‘Clean’, ‘green’, ‘cruelty-free’ meat alternatives are often positioned as more ethically responsible meal options. Assumptions are sometimes also made that they are healthier too. But are they?
It’s a question that is explored in depth in a new briefing note from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.
The group, which advises policy makers, says that while the environmental profile of meat alternatives ‘looks promising in some scenarios’, there is ‘little independent evidence on the consequences of large-scale production’.
The council says in its briefing note: “The long-term health effects of consuming meat alternatives have not been established. These products are usually highly processed and the use of novel ingredients and new production processes might carry health risks that are hard to predict.”
The long-term health effects of consuming meat alternatives have not been established
It adds that consumers should not assume that processed plant-based products have the same health benefits as fruit, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.
It also suggests the some of the health advantages over meat could be negated by ultra-processing techniques and higher levels of sodium and iron present in finished products. It says long-term studies are needed to assess the health and other implications of eating such products.
Hugh Whittall, the council’s director, told The Times: “Meat alternatives can potentially offer more sustainable and healthier choices than conventional meat, but we need a lot more evidence to assess their true impact in the longer term.”
Environmental sustainability of meat alternatives might be limited by the energy required for protein processing
“We need transparency and accuracy in marketing and labelling so that people are not misled or confused,” he adds.
The council’s paper also explores how significant scaling of the meat alternatives industry can be orientated sustainably to take account of the environment, animal welfare and impacts on the farming industry. It remarks that the ‘environmental sustainability of meat alternatives might be limited by the energy required for protein processing and transformation of raw materials’.