eating less meat, what does that mean?

You can try the experiment, one day, at the family table. “You eat as much meat as before, do you?” » With the exception of a few fans of good food or modest tables where meat remains too expensive to be ordinary, we can bet that many will answer: “Oh no, I eat a lot less! » And in fact, if we stick to the statistics, the French have reduced their consumption of animal flesh for two decades: between 1998 and 2014, it thus fell, in our country, from 94 kg ec/inhabitant/year (kilo carcass equivalent per inhabitant and per year) at 86 kg ec/inhabitant/year (1).

Except that this decline came after an explosion in the consumption of meat products in the second half of the 20th century.e century – so we have come a long way! And that environmental imperatives have come to reshuffle 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: 2.5 to 10 kg of vegetable protein are needed to produce… a single kilo of animal protein. Not to mention greenhouse gas emissions – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that, all production sectors combined, livestock today represents 14.5% of emissions. world relating to human activity.

A public health issue

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

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

So how do you find it? And can we “objectivize” the “less meat”? From a health perspective, yes. By relying in particular on the PNNS, the National Health Nutrition Program 2019-2023. He recommends to “reduce consumption of red meat” not to exceed 500 g per person per week. By “red meat”, we mean: beef, pork, veal, mutton, goat, horse, wild boar and deer. So excluding poultry. The PNNS also recommends less than 150 g of charcuterie 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 de Lille (2). Among them, that of developing colon cancer, cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. “It’s not just related to the product itself, wishes to clarify the doctor, but also to the fact that excessive consumption of red meat often goes hand in hand 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 500 g per week”believes Professor François Mariotti, nutrition specialist at AgroParisTech, who recalls that human health is part of the “overall health” of the living. Especially since Jean-Michel Lecerf confirms it: from a health point of view, apart from a few populations (children, adolescents, the elderly and pregnant women), it is possible to do without meat if you eat by elsewhere eggs and dairy products.

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

“We can’t ask everyone to become a vegetarian, emphasizes for his part Thierry Pech, the director of the think tank, who has worked for a long time on the food transition. Food is also pleasure, the land and the 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 breeders (4).

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