Some say meat is murder. In the long term for human beings, it may be more like suicide. Meat causes death, disease and environmental destruction. Agricultural techniques have contributed to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (“superbugs”), the spread of food-borne illness and the emergence of lethal conditions like new variant CJD. Our appetite for meat has partly led to the prevalence of the fatal diseases of affluence in our society – cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease – and contributed to hunger in the developing world by demanding land and resources be devoted to feeding our farmed animals instead of human beings. Reliance on meat and livestock proved disastrous for the United Kingdom when BSE wiped out our export markets and foot-and-mouth decimated our countryside and the tourist industry on which it depended. As the nations most recently affected by bird flu have learned, meat is not something that you can ever rely on. Not as a commodity, not as a way of life – and certainly not as a food.

This report cannot examine all the ills that derive from meat: instead it will focus simply on the product on our plates – how it gets there, where it comes from and what comes with it. As meat sales have declined and vegetarianism grown, so the vested interests reliant on meat have worked harder and harder to reinforce the idea that the dead flesh of slaughtered animals is a healthy, wholesome and desirable product. Marketing men and women, advertisers, package designers and lifestyle editors have done their very best to disguise the true nature of meat and position it as something modern, fresh and clean – to make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. The reality is anything but.