Climate plan urging plant-based diet shift deleted

A government research paper recommending people “shift dietary habits” towards plant-based foods has been hastily deleted.

The paper focuses on changing public behaviour to hit climate targets and also suggests promoting domestic tourism and portraying business travel as an “immoral indulgence”.

It was deleted soon after publication by the Department for Business.

Beis said the paper was academic research and not official policy.

“We have no plans whatsoever to dictate consumer behaviour in this way. For that reason, our Net Zero Strategy published yesterday contained no such plans,” it said.

The Behavioural Insights Unit, also known as the Nudge Unit, wrote the document.

The unit is most known for its role in the design of the sugar levy and early comments on the pandemic “herd immunity” strategy.

The document was swiftly deleted and has been replaced with a note saying it was published in error, but BBC News obtained a copy.

It was also later put online by Alex Chapman, a researcher at the New Economics Foundation.

The Behavioural Insights Unit made a recommendation, following the example of the sugar levy, with a tax on producers or retailers of “high-carbon foods” to incentivise plant-based and local food diets.


It suggests “building support for a bold policy”, such as a tax on producers of sheep and cattle meat.

However, it states that an “unsophisticated meat tax would be highly regressive”.

The research paper also says the government can begin to get people used to the idea of plant-based food through its spending at hospitals, schools, prisons, courts and military facilities.

It also states a “timely moment to intervene” in changing diets could be to target people attending university or first-time renters.

‘Learn one new recipe’

The document recognises that “asking people to directly eat less meat and dairy is a major political challenge”, although a positive portrayal and “smaller asks” may be possible – for example, people learning one new recipe.

When talking about flights, the paper suggests “much stronger carbon taxes”.

One possibility discussed in the paper is trying to “shift social norms” to make in-person business meetings needing international flights a sign of “immoral indulgence or embarrassment” rather than a sign of “importance”.

Meanwhile, it says domestic tourism should be promoted to lessen consumer demand for international flights.

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