Could This Checklist Help You Eat Meat More Sustainably?

You don't have to become vegetarian to make a difference.

If you want to do your bit for the planet and animal kingdom, but you aren’t quite ready to go the whole hog and become a vegetarian, help is at hand.

The Eat Better coalition - made up of more than 50 civil society groups including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace - has released eight principles, or a checklist if you will, to help you buy and consume meat more sustainably.

From checking the packaging to supporting ethical producers, the guide will help your plate be more environmentally-friendly in no time.

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1. Choose better for the climate

Beef is widely regarded as the most costly on the environment with the largest carbon footprint, but cutting steak and burgers out of your diet won’t be enough to reduce your impact.

Researchers say all types of meat have a “relatively high carbon footprint”, so switching from beef to chicken won’t make a significant difference. Instead, the only real way to reduce your food-based carbon footprint is to cut down your overall consumption of all types of meat and moderate your cheese and milk consumption.

Try to include more plant-based foods, including sources of protein such as beans and pulses, in your diet.

2. Choose better for animals

A lot of animals in the UK are part of intensive farming systems, designed to create the maximum output possible with the largest profits. Sadly, this means animal welfare isn’t always the top priority and the researchers say such animals are often bread to be larger than average, with more muscle, and in cramped conditions.

The guide recommends choosing products with a credible animal welfare certification, such as organic, RSPCA Assured or Pasture For Life. These stamps of approval mean livestock is kept in conditions that enable “natural behaviour and support good health”, including enjoying a natural diet.

3. Choose better for nature

With so many animals being kept as livestock, UK farmers also require a hell of a lot of feed to keep them fit and healthy - but not all are using the best forms.

The report details how much of the UK livestock industry relies on imported feed, particularly soya as a source of protein, which is heavily contributing to deforestation in South America and South East Asia.

To ensure you’re not fuelling the problem, the guide recommends looking out for products that have been certified organic by the Soil Association, as this means livestock has been given feed locally produced wherever possible. Similarly, the Pasture for Life certification prohibits the feeding of soy.

4. Choose better for feeding the world fairly

With our growing population, and land and resources stretched, it’s more important than ever that all food produced works as hard as it possibly can.

According to the report, half of the plant protein produced in the world each year is fed to animals, rather than humans. But unfortunately, certain animals, such as cows and sheep, aren’t great at turning this feed into “human-edible” calories when they move along the food chain.

In order for this to change, the researchers say animals should be fed on crop by-products and food waste where possible, or kept in areas where they can forage for themselves, leaving more of the plant protein produced for people.

5. Choose better for health

With its hefty proportion of protein, meat can help keep us keep strong and healthy, but a lot of us are eating way more of it than we need to. According to the report, reducing the amount you eat and shifting towards more plant-based diets would have health benefits for the majority of the population.

This is because it’s advised adults minimise their consumption of processed meats, like bacon, and keep red meat (beef, lamb and pork) to less than 70g/day. Looking for meat products from animals that have been fed a varied natural diet can also help towards making your own diet more nutritious.

6. Choose better for responsible antibiotic use

The researchers state “overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is a key driver of antibiotic resistance”. It can be hard to know what antibiotics livestock have received, but you can reduce your risk of consuming large amounts by avoiding products produced intensively.

This is because livestock that are raised with higher standards of animal welfare have been found to be more resilient to illness and require significantly lower amounts of antibiotics in their production, the report explains. Opt for products with a credible high welfare standard, such as organic or RSPCA assured.

7. Choose better for cutting waste

According to WRAP, around 290,000 tonnes of avoidable meat and fish products are thrown away in the UK each year.

To combat this, the guide recommends reining in your shopping, by only buying the amount of meat you need for the meals you’re planning. If you’re unsure what a standard spaghetti Bolognese requires, a local butcher can help.

You can also try more unusual cuts of meat and making the most of meat you do purchase, such as a whole chicken, by using as much of the carcass as possible.

8. Choose better for livelihoods

The coalition of organisations behind Eating Better want 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”.

Overall, they recommend choosing meat from smaller scale, higher standard production systems that provide better profits for higher quality producers.