An industry backlash has prompted a public health and safety watchdog to retract its online promotion of a campaign encouraging people to eat less meat.
Farming bodies and meat industry groups condemned the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for promoting Meat Free Week on social media, saying it had “overstepped its mark”.
The Agency’s tweet read: “It’s #meatfreeweek - eat less, care more and feel good - are you up for the challenge? For more info and recipes meatfreeweek.org”
The Agency later deleted the tweet after a joint statement was issued by six organisations - the National Farmers’ Union, the National Sheep Association, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, the British Meat Processors Association, the British Poultry Council and the National Federation of Meat & Food Traders.
In their statement, the organisations claimed it was not the first time the FSA had acted unduly.
It read: “Leading meat trade and farming organisations have voiced unanimous concern that the Food Standards Agency has again overstepped its mark as a non-ministerial government department by actively promoting the campaign #meatfreeweek.
“Its role is not that of lobbyist but to use its expertise and influence so that people can trust that the food they buy and eat is safe and honest. At no point should it be actively influencing people to make a particular dietary choice.”
After removing the tweet, the FSA reportedly issued this response to the organisations concerned: “We’ve taken that tweet down, it doesn’t properly reflect our position.”
Despite the swift action to retract the post, the meat industry called for the FSA to officially clarify its position, to avoid any similar situations from occurring again in the future.
Asked for the Agency’s position by The Yorkshire Post, an FSA spokesperson said: “We use our social media channels to flag up many food-related initiatives that consumers might be interested in, helping consumers make choices that are right for them.
“Our recent Food Safety Week campaign, for example, focused particularly on meat and eggs and how to make the most of them safely, wasting less. Our upcoming barbecue campaign will focus on cooking burgers safely at home.
“We continue to support government advice on healthy eating and a balanced diet. NHS Choices advise that people who eat a lot of red and processed meat a day (more than 90g cooked weight) cut down to 70g.
“On this occasion the wording of the tweet was not appropriate and did not properly reflect our position, so we have removed the message.”
Meat Free Week, which runs from August 1-8, was started in 2013 by Australians, Lainie Towner and Melissa Hobbs.
According to the campaign’s website, going meat free for one week “creates a great opportunity to get people thinking about how much meat they eat and the impact eating too much meat may have”.
The advice of the NHS is that red meat - such as beef, lamb and pork - can form part of a healthy diet, but eating a lot of red and processed meat “probably” increases the risk of bowel cancer.
It advices that anyone who eats more than 90g of red or processed meat a day is recommended to cut down.
Ninety grams is the equivalent of about three thin-cut slices of roast beef, lamb or pork, where each slice is about the size of half a piece of sliced bread, advice on the NHS Choices website states.