In places with high meat consumption, shifting diets toward plant-based foods can help food companies achieve climate and nature goals. There is also growing interest to accompany strategies that source “less meat” with strategies that source “better meat.” However, “better meat” lacks a clear definition and can refer to environmental, social, ethical, and/or economic attributes. The “better meat” concept is also often tied to alternative agricultural production systems.

This report examines the different definitions and attributes of “better meat” and summarizes the results of academic research comparing the environmental performance of conventional and alternative animal production systems. Counterintuitively, production systems associated with “better meat” often result in higher environmental impacts per kilogram of protein, although animal welfare may improve. These results suggest that where “better meat” causes higher environmental impacts, strategies to source “less meat” may need to shift to source “even less meat.” The report also examines strategies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from meat production.

This report recommends six steps that companies can take to design a sourcing strategy that will allow them to achieve climate and nature goals while also sourcing “better meat,” to maximize co-benefits and minimize trade-offs:

1) Calculate the “scope 3” GHG emissions baseline of their food purchases, including meat.

2) Shift from high-emissions products like beef and lamb toward lower-emissions products like plant-based foods and alternative proteins.

3) Define meat sourcing priorities by product (e.g., lower-emissions beef, higher-welfare chicken).

4) Assess the potential environmental impacts of the new sourcing strategy on climate and other “better meat” priority goals.

5) If a “better meat” sourcing strategy increases environmental impacts, shift to sourcing “even less meat.”

6) Engage with suppliers to improve practices and track progress.