Government attempts to get people to eat less meat could damage public health, an industry body has warned.
It comes after the Cabinet Office’s Nudge Unit suggested a tax on meat but admitted it could prove “highly regressive”.
Meat processors group BMPA argued that “political or social engineering” might encourage shoppers to avoid healthier, British foods.
Speaking to the Grocery Gazette, a spokesperson said that “nudges” could “steer them away from natural, nutritious whole foods towards unhealthy, highly processed substitutes”.
“A decline in public health will be one of those unintended consequences,” they continued.
Meat consumption will need to fall by a third within the decade if the country is to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The government is torn between hitting its manifesto commitment while keeping the public on-side.
A business department source said, in response to the Nudge proposals last week, that it had “no plans whatsoever to dictate consumer behaviour”.
National food tsar Henry Dimbleby reportedly cautioned this summer that a meat tax could lead to riots.
In a paper published and then deleted on the government website, Nudge researchers recommended “building public support for a bold policy” such as a tax on sheep or cattle meat.
In doing so, it said that ministers “must avoid alienation of mainstream dietary choices, or demonisation of the livestock sector”.
The BMPA added that a levy should not penalise British producers, who have a “much lower environmental footprint” than foreign rivals.
According to the government’s climate change committee, greenhouse gas emissions from UK beef is under half the global average.