MPs urge UK to eat less meat to help global food supplies

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Steak cooking
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Growing meat production means other food resources are being squeezed, MPs say

The UK population must be encouraged to eat less meat "over time" in an effort to make the global food supply more sustainable, MPs have said.

The International Development Committee said increased growing of grain to feed cattle was reducing the resources for nourishing people.

And food production companies that wasted too much should face "clear sanctions", the MPs said.

The government said it was working to help eradicate malnutrition.

The committee's report comes ahead of World Environment Day on Wednesday, which will focus on the issue of global hunger.

Prime Minister David Cameron will be hosting a G8 "hunger summit" in London on Saturday.

National targets

The cross-party committee warned that the increased use of biofuels, part of the European Union's demand for greater stability in energy, would drive up the cost of food.

Its chairman, Liberal Democrat MP Sir Malcolm Bruce, said: "There is no room for complacency about food security over the coming decades if UK consumers are to enjoy stable supplies and reasonable food prices."

He said the UK should do more to help smallhold farmers in developing countries to ensure supplies were maintained.

Sir Malcolm urged ministers to try to change the UK population's behaviour, saying there was "considerable scope for the government to launch a national consumer campaign to reduce domestic food waste" and for it to "set national targets to curb food waste within the UK food production and retail sectors, with clear sanctions for companies that fail to meet these targets".

He added: "With the UK never more than a few days away from a significant food shortage, UK consumers should also be encouraged over time to reduce how often they eat meat.

"Meanwhile, as a nation we should place a stronger focus on more sustainable extensive systems of meat production such as pasture-fed cattle, rather than on highly intensive grain-fed livestock units."

The global demand for meat is growing, with China more than doubling its consumption per person since 1985.

The amount of meat eaten by people in the UK stood at 85.8kg each in 2007, according to official figures.

The UK Food Group suggests that the production of meat causes an annual "calorie loss" around the world equivalent to the need of 3.5 billion people.

The committee's report said: "The consequence of increasing demand for meat is the use of crops to feed livestock rather than humans."

A Department for International Development spokesman said: "We are leading the way in making nutrition a global priority and by 2015 our nutrition programmes will help a total of 20 million pregnant women and young children across Africa and Asia.

"At the Nutrition for Growth Summit this weekend, we will set out our future nutrition commitments and look to agree a radical new approach with business and the scientific community to improve millions of lives, with the ultimate aim of eradicating under-nutrition globally."

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