Scientific modelling of controversial plans to slash meat and dairy consumption, proposed by the Climate Change Committee, has shown they would risk millions of people being put at risk of ill health due to mineral deficiencies, The Grocer has learnt.
A report to government health experts on the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) said scientists had modelled 24 different scenarios for the proposals for people to eat 20% less meat and dairy by 2030, with calls for a reduction of 35% by 2050.
The committee’s calls, first recommended by the quango in 2021, have been the subject of huge focus in recent weeks after PM Rishi Sunak announced he had “scrapped” plans for a meat tax, although it provoked controversy of its own with critics pointing out the policy was never proposed by the committee or in Henry Dimbleby’s subsequent National Food Strategy.
However, the committee had proposed a series of “low-cost, low-regret” actions to reduce meat consumption.
As well as concerns over the economic impact on meat farmers, the safety of that move has now been brought into question by the latest probe.
SACN, a body which advises ministers across the UK on key health issues, received evidence of a report commissioned by Food Standards Scotland (FSS) from the University of Edinburgh into the impact of the proposals, which also included research by members of SACN itself.
“Members were advised that 24 modelling scenarios for meat and dairy reduction had been developed,” says a report to the committee.
“Members were informed the findings of the modelling suggested that, for an average person living in Scotland, adopting the recommendations without careful consideration of replacement would exacerbate pre-existing insufficiencies in selenium and zinc intakes.
“Insufficiencies in calcium, iron, iodine, selenium, and zinc intakes would worsen in men and women aged 16 to 24 years.”
It added: “Insufficiencies in intakes of iron and iodine in women aged up to 65 years would also be exacerbated.”
The report said FSS has decided on the back of the warnings against launching any consumer or industry advice to reduce meat and dairy intakes, until further work could be completed on how to educate people on how to replace the mineral intake.
“The committee heard that overall the modelling indicated potential positive impacts on the proportion of adults meeting Scottish dietary goals for red processed meat, fruits and vegetables, total fat, saturated fat, total carbohydrates and salt, with only a small reduction in the proportion meeting the SDG for free sugars,” the report said.
“With careful consideration of replacements, it would be possible to mitigate the negative impact of a shift away from meat and dairy on micronutrient intakes.”
However, SACN members said they were “very supportive” of the direction taken by FSS.