Meat and veg for rich, lab steaks and veg pills for the rest

NEW REPORT shows how food choices will change if industry and government don’t get to grips with climate change.


UK consumers could be left with steaks grown in laboratories and pills instead of vegetables if more isn’t done to tackle climate change.


By 2050, restaurants could also become the exclusive domain of only the very richest in society due to “radical changes” in food availability if global temperatures continue to rise.


The warnings come in a new report published by researchers at the Sustainable Consumption Institute at Manchester University.


The report, entitled ‘What’s Cooking’, details a number of possible scenarios, based on temperature rises of two and four degrees by 2050. In a ‘4°C’ world, food availability would “suffer” with rice harvests falling by 30% and the UK reliant on indoor farming to produce livestock. Some everyday foods like meat would also become a treat, with people forced to trade in valuable carbon credits for a roast dinner.


However, if more is done to reduce emissions urgently, by 2050 temperature rises could be kept to two degrees. This would allow traditional UK fare to remain available. Achieving this would require the use of smarter technology – including genetic modification – and shifts in consumption patterns, said Dr Alice Bows, who led the two-year study.


“Policymakers have focused so much on the carbon emissions linked to energy, that agriculture and food has been overlooked. This report shows that agricultural emissions will be more challenging to cut.


“If Governments want to take action to avoid a two degree temperature rise, they must reassess their targets to both take account of climate change impacts, and secondly, better understand how UK consumption is linked to the emissions right down global supply chains.”


The report suggests that in the more favourable ‘2°C ‘ world attitudes to meat will have had a “significant impact” on fast food outlets with a “proliferation of pescatarian and vegetarian restaurants such as ‘Falafel Frydays’, ‘Stir Fry Sallys’ and ‘Fishsteak houses’ nationwide”. Veggie restaurants are currently growing in popularity.


Some hospitality businesses are already looking at the potential environmental and economic savings that could come from menus with less meat. Environmentalists have welcomed the engagement of the sector so far. The UK has legally binding obligations to cut emissions by 80% by 2050 and some believe that there is no chance of doing so without changes to diets.


“To meet the targets in the Climate Change Act we have to deal with livestock consumption,” said WWF-UK One Planet Food lead Mark Driscoll. “There are some real innovations in the market already, with the foodservice sector looking to explore these issues now. We don’t have time to wait for the market to adjust.”


However, some in the food industry insisted that the market and the consumer would be the ones to drive any change in consumption. The Food and Drink Federation said that could include diets with less meat if it becomes too expensive in a resource-constrained world. However, any intervention to artificially alter consumption patterns more quickly would have to come from government.


The UK Government has, to date, been reluctant to be drawn on the issue of sustainable diets.



The August issue of Foodservice Footprint includes an in-depth analysis of sustainable diets.