Environment

Government has 'no intention' of telling public to eat less meat in battle against climate change

The public won't be encouraged to eat less meat for the planet, George Eustice has said - despite calls from the government's climate advisers.

Environment Minister George Eustice

The Environment Minister said the government would not "lecture" people on eating less meat. Image: ParliamentTV

The government has “no intention” of encouraging the public to eat less meat to combat climate change, Environment Minister George Eustice has said. 

The science around the environmental impacts of meat-eating is “disputed” and the government would not “lecture” people on consuming less, Eustice told a Lords select committee on climate change.

His comments stand in contrast to recommendations from the government’s own climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with both groups saying a reduction in meat and dairy consumption is necessary to limit global warming. 

In a recent report to the government, the CCC said meat and dairy consumption must fall by 20 per cent by 2030 and 35 per cent by 2050 in order to achieve the UK’s net zero target. 

Meat and dairy products are often considered harmful to the planet due to the industrialisation of their production, rather than the fact of eating the products themselves.

Producing meat and dairy products on a mass scale generates large quantities of methane via cattle, while deforestation is linked to the rearing of livestock as forests are cleared to house and feed animals. 

The Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee has been exploring the issue of mobilising public action on climate change through behavioural change, with high-carbon activities like flying and meat-eating in focus throughout the inquiry. 

Several witnesses have told the committee that encouraging the public to eat less meat and dairy is a useful way to reduce carbon emissions at an individual level. 

When questioned about the government’s plans to encourage less meat consumption, however, Eustice said: “The government is very explicit in saying that from an environmental perspective, we’re not telling people that they shouldn’t eat meat.”

He said the government was exploring alternative ways to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture through technologies such as “methane inhibitors” for cattle. 

“This is an area where people often say ‘there’s no technological answer, therefore people just have to eat less meat. I think that’s wrong. There are very legitimate arguments that say that livestock are part of a healthy environment, and there are technological answers too,” Eustice said.

He said technological advances were “probably a better way to tackle the challenge than just trying to lecture people about meat eating, and the government’s got no intention of doing that beyond the eat well plate that’s [been] long-established”.

Eustice suggested the public could be encouraged to eat meat with a lower environmental impact through labelling on food products about its provenance that people could trust.

Simon Billing, executive director at the Eating Better Alliance said:

“Report after report by the world’s most renowned scientists have all reached the same conclusion that we won’t reach net zero without changing what we eat, in particular how we produce and consume meat. The government’s own advisers, the Climate Change Committee has set targets for meat reduction, recognising that livestock agriculture is a big emitter of greenhouse gases.

“The government needs to step up and take food out of the “too-hard” box and should use this “perfect storm” of rising food costs and global food insecurity to do things differently.”

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
Rewilding is bringing creatures great and small back to UK – but a lack of funds is holding it back
Rewilding

Rewilding is bringing creatures great and small back to UK – but a lack of funds is holding it back

Green transition: Help retrain gas workers or risk 'cliff edge' job losses, government warned
Green transition

Green transition: Help retrain gas workers or risk 'cliff edge' job losses, government warned

How London's history-making beavers are adapting to life in the capital: 'They have a right to exist'
beavers
Environment

How London's history-making beavers are adapting to life in the capital: 'They have a right to exist'

Shell just made £6.2bn in quarterly profit. Here's how that money could be better spent
Environment

Shell just made £6.2bn in quarterly profit. Here's how that money could be better spent

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know