Why People In The UK Have Drastically Reduced Their Meat Intake

Changes in how meat is categorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) is creating actual change in how people in the United Kingdom are eating, in addition to factors like animal welfare, the environment, and personal ethics.


May 21 2019, Updated 5:00 p.m. ET

In 2015, the World health Organization labeled processed meats with the same carcinogenic label as cigarettes. At the time Veg News reported that bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and other processed meats were all considered carcinogenic, and that lamb, beef, veal, and pork were “probably carcinogenic." There aren't many things people will still indulge in when they're considered to probably be carcinogenic, but meat has a powerful hold on both the markets and people's eating culture. 

In one country, at least, the science is starting to shift the culture. In the last six months, 28 percent of British people have drastically reduced their meat intake, according to Veg News.

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The numbers come from a study compiled market research firm Mintel in their Mintel’s Meat-Free Foods 2017 Report. The data was collected to see if anti-meat campaigns and education about the potential harmful side effects of heavy meat consumption were having any effect on how people fill their plates. 

Mintel writes that in addition to the 28 percent who have already reduced meat intake, another one in seven adults say they are interested continuing the trend if the movement towards vegetables and vegetarian protein continues to grow. The more options you have, the less likely it is that you'll turn back to your tried and true meat based recipes, and meat substitutes are more diverse and delicious than ever.

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But people's reason for giving up meat (or considering it) vary. About 49 percent of British people polled say they want to reduced or give up meat eating entirely because of the health warnings from the WHO. But other motivators include weight management, which made up about 29 percent of respondents reasons for changing their diet. That's followed by concern over animal welfare at 24 percent which ties with the environment, also clocking in at 24 percent. 

While not definitive, you might guess form the numbers that people's primary concern in what they eat is for themselves rather than external factors, but that doesn't change the way their decisions make a difference in the larger world. 

Reducing meat intake saves water, keeps land and resources cleaner as it reduces factory farm waste runoff and methane gas from livestock, and limits the use of life saving antibiotics in animals, which keeps bacteria from developing resistant strains. Even cutting the amount of meat you eat makes a difference, if you don't feel you can quit it entirely.

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And Mintel agrees. Their senior food analyst, Emma Clifford, explains that the change in how people eat also comes from a more flexible understanding for how to make nutritional adjustments:

“Despite the ingrained popularity of meat and poultry, a clear trend has emerged of people cutting back and limiting how much of these products they eat. That ‘flexitarianism’, a whole new dietary phrase, was coined to describe this movement also highlights its indisputably mainstream status. The flexitarian trend carves a very accessible and unrestricted middle ground between simply meat-eaters and non-meat eaters, while acknowledging a conscious effort to eat less meat. On top of the various other benefits linked to reducing meat consumption, following a meat-free diet is likely to be aspirational to many consumers and social media is playing an important role in the attraction of this endeavour.”

And that shift can be seen in how people's eating habits change through age groups. For example, younger British people were far more likely to follow a no-meat or minimal meat diet, and amongst people under 25, the reason for not eating meat also changed, with 29 percent of those polled saying environmental concerns were their primary issue. Whatever the reason, making a small change has a big effect.

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