FARMING organisations have hit back at a global report which suggested that the key to a healthy diet and a lower carbon footprint involved heavily reducing red meat consumption.

The Eat Lancet Commission scientific report, which was produced by 37 experts across 16 countries, aimed to analyse the best food for both human health and planet sustainability, and concluded that a diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods resulted in improved health and environmental benefits.

Authors of the report also said that food production needed to focus on making “drastic improvements” in its fertiliser, water and emission use to avoid inflicting irreparable damage to the planet.

Will Jackson, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s strategy director for beef and lamb, said that although the report was “well-intentioned”, it was also flawed.

“Red meat produced in the UK is a sustainable source of good quality protein,” he said. “It makes best use of natural resources and requires very few additional inputs. Rain makes grass grow which cattle consume and convert into protein that humans can eat. It is a completely natural cycle that has been running for thousands of years in tune with, and complementary to, our natural environment.

“The real danger of this report is that, because it is so well backed financially and is being launched across the globe with little acknowledgement of regional differences, it will be taken at face value by people in the UK who may then put their health at risk and even worsen their personal carbon footprint.”

NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts added: “Scientific communities agree that red meat plays a vital role in a healthy, balanced diet as a rich source of essential nutrients, minerals, and protein.

“It is overly simplistic to target one food group for a significant reduction in consumption and it ignores its medically accepted role as a key part of a healthy diet.

“It is clear that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and British farmers are continuing to take action.

“A combination of policies and practises will be needed to enable farmers to meet their ambitions but we must not forget the impact of a changing climate on food production

“We only have to look back to the drought last year to see the effect it can have.”