Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

What does it take to persuade people to give up meat?

It was reported in the Guardian this weekend (11th Jan 2014) that the amount of red meat sold in Britain fell by 550,000 tons during 2013. After the horse-meat scandal in early 2013, sales of beef and processed red meat products fell.

At the time several meat alternative companies were suggesting that the fall-off would be temporary: A YouGov poll commissioned by Quorn in February 13 found that just 15% of those questioned were more likely to consider an alternative to meat as a result of the horse-meat scandal. ‘Drummy’ from Fry’s said “A minority might think what’s happened is awful and people have definitely been put off buying more processed foods but most will carry on eating without looking to see what’s in it.” Asda were quoted as saying “while sales of Quorn are up, overall sales of meat-free products were beginning to plateau.” Several commented on previous meat scandals having only a temporary impact eg BSE, foot and mouth.

Later that year though a YouGov survey by Quorn in April 13 suggested: (2,072 respondents) Meat-free sales have soared in wake of the horse-meat scandal.

18% (nearly 1 in 5 people) claimed to have been put off eating meat by the scandal.

15% were more likely to eat meat alternatives.

22% felt personally affected by the scandal.

This weekend (11/1/14) Quorn are quoted as stating – “Sales have risen by 13% in 2013 with 2 million new customers – most of them meat reducers - flexitarians”

However closer analysis of the meat sales figures suggest that other factors are also at play beyond concerns about provenance, health or environment (no mention of the animals themselves!). While the weight of red meat bought sank the overall value rose 3.9%, with beef up 3.8% as prices rose on average 7%. This suggests that the move away from red meat has quite a lot to do with economics as shoppers look for ways to save money. In the same period sales of New Zealand lamb soared as a glut meant it was cheaper.

According a report on the BBC website today ( A survey carried out on behalf consumer organisation Which? in late November found that a whopping 49% of respondents said the horse-meat incident had changed their shopping habits, with 25% saying they bought less processed meat and 17% saying they bought more products from butchers and farmers' markets.

However the BBC also claims that heavy discounting since the horse-meat panic has led to the frozen burger making a comeback. For the 12 weeks to 8 December 2013, burger sales were down just 1% compared with the same period in 2012. Food retailers, including Iceland, discounted burgers after the crisis and shoppers found that hard to resist, particularly at a time when many households were struggling with tighter budgets. "If something is out there at half price you get huge spikes in sales, people immediately react to that," says Ed Garner, communications director at Kantar Worldpanel.

This all suggests that it requires more than a well thought through philosophical argument to win people over – we need a combination of things: awareness, scandal, pricing – some of which are beyond the control of the AR movement. And even under these circumstances it is difficult to maintain and build on any momentum.

However other forecasters are more optimistic, eg The Food People in conjunction with Linda McCartney Foods:

  • This research predicts that the number of vegetarians in Britain will increase from 5% of the population to 10% in the next 2 years.
  • There will be a notable rise in 'flexitarianism' - the trend of eating less meat and more vegetables without adopting full vegetarianism.
  • There has been a seismic shift in attitudes towards celebrating vegetables and opting to eat less meat. They expect meat free eating and flexitarianism to soon be a mega trend.
  • The UK can expect to see more vegetarian restaurants, more omnivorous restaurants providing creative meat free options, more pre-prepared vegetarian convenience food in supermarkets, and an overall greater acceptance of vegetarian diets and their associated benefits.

Maybe this time there will a permanent shift away from meat?

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A complex issue indeed. It would be interesting to understand for example how many people may have reduced meat consumption because they loved horses, as opposed to thinking horse meat is not for human consumption. Di that then skew consumption perhaps towards chickens or pigs?  Undoubtedly the meat, dairy and egg industries will follow with intense PR campaigns.

Language is important and I think one area that requires careful watch. I personally think the term veg*n is obfuscating what veganism is about, implying that vegetarianism and veganism are basically the same. While most vegans I suspect like me transitioned to vegan from vegetarian, I note for example the chef who came out with the 'vegan before 8pm' or some such rubbish.

I think the change to more plant-based diet choices is one that will continue to grow as awareness grows. I'd like to see more discussion of diet balanced with other life choices. Recently Beyonce came under fire for announcing she was going vegan for a specific period and then wearing a fur trimmed leather coat to a vegan restaurant. She regularly flaunts her lack of compassion by wearing full length fur coats, very sad.

It will be interesting to see if there is a follow-up to this survey to see what the recidivist rate has been over time.

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