THE EMERGENCE of new diets that place red meat at the top of the hate list, and what appears to be a slow but steady rise in vegetarianism and veganism, is being watched keenly by Australia’s beef and sheepmeat industries.
Countering misinformation that often drives decisions to restrict diets and hammering home the message about the health benefits of red meat is the game plan.
From climatarianism, which is following a diet that has minimal impact on the climate, to the arrival of the flexitarian, the occasional vegetarian, new anti-meat trends are getting solid airplay in health media, particularly those targeted at women.
Roy Morgan Research has just released findings showing that in the five years to 2016, the number of Australian adults whose diet is all or almost all vegetarian has risen from 1.7 million, or 9.7 per cent of the population, to almost 2.1m or 11.2pc.
Norman Morris, industry communications director at Roy Morgan, said whether people were embracing a less meat-heavy diet for health, environmental or animal welfare reasons, the fact remained the trend looked set to continue.
The research also found almost 9.9m adults agreed they were ‘eating less meat these days.’
Vegan Australia’s Greg McFarlane estimates between 1 and 2pc of Australians now live a vegan lifestyle, whereby they do not eat or use animal products.
He says that number is likely to double in the next five years.
While concern about health is driving some of the move towards veganism, Mr McFarlane says animal welfare is now ‘in people’s faces’ and environmentalists are warning animal agriculture is a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr McFarlane said exact statistics on the number of people who eat vegan meals was hard to come by but there was plenty of qualitative evidence of an increase in demand for vegan menu items.
He listed the marked increase in reporting of veganism in the media, the growing number of exclusively vegan restaurants in major cities, the growth of specialist vegan food and clothing businesses and the development of vegan dishes in non-vegan restaurants.
The World Health Organisation’s report last year denouncing processed meat as group one carcinogens had also spurred enormous interest on social media, he said.
Experienced beef consultant and cattle industry group leader Malcolm Foster said Australia’s livestock industries should be paying close attention to these developments as they would certainly have an impact on their businesses.
“A lot of what is driving these trends is based on incorrect information, particularly in terms of the environment, and as an industry we have to constantly be countering inaccuracies being peddled,” he said.
“Then, the next step is making sure people understand the health benefits of eating red meat.
“The other issue fueling this is concern about the welfare of animals and our industry is doing an awful amount of work in this area - the issue is we need to get that information out.
“The mainstream media likes sensational stories and to a degree does the work for proponents of these movements.”
Meat and Livestock Australia says its own detailed research indicates the number of consumers who restrict their red meat intake due to sustainability concerns has remained steady over recent years, with factors such as price and nutrition being a more significant barrier to consumption.
Chief marketing and communications officer Lisa Sharp said MLA’s consumer research had driven its domestic marketing activities, especially in relation to promotion of beef through the ongoing ‘You’re better on Beef’ campaign.
“The first phase of this campaign targeted women, especially young women and those with kids, where research identified nutrition to be a potential purchase barrier,” she said.
“More recently, MLA’s nutrition marketing campaign, The Trinity Experiment, targeted younger Australians and men and reinforced the place of red meat in a healthy balanced diet.”
The industry was also engaging with the community and consumers through projects such as ‘Good Meat’ to address misconceptions and share facts of Australian meat and livestock production in an authentic, transparent and engaging way, she said.
“The objective is to engage socially-conscious consumers and encourage discussion, generating positive conversation around Australian meat and livestock industry practices,” she said.
The Target 100 website is also designed to transparently address any concerns the community has that are related to beef and lamb production. It features extensive sections on everything from animal welfare across all the sectors of the supply chain to the facts on energy and water use, plus stories with real farmers who have opened their gates to provide a look at what goes on at their place