The retail giant recently announced plans to increase vegan meat sales by 300 percent over the next five years in a bid to become more sustainable. In addition, Asda is launching vegan aisles in 369 stores to help consumers find animal-free options.
But the National Sheep Association (NSA) has branded vegan alternatives ‘mass-produced industrialized and processed foods’ and says supermarkets should be pushing British lamb instead.
‘Consumers’ health and the environment’
In a statement, NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “We are now seeing mass-produced industrialized and processed foods being dressed up as sustainable food options, and here we have two of our biggest retailers setting growth targets based on them being better for consumers’ health and for the environment.”
He added that there are ‘no targets for increasing the sales of fresh fruit and vegetables’, which he described as ‘unsurprising’, and possibly indicative that retailers are more concerned with increasing profit margins than improving sustainability.
“If this is not being done for profit reasons and is truly an altruistic decision then I would strongly question the sustainability criteria being used,” he said.
Stocker added: “The NSA supports moves to improve diets and part of this for some people will mean having to moderate the amount of meat they eat, but for Tesco to blandly say that plant-based foods are more sustainable infers that meat production is unsustainable, and we know that is not the case.
“In terms of British lamb once you look at nutrient density, the unprocessed nature of our product, land use, the ability to produce mainly from grass alone, the semi-natural, extensive method of sheep farming, the thousands of family farms, and the symbiotic relationship with nature both within and above the soil, then lamb starts to look like a highly sustainable food.”
He went on to argue that ‘if the decision is based on the assumption that vegan foods don’t ‘take a life’, then people need to be reminded that this is untrue’.
“It may help people’s conscience, but even plant-based foods result in the death or the destruction of life – whether this is through habitat destruction in the case of palm oil or almond production, or pest control in crop production – whether it’s chemical or biological,” he said.
While meat farmers are disappointed by the growth in vegan meat sales, a number of advocacy organizations are keen to see meat consumption decrease. Tesco is working with WWF to implement its plans to boost plant-meat sales.
Speaking about the plans, Tanya Steele, WWF CEO, said: “It’s great to see this sector-leading step from Tesco. Tackling the environmental impact of what we eat and how we produce it has never been so urgent. WWF’s Living Planet Report 2020 has just revealed that, in the last 50 years, wildlife populations have declined on average by 68 percent.
“The food system has been identified as the biggest culprit, but also presents one of the greatest opportunities to reverse this trend; rebalancing our diets is a critical part of that. Food businesses cannot have a sustainable future without transparency. They need to know where they are starting from in order to know where they are going.
“Our partnership with Tesco aims to halve the environmental footprint of the average shopping basket, but we need a sector-wide step-change in transparency and accountability to achieve the scale and pace of change that is so desperately needed. We ask all food businesses to join us on this journey.”