eat less meat, what does that mean?

You can try the experiment one day at the family table. “You eat as much meat as before, don’t you?” » With the exception of a few fans of good food or modest tables where meat remains too expensive to be common, we can bet that many will respond: “Oh no, I eat a lot less! » And in fact, if we stick to statistics, the French reduced their consumption of animal meat for two decades: between 1998 and 2014, it dropped, in our country, from 94 kg ec/inhabitant/year (equivalent to kilo of carcass per inhabitant and per year) to 86 kg ec/inhabitant/year (1).

But this decline came after an explosion in the consumption of meat products in the second half of the 20th century.and century – so we’ve come a long way! And that environmental imperatives came to shuffle the cards. According to the WWF organization, “The consumption of meat and milk mobilizes more than 80% of the useful agricultural area” to our food in the world. Or to put it another way: it takes 2.5 to 10 kg of vegetable protein to produce… a single pound of animal protein. Not to mention greenhouse gas emissions – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that, together with all the productive sectors, livestock currently represents 14.5% of global emissions related to human activity.

A public health problem

In this context, the idea that it would be good to eat less meat in our rich countries is starting to gain people’s heads… But we don’t really know what that means. Return to the family table to measure the fog. Ines, 75 years old: “For me, meat is red meat; the steak, what. I grew up after the war, and having a plateful of them was very important. But in recent years, I eat less. »

For this Parisian, a slice of ham or a chicken breast doesn’t matter much. While for her granddaughter Lucie, 15, all animal meat must be taken into account, including “the bacon in the quiche”. For teenagers, eating less meat, therefore, has another meaning: favoring several vegetarian days a week.

So how do you find it? And can we “objectify” the “less meat”? From a health point of view, yes. Based in particular on the PNNS, the National Health Nutrition Program 2019-2023. He recommends the “reduce consumption of red meat” not exceed 500 g per person per week. By “red meat” we mean: beef, pork, veal, mutton, goat, horse, wild boar and venison. Therefore, excluding birds. The PNNS also recommends less than 150 g of sausages per week.

“Eating meat is not bad in itself, but excessive consumption carries risks”, explains Jean-Michel Lecerf, head of the nutrition department at the Institut Pasteur in Lille (2). These include developing colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, or type 2 diabetes. “It’s not just related to the product itself, want to clarify the doctor, but also to the fact that the excessive consumption of red meat is often associated with a less balanced diet and cooking methods to be avoided, such as grilling. »

“A New Balance”

That is. But if we take into account the environmental issue? “We could go further and recommend a more significant reduction than the current benchmark of 500g per week”believes Professor François Mariotti, nutrition specialist at AgroParisTech, who recalls that human health is part of the “general health” of the living. Especially as Jean-Michel Lecerf confirms: from a health point of view, in addition to some populations (children, adolescents, the elderly and pregnant women), it is possible to do without meat if you eat eggs and dairy products elsewhere.

In a 2017 report, the Terra Nova think tank proposes “a new balance” to face the dual health/environment challenge. As ? when inverting “the current ratio of animal and plant proteins” ; that is, a diet where 60% of the proteins would be of vegetable origin, compared to 40% today (3). A simple reference that the two scientists, in Lille and AgroParisTech, believe ” interesting “.

“We can’t ask everyone to become vegetarian, highlights, in turn, Thierry Pech, director of the think tank, who has been working on the food transition for a long time. Food is also pleasure, land and imagination. » The proposed ratio is therefore intended to be accessible, a compromise between “food traditions”, “sanitary requirements”, “environmental imperatives” and “economic interests”specifies Terra Nova, which does not forget, in its work, to take into account the consequences for the creators (4).

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