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Louise Pyne, – 22 May, 2013
Four months after the discovery of horse DNA in frozen burgers and ready meals, people are choosing higher quality organic meat over cheaper products.

Going one step further and having one meat-free day each week could improve your health, help the environment and open up a whole new world of exciting food, says the Vegetarian Society.

This week is National Vegetarian Week, which challenges carnivores to give up meat for seven days. ‘We want to show Britain what vegetarians eat,’ says the society’s Liz O’Neill. ‘We’re encouraging people to post photos of their meals on our Flickr page and we’ve put together some simple vegetarian recipes.

More than a fifth of consumers are buying less meat following the horsemeat scandal, a survey by Consumer Intelligence found, while sales of frozen beefburgers fell 43 per cent and ready meals by 13 per cent, according to market research company Kantar Worldpanel.

On the upside, business is booming for some food producers. Independent meat suppliers have seen sales surge by 20 per cent, while producers of vegetarian ready meals claim products are flying off the shelves, says The Soil Association.

So what are the benefits of swapping sausages for chickpeas? There are ethical and environmental considerations. According to the Vegetarian Society, 2million animals are slaughtered every day in Britain, while the livestock industry produces 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Then there’s health. Non-meat eaters are 32 per cent less likely to die from cardiovascular issues and generally have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, a study by the University of Oxford found.

‘Vegetarians have fewer diseases, a longer life expectancy and, to top it all, veggie food is exciting,’ says Reto Frei, co-founder of the London-based vegetarian restaurant Tibits. ‘You don’t have to compromise on taste.’

But there are downsides to ditching meat. Vegetarians are prone to deficiencies and need to work harder to ensure they get vital nutrients. Dietician Carrie Ruxton, from the Meat Advisory Panel, says: ‘Vegetarians could end up restricting their vitamin and mineral intake unless they are very careful.

‘The horsemeat scandal has proved that cheap food isn’t good food. A heavy reliance on cheap, processed foods, particularly from other countries, means you don’t know for sure what you’re eating, so it’s far better to buy cuts from your local butcher.’

So could the solution to this diet dilemma lie in part-time vegetarianism? ‘Having at least one day a week without meat is an achievable goal,’ says Suzanne Barnard, of the McCartney family’s Meat-Free Mondays initiative. ‘Cutting down gives people the opportunity to improve their health, do their bit for the planet and broaden their culinary horizons.’