Poultry meat – a legitimate part of sustainable food production.

How should a highly regulated, fast-paced, and environmentally efficient meat producing sector that prides itself in feeding the nation present the ever so complex issue of sustainability?

Why shouldn’t the poultry meat sector that genuinely cares about putting food on every table in a resource efficient way position itself as a legitimate part of sustainable food production? And is it really fair for over half of the meat eaten in this country to bear the brunt of misinformation spearheaded by antimeat activists?

Fighting misleading headlines

Recently BBC’s iconic TV show Blue Peter has been criticised for ‘stooping to new depths’ by directing children away from eating meat as part of being ‘environmentally friendly’. The programme asks its young audience to become part of a ‘green army’ to tackle carbon emissions and climate change by replacing meat dishes with ‘climate friendly’ plant-based alternatives.

This is not the first time a mainstream TV programme or a headline grabbing documentary has been based on incorrect and misleading claims that lack scientific data or evidence base. The reality is that livestock farming contributes to less than 6% of UK’s CO2 emissions and in fact, poultry meat production has the smallest carbon footprint of any animal reared for meat in the UK.

So, what does sustainability in the context of food production and consumption really mean? Sustainability encompasses environmental impact, social responsibility, as well as economic viability – all in equal measures.

Sustainable food production ensures everyone is well fed

There is no dearth of food campaigners and antimeat activists out there who talk about making food production sustainable by stopping eating meat. Unfortunately, the debate so far has been largely dominated by those with no practical experience of food production, food poverty or what constitutes food system sustainability.

8.4 million people in the UK are currently living in food poverty (Sustain UK). Contrary to popular belief, the concept of giving up meat and living happily ever after on a plant-based diet is neither sustainable for the environment nor for our own health and wellbeing.

Over a billion birds are reared for meat every year in the UK to world-class British standards from farm to fork. Poultry is the nation’s favourite meat, and its popularity is growing by 3-4% annually, with each of us eating over 26kg of poultry every year. Poultry is a legitimate part of a sustainable and nutritionally balanced diet that is affordable and available for the average consumer.

Supporting British

It’s time we accept that British farmers are already leading the way in producing affordable food in a sustainable way and we have set an ambitious target to become net zero by 2040. It is significantly more sustainable to buy British (and support home grown production) than to rely on imported alternative proteins from food systems that neither observe our high standards of production nor share our environmental ambitions.

British food in public procurement is where our Government must declare its commitment to British produce and producers. This will give sectors like ours the much-needed confidence and inspiration to carry on making great strides towards sustainability and sustainable food production.


This column was published in the May edition of Meat Management Magazine