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For health and the environment, the French are ready to eat less meat

Eat less meat, but of better quality. While the controversy over vegetarian menus in school canteens in Lyon is deflating, it is the aspiration that emerges from a Harris Interactive survey commissioned by the Climate Action Network (RAC), made public Thursday, February 25. According to this survey, the French are consuming less and less meat and are increasingly concerned about its origin and quality.

Si 96 % of people surveyed say they eat meat at least once in a while, only one in three eat it every day – mainly the youngest (18-24 years old), people from the lower classes and people living in the provinces. Above all, almost half of the respondents (48 %) say they have reduced their meat consumption over the past three years. This percentage confirms a longer-term trend, since the consumption of meat products had already fallen by 12 % between 2007 and 2016, according to the Research Center for the Study and Observation of Living Conditions (Crédoc). And the quantity of steak on the plates could still be reduced: if 60 % of respondents say their plan is right for them, « one in two people who have already reduced their meat consumption intends to continue on this path, mainly among young people, urbanites and CSP Plus [catégories socioprofessionnelles supérieures] », said Pierre-Hadrien Bartoli, director of political studies at Harris Interactive, during a press conference organized by the RAC February 25. Among the reasons given to justify this decline, health (for 43 % of respondents), the need to save money (33 %) but also a concern for animal welfare (36 %) and environmental protection (33 %) « mainly in the youngest », specifies Mr. Bartoli.

So soon all vegetarians ? Not quite. Because a not insignificant part of the people questioned have the intention of reinvesting the money saved in food (for 42 % of respondents) and in particular meat (32 %) of better quality: of local or at least French origin – first selection criterion -, from breeding that respects animal welfare and has good taste. « These criteria are not a simple preference, observe M. Bartoli. If they are not met, the person can forgo their purchase. So if 69 % of French people have already given up on a purchase because of the price, they are 59 % to have retreated because they could not find meat from France. »

« Our country is in the top 6 for meat consumption in the world »

For Anthony Fardet, researcher in preventive nutrition at the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRAE), these results are going in the right direction. « Today, the French still consume an average of 40 % of calories from animal origin. This places our country in the top 6 for meat consumption in the world, he indicates. We should divide this proportion by two and get used to plates made up of two thirds of vegetable calories and one third of animal calories. » The health of the French would only be better: « According to a report byWHO [Organisation mondiale de la santé] of 2015, overconsumption of red meat can promote the appearance of certain types of cancer », recalls Cyrielle Denhartigh, Agriculture and Food manager at RAC. Quid risk of deficiencies ? « Meat can be partly replaced by a combination of whole grains, legumes for protein and nuts for fat, which we currently eat less than fourteen grams per day on average, assure M. Fardet. Provided you eat “true” – that is to say, no ultra-processed products -, varied and preferably organic, local and seasonal, we can gather the amino acids essential to our diet with only 15 % animal protein. »

Such a change in menus would also be beneficial for the climate. According to a report [1] of the Climate Action Network, the agricultural sector is responsible for 18.5 % of French greenhouse gas emissions – 25 % if we include indirect emissions related to the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizers and other inputs and the construction of buildings. More than half of these emissions come from livestock farming: enteric fermentation of cattle, management of excreta and crops intended for animal feed.

Objective: decrease by 50 % of production and consumption of animal products by 2050

Further increasing the proportion of plants in our diet would not be punitive, insists Gilles Daveau, cook and trainer in organic and alternative cuisine. « The key word is to reappropriate dietary diversity through home cooking, with unprocessed or minimally processed products, he explains. Already, we must better prepare the meat. Cooking a roast at 200 ° C leads to drying out the meat and losing mass ! It is better to favor cooking at low temperature. » And enrich its range of products, tastes and colors. « We consume ten times less legumes than a hundred years ago. However, we can show professionals and the general public that they are creamy, tasty, reduce fat and can be used in sauces as well as in pastries. »

« Extensive livestock farming helps maintain landscapes, meadows and hedges rich in biodiversity. »

The public authorities and public policies would still have to promote this transformation of food. According to the poll conducted by Harris Interactive, the latter do not sufficiently inform the French about alternatives to meat consumption or the ecological consequences of meat products, do not encourage the consumption of better quality meat or the transition towards more sustainable consumption and do not serve quality food in school canteens. The RAC sees in the Climate and Resilience Act and the national strategic plan – the French version of the common agricultural policy (PAC) European – the opportunity to rectify the situation to achieve the objectives he recommends: the reduction of 50 % of production and consumption of animal products by 2050. « This strategic plan could be the opportunity to create a payment for the environmental services rendered by the meadows, the refocusing of coupled aid on sustainable livestock farming and the strengthening of support for fresh fruits and vegetables as well as pulses, always via these coupled aids, suggests Benoît Granier, food manager at RAC. As for the Climate and Resilience Law, it could prohibit the construction and expansion of the most industrial farms and offer a daily vegetarian option or two vegetarian menus per week in collective catering by 2025. »

All while preserving sustainable breeding as much as possible. « It is true that ruminants like cows emit more greenhouse gases than granovores like poultry, but we prefer to distinguish between industrial and extensive farming rather than between animals, dit Mme Denhartigh. The extensive breeding help maintain landscapes, meadows and hedges rich in biodiversity. Of course, the carbon storage capacities of permanent grasslands do not compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions of ruminants, but these lands have other advantages. And if we need a halving of the herd by 2050, we must not reduce the number of breeders. »

[1] « Position of the Climate Action Network. Less and better: farming and consumption of animal products that respect the planet », Climate Action Network, February 2021.

Read also: Meatless menus in Lyon: the untruths of politicians

Source : Émilie Massemin for Reporterre

Photos :

. chapô: Vegetarian dish. Piqsels

. Sheep breeding in Morbihan. © Émilie Massemin /Reporterre

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