The UK should back the development and sale of artificial meat to tackle the climate crisis, a thinktank report says, calling for the government to encourage the consumption of “alternative proteins” that do not come from animals.
The report, from the Social Market Foundation, also points to a wide array of benefits to supporting alternative proteins, including opening up a green export opportunity for British businesses, reducing the risk of zoonotic diseases and improving animal welfare.
Raising cows, sheep and chickens contributes significantly to carbon emissions, with animal agriculture accounting for 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The official Committee on Climate Change has said the amount of meat people eat in the UK needs to be brought down by more than a third by 2050.
While meat consumption has reduced in recent years, it is not falling quickly enough. The UK today consumes only 6% less meat per capita in the home than in 1974.
Last year, a coalition of the UK’s health professions called for a climate tax to be imposed on food with a heavy environmental impact by 2025.
“The rapid expansion of the alternative protein market offers a way to reduce meat consumption through consumer choice,” the report notes.
“A thriving alternative protein sector is likely to be a condition for winning consent for any future interventions designed to reduce meat consumption. Without adequate alternative product offerings, the contested issue of a future ‘meat tax’ could be met with resentment.”
The SMF warned that the UK’s needed to increase its commitment to support new alternative protein research, which is currently at GBP90m, or risk being left behind a global race to develop alternatives to meat.
Linus Pardoe, an SMF research associate and the paper’s author, said: “A greener world will mean eating less meat, but politicians cannot expect consumers to easily stomach a tax which raises the price of meat. Early skirmishes suggest a so-called ‘meat tax’ could descend into an unconstructive cultural debate.
“A better solution would be to help consumers transition to more sustainable dietary habits by expanding the range of alternative protein products on the market. We can only expect consumers to switch from eating meat if product offerings are high-quality, affordable and easily accessible.
“The government can help deliver a thriving alternative protein market by providing funding for a new research cluster and strategic support for the industry. The global race for alternative proteins is on and the UK should be leading the charge.”