The Wilberforce Lecture 2022

The Wilberforce Lecture - named after William Wilberforce, a founding member of the RSPCA - provides a platform for leading figures to deliver lectures about the relationship between humans and animals to thought leaders and change makers. 

In the first lecture in the series, Henry Dimbleby speaks about meat consumption and animal welfare legislation, and how we are at a critical moment to address these to secure our future and the future of the trillions of animals we share the planet with.

Watch Henry's speech, or read the key messages, below.

Read the full speech.

What we eat has consequences

Humans have evolved as meat and plant eaters. But with the population growing, the increasing demand for meat is destroying the planet.
The food system is responsible for around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and of that total, almost 80% is caused by livestock farming. Livestock farming takes up a huge amount of land, water and fertiliser. The amount is out of proportion to the amount of food it produces. It takes 20 times more land to produce one gram of protein from beef than from pulses.

Across the world, including places the UK imports meat from, forests are being cleared for the rearing of livestock. This has a catastrophic impact on the planet as we lose environments that absorb carbon, and replace them with carbon emissions. 

Simply put, if we eat less meat, our land can be put to much better use.

The National Food Strategy, led by Henry Dimbleby, calculated that the UK needs to cut back on meat consumption by around 30% to achieve its biodiversity and climate goals.

What can the public do?

We can all do our bit to eat more mindfully. For some this may be cutting out meat altogether, for others it will be reducing how much meat they eat and buying better quality meat.

We encourage people to 'eat less eat better' by reducing meat consumption and choosing RSPCA Assured meat, eggs and dairy products. These are produced to higher welfare standards.

The Government needs to act now for animals

Historically, the UK has been ahead of other countries in legally protecting animal welfare. 200 years ago, the 1822 Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act made us the first nation ever to pass an animal welfare law. 

Today, the UK has some of the best food production standards in the world. Many practices that are illegal here are still practised in the rest of the world. That's why it matters who we trade with. We should not be holding British farmers to higher standards while allowing the import of cheap food produced to lower standards abroad.

Our Government promised to be a world leader for animal welfare

Worryingly, their commitment to this is now wavering.

In 2022, 200 years after our first animal welfare law, ministers abandoned plans to ban the import of fur and foie gras. They may also drop the Kept Animals Bill which aims to ban the live transport of animals, as well as deal with primates being kept as pets, and the import of puppies with cropped ears.

It is critical that the Government honour their pledge and pass this law. 

What can the public do?

You can help us to make sure the Government keeps their commitment to animals. You can do this by writing to your MP

About the speaker

Henry Dimbleby is the co-founder of the restaurant chain Leon. He is also the author of the Government commissioned National Food Strategy and is a non-executive board member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.