NatWest Scales Back Advice To Eat Less Meat After NFU Backlash

The NFU doesn't want NatWest encouraging people to eat less meat


4 Minutes Read

Farmers at protest The NFU has lobbied NatWest to withdraw its recommendations on meat for months - Media Credit: Tony Farrugia / Alamy Stock Photo

NatWest has scaled back advice to customers to eat less meat on its banking app following months of lobbying from the National Farmers Union (NFU). But the NFU says the bank is still promoting “oversimplified messages” which “do not support British agriculture.”

Read more: UK Banks Provide Billions In Funding For Meat And Dairy Corporations, Study Finds

NatWest introduced a “carbon footprint tracker” on its app in November 2023 to help customers make more sustainable choices. The app recommends several actions that people can take to reduce their carbon footprint, including eating less meat.

It previously advised swapping out beef to save 12kg of greenhouse gas emissions, and switching to plant-based milk to save 6kg. These two suggestions have now been replaced with a recommendation to “buy local, British and seasonal produce.” But the NFU is unhappy that the app recommendations still include “veggie Mondays,” and “choosing vegetarian at home,” which NatWest says will save a customer 40 kg of emissions.

“I remain disappointed on behalf of our many livestock members, and as a NatWest customer myself, that the bank is still encouraging the reduction of meat consumption on its app, suggesting it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” David Barton, chair of the NFU Livestock Board, said in a statement.

Footprint calculations

A herd of cows in a field in Scotland,Scottish summer landscape, East Lothians, Scotland, UK
JulietPhotography – Farming cows uses a lot of land and produces a lot of emissions

NatWest’s app provides customers with personalized carbon footprint scores each month based on their spending habits. It works with “carbon management” company Cogo and emissions data provided by companies to calculate the emissions of an item per £1 spent.

Despite the NFU’s objection to the idea that ditching meat will lower a person’s emissions, studies show otherwise. If British people ate less meat and more plant foods in line with government dietary guidelines, it would reduce the UK’s emissions by 17 percent.

The “eat local” message that the NFU promotes and that NatWest has adopted has also been shown to be flawed. Beef produces significantly more carbon emissions than plant-based protein, with transport only accounting for about one percent of those.

Read more: Can ‘Local Meat’ Be A Part Of A Sustainable Future Food System?

The NFU argues that British beef produces about half the emissions of the global average. It does emit less than beef produced in places like South America where deforestation contributes significantly to beef’s emissions. But it remains more polluting than plant-based proteins such as legumes. Currently, animal farming occupies the vast majority of agricultural land in the UK. Legume production, by contrast, only uses four percent, with some of it going to feed animals instead of humans.

Broader benefits

“We understand that the NatWest app is primarily focusing on emissions,” said David Barton. “But the reality is that when making diet related recommendations, other factors such as nutrition, environment, and biodiversity must be presented.” In that sense, NatWest’s recommendations to eat more plant-based are in line with evidence on both environmental and public health. The UK’s wildlife is in steep decline, but eating less meat would free up more land for nature restoration, which could help reverse the decline of more than 500 species in the UK, according to one study.

Reducing meat consumption would also ease the burden on the NHS, according to an analysis from the Office of Health Economics. It found that if everyone in England switched to a plant-based diet, it could result in 2.1  million fewer cases of disease, saving the NHS around £6.7 billion a year.

Plant Based News has reached out to NatWest for comment.

Read more: Meat Industry Fights To Use ‘Alternative Metric’ To Measure Methane Emissions

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