Discussion Forum 2023 - Meet the speakers: Rob Percival


Rob Percival is Head of Food Policy at the Soil Association, an organisation promoting healthy and sustainable food and farming. His book ‘The Meat Paradox’ was published in 2022 and explores the cognitive and cultural complexity of the meat debate.

Q: What sparked your interest in the topic?

I’m head of food policy at the Soil Association and the author of The Meat Paradox, a book about our relationship with farmed animals. I’m interested in this topic because so many issues coalesce around animal farming. If we’re to resolve the climate and nature crises, feed everyone a healthy diet, and forge a more just and equitable society, we will need to completely reorient the way that we relate to animals. That starts by eating differently.

Q: Why is this topic particularly relevant now? 

The processes of ecological breakdown already in train are going to get worse this decade. We’re living on borrowed time, and the necessary response is being inhibited by deep-rooted denial and forces of prevarication intent on protecting the status quo. We need to radically reform our food system, and fast, if we are to resolve the crises confronting us.

Q:What are the key issues of your topic?

Most of the meat in the average UK diet is provided by intensive pig and poultry systems which are typically environmentally damaging and characterised by routine welfare failings. Livestock have an important role to play in a sustainable farming system and can form part of a healthy diet, but significant change in the way that we farm and eat is urgently needed.

Q: What are you hoping delegates will take away from your session?

Radical dietary change is needed, now.

Q: Are there any statistics, research, new developments, or case studies that you can share with us about the topic?

The UK Climate Change Committee has said a 35-50% decline in average UK per capita meat and dairy consumption will be needed to deliver net zero. Modelling of a sustainable, higher welfare farming system reinforces these figures, and pushes the % decline needed for pork and poultry to 50-70%.