Meat production and consumption for a healthy and sustainable Australian food system: Policy options and political dimensions
Sustainable Production and Consumption
Institute for Nutrition Research
National Health and Medical Research Council
Background: While moderate amounts of meat have nutritional benefits, diets high in meat are contributing to adverse health and environmental outcomes, including environmental degradation, high greenhouse gas emissions, and the increasing the global burden of chronic disease. Authoritative organisations have repeatedly called for significant reduction in meat consumption. In Australia, this presents a major political and cultural challenge, due to the dominant societal preference for meat, the economic significance of the meat industry and a political deference to neoliberalism. Underpinned by an ecologically responsive regulatory approach, this study aims to explore the regulatory and political responses to this challenge in Australia, the political barriers to effective meat reduction, and opportunities for future action. Methods: We adopt a synthesis review method, searching extant literature on policy and political challenges of meat reduction in Australia. We synthesise thematic findings from this literature into two parts: policy and regulatory options; and political enablers and constraints. Results: We outline potential policy approaches and actions that, if applied synergistically, may shape the Australian food system for meat reduction, covering food supply to the food environment and consumer behaviour; including ‘on-farm’ regulatory options, taxation, subsidies, labelling, marketing, information provision, dietary guidelines, and dietary substitution. We also examine the political barriers, including the ideology of carnism which perpetuates unsustainable cultural norms, the role of powerful industry actors and their interests, and the institutional inter-dependence between industry and government. Conclusions: A food systems-wide approach to meat reduction is necessary to abate the harms associated with high production and consumption. A holistic approach requires a multiplicity of policy and regulatory actions, underpinned by a view that regulation must be ‘ecologically responsive’ and thus acknowledge the complex social, political, economic and environmental facets of meat consumption.