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New report reveals urgent need to address climate crisis by cutting processed meat

It's Time to Act on Processed Meat, released by the Eating Better Alliance, calls for immediate action to reduce processed meat consumption for health and the environment

Burger. Credit: Pexels

Burger. Credit: Pexels

The food system is a major contributor to the climate and nature emergency, with livestock responsible for 15% global greenhouse gas emissions and a major cause of habitat destruction. The UK Committee on Climate Change calls for a 35% to 50% reduction in meat consumption by 2050 to achieve our climate change targets and limit global warming to 1.5°C. 

As the repert outlines, shifting to a diet lower in meat and dairy has the potential to reduce food system emissions by up to 80% by 2050. It argues that the reduction or elimination of processed meat offers the most opportunities for health co-benefits, due to the significant health damage these foods cause. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) considers processed meat a Group 1 carcinogen (meaning it can cause cancer), with even small amounts (under 50g per day) increasing the risk of bowel cancer. Cancer Research UK estimates that 13% of the 42,000 new cases of bowel cancer every year are caused by eating too much processed meat. Processed meat includes sausages, bacon, ham, salami, smoked, cured or canned meat such as corned beef, sliced chicken and turkey, burgers, hot dogs, and other reconstituted meat products.

With processed meat currently accounting for 30% of meat intake in the UK, the report calls for urgent action, including:

  • Revising national dietary guidelines to recommend reducing and avoiding processed meat (as other countries have done)
  • Setting standards for public sector meals – for example in England as part of the Government Buying Standards – to limit servings of processed meat, and for local authorities to do the same for meals not covered by the Government Buying Standards
  • Major retailers should reduce the amount of processed meat they sell, including tackling marketing and advertising of these products
  • Processed meat should be included in new legislation to ban promotions on unhealthy foods
  • Doctors and other trusted health organisations should advise against eating processed meat

Ruth Westcott, climate and nature emergency coordinator at Sustain said:

"We have no hope of tackling the climate and nature crises unless healthy and climate-friendly food is more accessible and affordable. Guaranteeing great school and hospital food and limiting advertising of the most unhealthy and unsustainable foods can be done quickly, and at minimal cost, with huge benefits to both the planet and people. This report serves as a call to action for organisations and policymakers to do so.”

To access the full report and learn more about its findings, visit the Eating Better Alliance.

Published Wednesday 20 September 2023

Food for the Planet: Food for the Planet is helping local authorities, businesses and organisations take simple actions to tackle the climate and nature emergency through food.

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