine within our horizons, but how about beyond them? Out of sight out of mind?’

The NSA said the trust in British food must not be undermined by the Government or policymakers.

It said Brexit and Covid had led people to value what they eat more, which the group says is an opportunity to on the support for good animal welfare.

Mr Stocker added: ‘We can only be a world leader in raising standards, crucial if we are to meet COP26 interests, if we negatively affect things across the globe.’

Christopher Dodds, executive secretary of the Livestock Auctioneers’ Association, told MailOnline: ‘A balanced diet includes the consumption of red meat.’

He added: ‘It’s wrong for [Boris] to say it’s not without understanding what people eat.’

Mr Johnson’s Net Zero Strategy states: ‘A significant market share for innovations such as alternative proteins will take time to materialise, but will align with consumer dietary trends, and the UK already has a lively and growing domestic market that could grow to become another great British food export that competes internationally. 

‘These and other novel methods of food production could create significant opportunities to further promote high quality British food internationally.’  

Tim Bonner Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance said: ‘The vast bulk of people enjoy getting their protein from sustainably produced red meat as part of a balanced diet and emphasis should be on differentiating between British farmers who produce delicious, sustainable, grass-fed read meat to that of imported meat from less sustainable systems. 

‘The farming industry and farmers on the ground here must be included and part of the solution to achieving environmental targets set by Whitehall.

‘It is after all these custodians and a vibrant market for home produce that matters if we are to continue preserving our countryside for future generations.’ 

Henry Dimbleby, the Government’s food tsar, published his National Food Strategy report in July. 

That document warned that ‘our eating habits are destroying the environment… and this in turn threatens our food security’.

The strategy said the farming sector will have to become carbon neutral if the UK is to hit its wider target of net zero emissions by 2050.

It said the UK ‘must invest in the latest science’ in order to ‘increase yields without polluting the land’ and to ‘develop new proteins’. 

It warned: ‘Careful livestock farming can be a boon to the environment, but our current appetite for meat is unsustainable: 85 per cent of total land that produces UK food is used to graze livestock or produce crops to feed to animals. We need some of that land back.’

The report said its stated aim of a 30 per cent reduction in meat consumption over 10 years is ‘significant, and it won’t be easy to achieve’.

A ‘meat tax’ has been floated as one possible way to change people’s eating habits but the food tsar’s report said ‘this would be politically impossible’.

Instead, it argued the Government ‘would be better off nudging consumers into changing their habits while investing in methane-reduction projects and the development of alternative proteins’.

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