sainsbury's meat aisle

Sainsbury’s is facing accusations of pursuing an “anti-meat agenda” over plans to promote vegetables over meat.

The NFU is seeking urgent talks with Sainsbury’s over an Oxford University research project, which will encourage customers to eat more vegetables and meat substitutes in selected stores.

“The NFU has major concerns over the anti-meat agenda that Sainsbury’s is pursuing with in-store trials attempting to change customer buying habits,” said NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe. “The trials are based on analysis from Oxford academics on the impact of eating meat on climate change and public health - analysis the NFU firmly contests.”

Sercombe added: “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.”

The research is being funded by a £5m Wellcome Trust project called Our Planet, Our Health, which aims to create a more sustainable approach to the environment - and improve health - by reducing potentially harmful activities such as excessive meat consumption. The initiative comes after a study by scientists at the Oxford Martin School found greenhouse gas emissions could reach unsafe levels if the world’s growing population continued to eat the same amount of meat

As part of the project, Sainsbury’s will hand out meat-free recipes and reward shoppers who choose vegetarian products with vouchers and loyalty points. It will also place vegetarian alternatives next to meat products in trial stores over the coming months, although Sainsbury’s has not yet revealed how many will participate.

The National Beef Association director Chris Mallon said placing meat next to competitor products is “not something we would support”. He added: “We always prefer beef to be shelved and marketed separately, This even extends to merchandising UK meat separately from foreign meat, so marketing beef next to the competition is not something we would support.”

Last year, the NFU called on supermarkets to do more to promote vegetable consumption amid a decline in sales. In 2014, UK sales of fruit were 14% lower and vegetables 5% lower than they were in 2007, according to Defra data. he said.

Sainsbury’s said the NFU had “clearly ­misunderstood” the ­purpose of its research and stressed it was 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.”