We join health professionals to call out Government-backed campaign promoting meat and dairy

The Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK) and Plant-Based Health Professionals UK (PBHP UK) have joined forces to highlight serious concerns from the medical profession over the Government-backed Let’s Eat Balanced campaign.

The organisations believe the campaign’s promotion of meat and dairy to be “at odds with established scientific evidence on healthy and sustainable diets”.

They are calling instead for a shift to a plant-based food system to benefit public health and the environment. 

Dr Matt Lee, DAUK’s sustainability lead, and Dr Shireen Kassam, director of PBHP UK, have co-written an open letter to the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to express their deep concerns at the high level of misinformation within the campaign, and ask for the campaign to be retracted.

Organisations representing more than one million health professionals, including the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change and the British Dietetics Association renal nutrition specialist group have signed the letter.

The annual Let’s Eat Balanced campaign, timed to coincide with the increasingly popular Veganuary campaign, is aimed at promoting the consumption of red meat and dairy to the UK public.

This flies in the face of the scientific evidence and the Government’s own guidelines, which clearly demonstrate the need to shift away from animal farming and transition to a plant-based food system. This is required to meet our climate and nature targets, while having significant benefits for our health.

We are calling for a shift to a plant-based food system to benefit public health and the environment. Credit Crispin Jones

The letter calls on the AHDB and DEFRA to instead encourage the increased production and consumption of locally-grown fruit, vegetables and legumes, while supporting people to eat significantly less meat and dairy.

Food security and climate change

The letter outlines the disproportionate impact of our current food system on climate change, including the threat to food security, antibiotic resistance and pandemic risk, while presenting the evidence supporting the benefits to individual and planetary health of  reducing red meat and dairy consumption.

It also discusses the strong association between the consumption of processed meat and cancer risk, and the increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity from consumption of all forms of red meat.

In addition, the authors cite a new analysis demonstrating the potential financial benefit to the NHS if people adopted a plant-based diet, estimated to be around £18.8 billion per year.

Dr Lee said: “This would be invaluable for the health of the environment, the UK public, and to safeguard all our futures. As clinicians, we have to act on the latest evidence, no matter how uncomfortable it can be.

“The evidence is clear. The UK must significantly reduce its meat and dairy consumption to ensure the health of the planet and a liveable future for all.”

Health benefits

Dr Kassam said: “Dietary change is the single most impactful action we can take to improve the health of the planet. Luckily we don’t need to choose between a liveable planet and our health.

“A shift away from eating meat and dairy to a mostly or exclusively plant-based diet can be associated with significant health benefits, with studies showing their ability to add healthy years to life.”

DAUK and PBHP UK recognise that farmers are crucial to ensuring a healthy future and believe the Government and the AHDB must support farmers to reduce production of meat and dairy, while significantly increasing the production of plant foods. 

The letter, sent on 13 May has already received a response from Phil Maiden, head of media relations and external affairs at AHDB. He stated that they ‘strongly refute the claim that our campaign is misleading public health messaging’, which he suggests is in keeping with the EatWell Guide recommendation.

He also disputed the claims around vitamin B12, which he stated is naturally made by ruminant animals. However, the response does not address the latest guidance around healthy sustainable diets, which requires significant reduction of red meat and dairy consumption in the UK.

Read the letter in full.

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