Government must look at sustainable diets

THE GOVERNMENT must use its buying standards to communicate and evolve the concept of sustainable diets. This includes the consumption of less meat, an idea that is currently “not necessarily on politicians’ radars” given that they are fearful of telling consumers what to do.


The private sector is equally fearful, but needs to use its mastery of marketing to encourage consumers to eat more healthily and sustainably. Celebrity chefs also have a role, as does the media.


Those were just some of the topics covered in a day-long conference organised by BPEX to discuss sustainable diets. “Sustaining the health of the nation: What role for red meat?” provided expert analysis of the nutritional benefits of red meat, as well as the potential environmental burdens. There is clearly confusion about the direction diets should take, though there seems to be an emerging consensus that the “eat less meat” message is too simplistic.


Many are looking to government to provide guidance. As sustainability expert Anthony Kleanthous explained, the government has a “huge role”, in particular through its guidelines on sustainable procurement which “influence an awful lot of actual buying behaviour and advice that appears on packs”.


“[Politicians] are all into encouraging people to eat sustainably, but can we persuade the government to purchase food for the NHS and schools sustainably, and to get its own departments purchasing sustainable food? No, they will not go anywhere near that. Can we get them to campaign for people to eat less meat? No, because that would upset some people in industry. I think they have a hugely important role, both at a national and at a local level,” he added.


His comments come just a few weeks after the NFU president Peter Kendall also criticised the government for its “hypocritical” buying standards.


Others agreed that Ministers are fearful of sustainable diets given the links with eating less meat, though in summarising Sue Dibb, who is coordinating a new initiative entitled “Eating Better for a Fair Green Healthy Future”, said there appeared to be “quite a consensus around very pragmatic advice to moderate our meat consumption”.


As well as government, celebrity chefs and businesses would also have roles to play in nudging consumers towards more sustainable consumption.


Kleanthous said retailers are “very reluctant to push healthier, more sustainable products on their consumers, because they do not want their consumers to think that they are trying to interfere”.


He added: “I used to work in advertising and marketing, and I can tell you that there is a huge industry with an incredible amount of money available to influence people’s habits, and I think it is up to companies, really, to hitch the wagon of sustainability to the horse of branding and marketing.”


• A full report of the conference will be available in June’s Footprint, published later this month.