A collaborative approach to a sustainable diet: lessons from WWF’s Livestock Dialogues

August 18th 2014

Jane Wallace-Jones

Jane Wallace-Jones

It’s an ongoing debate whether eating meat is part of a healthy and sustainable diet. The debate is often polarised, with meat producers on one side and advocates of a vegetarian or vegan diet on the other. This is neither fruitful nor accurate.

Meat – both red and white – is an excellent source of protein and part of an important economic sector, providing livelihoods for thousands of producers in the UK and millions globally. But, consuming meat also comes with potential environmental and health risks. That is why WWF and a number of organisations believe we need to moderate our meat consumption. But, how can we encourage stakeholders to embrace this position?

WWF believes that the best way to achieve this is by bringing together diverse stakeholders, encouraging dialogues and collaborative working. And, we’ve been successful in adopting this approach in various projects, including LiveWell for LIFE. But here I want to reflect on the learnings from WWF-UK’s Livestock Dialogues project.

Between 2009 and 2013 WWF-UK led the ‘livestock dialogues’ together with the Food Ethics Council. This project aimed to help producers, policy makers and environmental groups break out of the stalemate over the role that changing meat consumption should play in tackling climate change.

Initially the dialogue involved developing a framework of potential actions. This provided a focal point for further conversations and was followed by the development of more specific recommendations for government, retailers and all stakeholders. The process involved a diverse range of actors, including producer organisations such as the National Farmers Union and EBLEX (the organisation for the English beef and sheep industry);  food retailers including M&S, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s;  government and policy makers; academics and NGOs.

Key questions in this dialogue included:

  • What role can changing our consumption of meat play in combating climate change?
  • How can eating less meat help protect the planet? And does this message over-simplify the issue?
  • What consequences would an ‘eat less meat’ message have for hard-pressed farmers and how can we overcome these?
  • What role could government and retailers play?

What was striking about this project was not so much the policy recommendations, research and evidence, but the greater understanding and respect that developed between previously opposing sides. This in turn enabled more informed thinking around solutions and a way forward in the meat debate. The opposing sides didn’t come up with all the answers, but they did start to find some common ground and greater trust, and this provided a great foundation for future work between the sectors. Such an approach could be easily replicated in other projects and countries.

The early successes of the Livestock Dialogues influenced LiveWell for LIFE and our work with the Network of European Food Stakeholders. We’ve embraced a collaborative approach towards a more sustainable food system, and we have plenty of success stories!

Together we’ve have determined the viability of the LiveWell Plate – a tool to define country specific sustainable diets – by testing and evaluating the tool in three pilot countries: Spain, France and Sweden. We’ve also identified the key social and economic opportunities and barriers for adopting sustainable diets across Europe.

And we’re currently finalising our final recommendations and planning our next steps. These will be presented at our final conference ‘The Future of Food’ which will take in Brussels 11 December 2014.

There are still plenty of opportunities to get involved in our work. The best thing to do is to follow us on @LiveWellFood and join the conversation, sign up to our newsletter, join the online community, or simply check out our website.

We look forward to working with you!

Jane Wallace-Jones

Project Manager – LiveWell for LIFE


What’s your experience of collaborative working? Leave a comment.

More about LiveWell for LIFE.

More on WWF’s livestock dialogue and impacts.


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