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Swedish Report Calls for Sustainable Food Consumption

16 March 2013

In the western world, there is a need to reduce meat consumption to help reduce greenhouse gases, according to a report from the Board of Agriculture of Sweden.

The report says that there should be a voluntary programme, backed by the government, to achieve a globally sustainable meat consumption.

"We are not suggesting any meat tax but note that a voluntary arrangement also needs to be supplemented with public policy instruments at the international level," the Board of Agriculture said.

"Our mission is to work for sustainable development and food production for the benefit of consumers. In this report we have tried to take a holistic approach to sustainable meat consumption," said Gabriella Cahlin, head of the marketing department of Agriculture.

"In particular, beef contributes significantly greenhouse gas emissions, but for all species, it is important how the animals are reared.

"In many cases, extensive outdoor breeding methods produce higher emissions than intensive production indoors, but on the other hand, may mean a better animal welfare.

"Consumption can be reduced first of all if we throw less food away. Significantly fewer resources will be spent, if we eat more food from plants and less from animals."

While meat production has a negative environmental impact, grazing animals are needed to preserve grasslands that are valuable for biodiversity and they also help to open up the landscapes. Livestock production also contributes to rural employment, the report says.

Swedish meat production is close sustainable because it is to the consumer, but there is a need for incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as investment in research and development for new production methods.

The report adds that consumers can strengthen sustainable production by selecting the meat carefully.

Consumers can be careful and opt out of eating meat that has the greatest environmental impact and that is produced with poor animal welfare standards.

"We need knowledge, guides and labeling in order to make informed choices. A voluntary system needs to be supplemented with public policy instruments at the international level," the report says.

"Rules, environmental taxes and subsidies can steer production in the right direction. But it is vital that they are on an international level. Otherwise you just move production to where the regulatory requirements and the tax burden is the easiest, not where production is sustainable," says Gabriella Cahlin.

The report shows that in Sweden, meat consumption has increased by 40 per cent since the 1990s.

The Board of Agriculture said that there are many reasons why Swedish consumers are eating more meat now than before.

Entry into the EU, increased income, new diets and products, as well as influences from other countries are factors that have affected the development.

Total consumption of meat in Sweden increased in 2011 to its highest level ever, 87kg per person per year although projections show that meat consumption fell back again in 2012 to about 85kg.

However, the report says that there are two different ways to calculate consumption and it is important to keep them apart. Total consumption includes carcase weight and includes bones. Direct consumption includes the quantity we buy, including some bones.

The figure of 85kg per person is measured in carcase weight and includes bones and is the amount charged to the climate and the environment, which means that it is relevant to use in the context of climate.

However, this is not the figure that is taken into account when the health aspects of meat consumption are considered.

While the total consumption measured in carcase weight is 85kg, what is then actually eaten is about 50-55 kg per person per year.

According to the Board of Agriculture statistics, Swedish consumers eat an average of 48.6 kg pure meat per person. In addition, 23.4 kg charcuterie and 10.8 kg frozen products containing meat, such as ready meals are also eaten.

The total Swedish meat consumption, ie the consumption of beef, pork, poultry, etc., is slightly below the EU average.

Average meat consumption of the EU average is twice that of the rest of the world.

However, in Sweden, more beef is consumed than the EU average, while less pork, poultry and sheep meat and lamb is consumed compared to the EU average.

March 2013

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