Knowledge for better food systems

Advocating for sustainable and healthy diets; the Eating Better Campaign

 

In this new edition of the FCRN interview series we talk to Sue Dibb, coordinator of the Eating Better campaign, about sustainable diets and specifically a new campaigning initiative trying to address the impacts of meat consumption on human wellbeing and the planet.

Eating Better works to encourage dietary change, focusing mainly on the consumption of meat in the UK. The campaign is a collaboration between a number of UK based organizations representing various sectors, all addressing the issue of sustainable diets from different perspectives such as health, environment, social justice, animal welfare, development, faith and also from a consumer viewpoint.  

If you want to know more and stay up to date with the campaign, you can read more on their official website and download the recent press release from this page. You can also follow them on Twitter here.

Sue Dibb, Coordinator of Eating Better can also be contacted by e-mail: sue@eating-better.org

For more on sustainable diets you can also go to the FCRN research library collection on Consumption or Meat or you can start a discussion and ask our members for more specific information and comments in our Member forum on Sustainable Healthy Diets.

1. Can you describe what the Eating Better campaign is about?

Eating Better: for a fair, green, healthy future is a new alliance launched today (1 July) working together to help people move towards eating less meat and more food that is better for us and the planet, as part of the vital task of creating sustainable food and farming systems.

Eating Better aims to raise awareness of how simple changes, such as eating ‘less and better’ meat and more plant-based foods in high meat consuming countries like the UK, can have positive benefits for public health, climate change, the environment and animal welfare, as well as feeding the world more fairly.

Eating Better aims to encourage a culture where we place greater value on the food we eat, the animals that provide it and the people who produce it. Eating Better supports farmers who produce meat in a sustainable way. Moderating our meat consumption – whether red, white or processed meats – while also choosing ‘better’ meat that is naturally-fed, has a known provenance and is produced to high animal welfare, environmental and quality standards can help support farmers without being more expensive for consumers.  A ‘less but better’ approach to meat with meals based around a greater variety of plant-based foods will ensure healthy, balanced diets that are better for the planet and for fairer food systems too.

2. Who are the supporters and organisations involved?

Eating Better has been developed in consultation with a broad range of organisations, including those with health, environment, resource use, social justice, animal welfare, consumer, international development and faith perspectives. At the time of its launch Eating Better is supported by twenty-five national organisations and partner networks including FCRN, WWF-UK, British Dietetic Association, Food Ethics Council, RSPB, UK Health Forum, Food for Life Partnership, Sustain and Friends of the Earth.

While our starting point is the UK, we are developing links elsewhere in Europe and globally and a number of our supporting organisations and partner networks are already working internationally. We’d like to learn from and inspire other initiatives elsewhere in the world.

We are also inviting support from academics and other experts, food producers and businesses that support our vision and mission. Our messages of support already include celebrity chef and campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Professor John Webster, Professor Tim Lang, Dr Mike Rayner as well as US author and food activist, Michael Pollan. We welcome further messages of support from academics and other commentators.

3. What activities will the campaign focus on?

Our mission is threefold:

  • Demonstrate coherent cross-sectoral leadership on lower meat consumption as part of healthy, sustainable diets.
  • Make change happen at the level of government policy, business practice and consumer behaviour, by developing ‘asks’ and catalysing lobbying muscle.
  • Stimulating long-term cultural shifts by devising new ways of framing the ‘eat less meat’ message that are compelling and inclusive. 

The launch of our website and social media platform aim to raise awareness, build support, encourage dialogue and catalyse action. We are inviting guest blog contributors and welcome ideas from FCRN members – please get in touch.

4. Why is this initiative important, what do you aim to achieve?

The way we feed ourselves is unsustainable. The challenges of obesity, rising food prices, degraded and destroyed ecosystems, waste, animal suffering, climate change, pollution, inequalities and unfair trading systems are the connected impacts of our unsustainable patterns of food consumption and production.  Feeding a growing and more affluent global population healthily, fairly and sustainably simply isn’t possible unless we make significant changes. 

We know there are no magic bullets. Reducing food waste and producing food with less impact on the environment are both essential but not sufficient.  Modifying our eating patterns must be a priority too. Given the impacts of high meat consumption for health and the environment, one vital, simple step as part of this transition is for people in high consuming countries like the UK to eat less meat – whether red, white or processed meats - and to eat a greater variety of plant-based foods. 

Our aim is to increase awareness, lobby for policies and practices from business and government that support this dietary transition and create long-term cultural shifts in our consumption patterns, in which eating less, and better, meat becomes the norm.  This can include eating more meat-free meals, eating meat in smaller portion sizes, using small quantities of meat to add flavor or reserving meat for special occasions.

5. What will be the proof that you have achieved change/improvement in the above?

In our view, measures that would demonstrate achievements include first of all year-on-year increased awareness and positive change in attitudes and behaviours of key audiences, including the public, towards reducing meat consumption as part of sustainable diets. Secondly the ‘sensitivity’ of reduced meat consumption in political, industry and public spheres would have diminished and become the new norm. Thirdly governments would have strategies to reduce meat consumption, encourage sustainable diets and support producers of ‘better’ meat. As a fourth indicator we hope food retailers, manufacturers, caterers, producers industry and processers will see business opportunities in eat less and better meat. And lastly an increase in research funding to address sustainable food consumption would be a proof that we have had an impact and created more awareness.

We wish to connect with researchers working in these areas, particularly behaviour change. 

 

6. How does the campaign define sustainable diets?  

Eating Better’s vision is a world in which everyone values and has access to healthy, humane and sustainable diets. High meat consuming countries and individuals have reduced their consumption in line with health recommendations and GHG reduction targets.  Meat is produced humanely and sustainably, its production provides sustainable livelihoods and environmental benefits, and it is consumed in quantities consistent with good health and global resource use capacity.

Definitions for sustainable diets are starting to emerge here and in other countries.  Rather than create another ‘definition’, Eating Better wants to see governments and the European Commission work collaborative across health, environment, education and international development departments, and with experts to provide integrated advice (for public and food chain) on healthy, sustainable diets that includes advice on less and better meat consumption.

7. What role does dietary change play in reducing climate impacts from the food system? 

Globally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that livestock contributes up to 18% to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. When the impacts of livestock production on land-use change is taken into account, WWF and the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) estimate that land-use change accounts for as much as 40% of the emissions driven by UK food consumption. 

To meet the target of reducing GHG emissions by 80% by 2050, the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change proposes changes in consumption towards foods that are less emissions intensive and suggests that a reduction in meat and dairy consumption would reduce our emissions far more effectively than with technological fixes.

Yet awareness of the links between what we eat and impacts on the climate are low, compared to the impacts of energy and transport.  Dietary change offers a simple, low cost contribution to reducing climate impacts from the food system that has largely been unexplored within policies to date.

8. What are the challenges of implementing this type of campaign? 

Talking about food consumption, and particularly meat consumption, has been a delicate issue for politicians and the food and farming industry alike. Discussion of ‘less’ consumption can appear at odds with the dominant ‘growth’ policy mantra. Furthermore politicians are wary of being seen to be ‘telling people what to do’.

But times are changing and Eating Better aims to provide a stronger mandate for policy makers and businesses. Just last month the MPs on the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee recognised that one important element to address global food security is for people in Britain to move towards eating meat less often and for meat to be produced in ways that have less impact on the environment, such as pasture-fed. 

Eating Better is not anti-meat or anti-farmer. With over 40% of the meat we consume imported to the UK, there is scope to reduce our consumption without reducing UK production.  Choosing UK-produced meat with a known provenance – whether local, regional or national - could help reduce long and complex supply chains and support UK producers and provide consumer benefits.  There are also benefits to UK horticulture industries of a shift to more plant-based diets.

A further challenge is the need to overcome institutional barriers and for greater collaborative working, across government departments and within academic institutions to bring together health, environment and other sustainability perspectives. 

Despite the major changes to our diets over the last fifty years in countries like the UK (and the dietary transition now taking place in developing countries), these trends have largely been in the wrong direction for health and sustainability. The challenge that Eating Better aims to address is creating the right enabling policy and business practice environment, to make the transition to healthy sustainable diets, the easy choices for consumers.