We’re throwing too much away.
According to WRAP, we throw away 240,000 tonnes of beef, pork and poultry products (not including the bones or fat) annually, equivalent to 10% of purchases for those products. Meat is a major source of GHG emissions, so wasting meat-based foods is particularly wasteful and damaging compared to other foods. In the UK, livestock farming accounts for 6% of our total annual GHG emissions. Recent research has indicated that ‘cradle-to-grave’ emissions from food loss and waste are equivalent to half the total GHG emissions from food systems.
We’re eating too much meat and dairy
We also need to consider the role of overconsumption. In the UK, we eat nearly double the amount of protein we need, the majority of which comes from meat. Not only can this increase risk of a number of diseases (heart disease, diabetes and cancer), it also has significant environmental impacts and contributes to food insecurity.
Our meat heavy diets are using too much land
Globally, the majority of human-edible cereal crops are used for animal feed (88% of soy and 53% of protein-rich pulses for example). Alongside driving deforestation and damaging land use change in developing countries, using such large quantities of human-edible crops in animal feed is hugely inefficient in the context of feeding global populations.
Eating less and wasting less can save you money
Meat and dairy can be part of healthy and sustainable diets but it is clear that we should be consuming a lot less and wasting as little as possible. The livestock we produce should primarily come from low-input and pasture-fed systems. In the context of cost of living, reducing waste and overconsumption, particularly of meat, can be an effective cost-saving measure. The average household in the UK wastes £700 a year.
Retailers should do more
While the majority of waste occurs in the household, retailers can be a key facilitator of household food waste, encouraging overconsumption through multibuy promotions and increasing unnecessary waste through poor storage information and date labels. In 2022, a new study by Questionmark found that the UK’s big 4 supermarkets were heavily promoting cheap meat through these promotions. According to WRAP, 2 of the 5 behaviours having the greatest impact on reducing food waste are buying what you need and relying more on personal judgement than date labels. Over a third of the population reported buying only what they need and as a result 70% reduced food waste and 85% saved money. Retailers have made real progress across many priority actions to reduce food waste; improving storage advice, removing open life statements where unnecessary and using ‘best before labels’ in place of unnecessary ‘use by’ labels. However, for meat and dairy products, there is still a low prevalence of on-pack recipes and tips and clear defrosting and storage. While this progress is positive, they are targeted at product labelling. Retailers need to do more to rebalance the food basket and reduce sales of meat and dairy, promoting increasing fruit and vegetable sales.