Veganuary campaign hits meat sales – but should farmers be worried?
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Red meat sales reportedly plunged last year as hundreds of thousands of people responded to vegan campaigns – but Norfolk livestock farmers remain confident in the demand for their produce as 'Veganuary' returns.
A study by data company Kantar found 1.3m Brits chose to forego animal products last January, with 366,000 saying they did so as part of the Veganuary initiative, which encourages consumers to explore meat-free diets throughout the month.
This contributed to a £185m fall in red meat sales at supermarkets, according to separate research by Nielsen. While beef sales declined by 4pc and pork by 6.4pc, sales of meat-free alternatives rose by 18pc.
While the Veganuary charity hailed this as "great news for animals and the planet", farming industry body AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) pointed to other Kantar studies which showed 94pc of UK households continued to buy meat, fish and poultry on a weekly basis last year, and 99.8pc bought dairy products.
Will Jackson, AHDB's strategy director for beef and lamb, said the increased exposure during January should be seen as a "huge opportunity" to shout about the positives of livestock farming in the UK. "More eyes are on us than normal so let's showcase what we do and how well we do it to keep this country eating a healthy, balanced diet," he said.
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Surveys commissioned by the Vegan Society say the number of vegans in Britain has more than doubled to 600,000 between 2016 and last year. But Norfolk livestock farmers countered this growing meat-free movement by appealing to consumers to recognise the benefits of home-grown high-welfare meat - and pointed out that even those who choose a meat-free diet rely on farmers to grow plants.
Tony Bambridge grazes a small herd of beef cattle on water meadows in north Norfolk, and is also managing director of arable contractors B & C Farming, based at Marsham.
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"Whatever people eat they are going to need farmers," he said. "In order to feed our nation we need to produce 65 billion meals per year and farmers are going to be involved in all of them. I enjoy a healthy balanced diet and I choose to enjoy meat and dairy within that but if other people choose to have a slightly different diet that is more plant-based, then good luck to them. I grow potatoes and peas, so I need people to eat plants too.
"But the reality is that less than 1pc of the population are vegans and the rest of the population require meat and dairy in their diets. We have to meet these considerable requirements in the most sustainable and environmental way that we can. We are pretty highly regulated, we have to be very conscientious about our carbon footprint, and the wonderful Norfolk countryside which people enjoy so much is the product of that agricultural system.
"I am not worried [by the Veganuary statistics], because at the end of the day common sense prevails.
"There are a lot of good reasons why you shouldn't be eating imported meat which could have been produced to lower standards, and portion sizes have got too big so too many of us are obese. So, as a population, we need to be more reflective of our diets and it is natural that people should think quite carefully about what they eat."
READ MORE: Livestock farmers feel 'under siege' amid climate change and vegan debatesKantar's study of the household purchases of 30,000 British households found those who cut out animal products maintained reduced consumption until at least July 2019, amounting to at least 4,452,603kg of animal products. The Veganuary charity, which commissioned the study, calculates that this reduction equates to 3.6m animals.
Toni Vernelli, Veganuary's head of communications, said: "Our own surveys show about 50pc chose to stay vegan as it was much easier and enjoyable than they expected, but we always hoped the other half discovered some products and recipes they loved so much they permanently swapped these for the non-vegan equivalent."