Vegan bowl

Forget flexitarianism. The hottest new trend in British diets these days – according to RSPCA Assured – is ‘reducetarianism’. Unlike flexitarians - who are choosing to eat less meat - reducetarians are “mindfully and gradually reducing the amount of animal-derived produce they consume.”

See the difference? No? Neither do we. So I’m not sure why the farm assurance body is so determined to make the term ‘reducetarian’ - originally coined in the US by Brian Kateman, co-founder and president of the Reducetarian Foundation - catch on this side of the pond.

Perhaps it’s a way for RSPCA Assured to set its new ‘Eat Less, Eat Better’ campaign apart. Launched today, it’s encouraging Brits to eat less lower welfare meat and choose only high welfare labels. As opposed to the existing ‘Eating Better Alliance’ campaign, which is encouraging shoppers to eat less, but better meat.

Not exactly radical thinking, then. But it’s a worthy push all the same and RSPCA Assured does make a good point – which is that British farmers should see the switch to higher welfare meat as an opportunity, not a threat. With Brexit on the horizon, there is a big opportunity to establish the UK as the ‘gold standard’ for farm animal welfare and encourage shoppers to choose British assured meat above imports.

Of course, making that case will depend on whether or not we are the ‘gold standard’ for farm animal welfare. So the revelation in the Guardian this week that thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being fattened in industrial-scale units with little or no access to pasture is a bit worrying, to say the least.

The UK beef industry has long sought to distance itself from US meat production by highlighting the difference between our systems. Unlike in the US, where cattle are reared intensively on feedlots and fed grain, our extensive grass-fed systems see cattle spend their lives grazing the lush rolling hills, the argument goes.

But according to the Guardian’s joint investigation with The Bureau of Investigation, there are nearly a dozen intensive feedlot-style beef farms operating across England. It claimed the farms- which include sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire – are used to fatten cattle prior to slaughter, with the largest fattening up to 6,000 cattle a year.

It’s important to recognise these farms are few and far between, but the fact they exist in the UK somewhat undermines the argument our beef systems are so superior to the US. And when combined with the 800 pig and poultry ‘mega-farms’ across the UK, it does point to a trend towards intensification in this country.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing – proponents will argue raising animals more intensively is more efficient and therefore more environmentally friendly, not to mention the fact it keeps costs down for consumers – but it’s likely to be a sticking point for the British public, who tend to be ideologically opposed to the idea of mass-scale industrial farming.

At the very least, it’s an issue the industry is going to have to recognise and address. If we want to promote British meat as the natural choice for people eating ‘less but better’ animal products – be they flexitarians or reducetarians – we’d better have a clear idea of exactly what establishing the UK as the ‘gold standard’ on animal welfare involves, and stick to it.