'Flexitarians' driving global move away from meat consumption: study

Sales of meat have slowed to a crawl around the world, thanks in part to the growing number of 'flexitarians' -  that murkily-defined group of part-time vegetarians - and public health warnings outlining the perils of red meat consumption.

According to an August report from Euromonitor International, meat was one of the worst performers over the 2005 to 2010 period, with sales growing less than 14 percent over the six-year period. Only vegetables fared slightly worse, with a growth rate of 11 percent.

Meanwhile, though consumers put meat on the backburner, pulses like lentils and chickpeas gained in popularity, as did nuts and fruits which experienced a volume growth of 19 and 18 percent respectively.

The global trend is a reflection of the growing movement away from meat consumption, the report pointed out.

Red meat in particular has been getting a bad rap from scientists, public health authorities and governments around the world. Earlier this year, a groundbreaking study found a direct link between the consumption of red meats and processed meats and the increased risk of colorectal cancer. The findings prompted public health authorities in the UK to advise cutting meat consumption to 70 g a day.

Celebrity-led crusades championing animal welfare and environmental advocates have also made an impact on the meat market, the report said, as a growing number of consumers have either adopted a vegetarian diet or significantly reduced their meat intake - a population of semi-vegetarians also known as 'flexitarians.'

Celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the UK were also identified as influential chefs and food personalities who have been able to change consumers' eating habits by raising public awareness on animal welfare issues.

And the Meatless Mondays movement has become popular among health and eco-conscious consumers.

Citing a Harris Interactive study, the report also pointed out that while one percent of US citizens described themselves as vegetarians in 1971, that percentage grew to 3.4 percent in 2009.

Elsewhere, India has the largest non meat-eating population in the world with an estimated 31 percent of that country's largely Hindu population described as lacto-vegetarians: they consume milk and honey, but no other animal-derived products.

Vegetarianism was also found to be fairly common in Taiwan, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Israel and the UK.

Where the movement has gained no traction, meanwhile, is China and Japan, two of the world's biggest consumer markets.

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