Sainsbury’s has been accused of pursuing an anti-meat agenda by the National Farmers’ Union following reports that the retailer is taking part in academic trials designed to encourage people to eat less meat.
The farming union’s claim has been strongly rejected by Sainsbury’s which told The Yorkshire Post that the NFU had misunderstood the purpose of the research.
According to reports, the food retailer is collaborating with researchers at Oxford University as part of a £5m Wellcome Trust programme called ‘Our Planet, our Health’, which aims to tackle threats to human health caused by environmental changes.
Among the measures mentioned as part of the trial is putting vegetarian options nearer to meat on supermarket shelves, offering reward points for those who choose vegetarian products and promoting meat-free recipes.
Since 2010 UK adults have been advised to keep their daily red meat consumption to an average of 70g.
Charles Sercombe, national livestock board chairman at the NFU, said: “The NFU has major concerns over the anti-meat agenda that Sainsbury’s is pursuing in its recent involvement with in-store trials attempting to change customer buying habits.
“The trials are based on analysis from Oxford academics on the impacts of eating meat on climate change and public health – analysis the NFU firmly contests.”
Mr Sercombe said farmers are already well ahead in developing working practices that reduce meat production’s impact on the environment and he stressed the role that red meat has to play in a healthy, balanced diet.
The Leicestershire farmer said: “Many farmers have worked with Sainsbury’s closely to reduce their carbon footprints. Livestock farmers are committed to playing their part in tackling climate change by carrying out activities as part of the farming industry’s Greenhouse Gas Action Plan. They also manage the large reserves of carbon stored in the soil of UK grasslands.
“The high-quality meat products produced by British livestock farmers are naturally rich in protein and are a good source of iron, zinc and essential vitamins. Unfortunately, the positive role red meat plays in a healthy, balanced diet is often overlooked.
“We are seeking urgent talks with Sainsbury’s to ensure all British produce can have pride of place on their shelves for customers to make up their own mind about what they buy.”
Asked to respond to the NFU’s concerns, Sainsbury’s responded with a statement that read: “The NFU has clearly misunderstood the purpose of the research that we are carrying out with the University of Oxford. We can reassure them that we are not anti-meat in any way.
“We recognise that our customers have a wide range of dietary requirements. The research will examine how we can encourage long-term sustainable and healthy eating habits. This does not exclude meat and we are pleased to clear up any confusion.”
In recent years, retailers and other food chain outlets have set targets for their farmer suppliers to cut carbon emissions.