Consumers in Western Europe are increasingly shifting away from conventional meat to plant-based alternatives, according to new survey findings.
OpinionWay, the French research company that conducted the investigation on behalf of the Good Food Institute (GFI), interviewed more than 4,000 adults across France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
Participants offered insights into their meat intake, shopping habits and motivations, and opinions about plant-based meat substitutes. Answers revealed that more than 50 percent (57 percent mean average) had reduced their meat consumption in the last five years.
Going further, an average of 23 percent of respondents, per country, had stopped eating meat entirely.
What is driving the distaste for meat?
Environmental concerns, animal welfare, and health were the four most frequently cited reasons for reducing meat intake.
Germany prioritized animal wellbeing, with 38 percent of its participants claiming this as their driving motivation to become more plant-based. This tied in neatly with the recent findings that 41 percent of German people also eat vegan alternatives every month.
Italy and Spain both put personal health at the top of their list of reasons for eating less meat. Again, this tallies with their consumption of vegan meat alternatives, with 50 percent of Italian consumers and 47 percent of Spanish eaters all reaching for plant protein every month.
French participants are most concerned with the rising cost of animal meat, with 39 percent stating this as the main cause of their reduced intake. Bucking the trend for plant-based meat correlation, only one in four (27 percent) French consumers enjoy vegan substitutes each month.
Every country cited environmental worries as their second reason for ditching meat. An average of 31.5 percent of consumers made reference to it.
How meat contributes to the climate crisis
Animal agriculture and associated land-use changes are key drivers of the climate emergency.
The largest cause of deforestation globally is meat production. Trees are cleared, either through felling or deliberate forest fires. The is to allow cattle to graze, or to grow plant crops specifically for animal feed, not human consumption. Removing trees reduces the amount of carbon sequestration that can happen naturally, allowing more emissions to reach the ozone layer. Burning trees creates even more emissions.
The rearing of animals specifically for meat and dairy production is responsible for at least 14.5 percent of all human-created greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, meat accounts for almost 60 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions from food production.
Carbon emissions are a widely known problem, but more critical is the ultra-efficient planetary-heating methane that is being exuded. Around 28 times more effective at heating the earth, methane is created in catastrophic amounts by animal agriculture. The Global Methane Pledge was initiated to slash emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
The Plant Based Treaty, also addresses methane levels. It calls on countries around the world to commit to veganism in a bid to reduce animal agriculture emissions.
Understanding the connection between meat and the climate crisis, respondents to the GFI survey agreed as a majority that animal protein intake must be reduced. Italy registered the most awareness, with 75 percent of its citizens calling for meat consumption to fall.
Further, 71 percent stated that more plant-based alternatives need to be available. Again, all four countries were in agreement that plant protein products need to be more widely available.
Cultivated meat as a viable compromise?
Produced without the need for mass animal agriculture or slaughter, cultivated meat is proposed as a climate-friendly option for consumers who don’t want to go without animal protein. Still considered a ‘novel’ food concept, owing to only Singapore granting regulatory approval to date, public opinion is likely to impact how smoothly the option enters the food system.
At present, European permission for the sale of cultivated meat is not expected before the second half of 2024. This is due to lengthy approval processes, which could take up to 18 months per product. Plus, relevant regulatory bodies have struggled to create a uniform framework for safety assessments.
Across all four countries surveyed, more than 50 percent of participants had heard of cultivated meat, but many are still unsure of what it actually entails. Despite this, a majority claimed they would be willing to try a cultivated meat product, especially younger respondents.
France appears to remain skeptical about cultivated meat with only 33 percent of people asked being willing to sample products. It also registered the least support for governmental funding, with just 38 percent of people being in favor of it. Comparatively, 68 percent of Spanish participants think authorities should invest in the technology.