Less Than Half of Germans Identify as Full-Time Meat Eaters

Many are eager to embrace cultured meat as an alternative.

Currywurst near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany
A woman eats currywurst near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images 

Germany is now one of the most vegetarian nations in Europe. This may come as a surprise to the many people who think of Germany as the land of sausages, schnitzel, and pork knuckles, but a new study published in the journal Foods found that only 45% of Germans says they eat meat full-time, with 31% trying to reduce the amount of meat that they eat. 

The study took a fascinating delve into how traditionally meat-centric European countries view their consumption of a now-fraught food. Researchers interviewed 1,000 people in both Germany and France, asking them about their personal dietary habits, their reasons for wanting to reduce meat (if that was mentioned), and their views on eventually eating more cultured (lab-grown) meat

They found that respondents in Germany were more inclined toward vegetarianism and reducetarianism than in France, where a majority (69%) of those interviewed said they still eat meat full-time and only 26% are striving to reduce it. As for curiosity about cultured meat, a majority in both countries had not heard of it, but Germans were more receptive.

Interestingly, support for cultured meat was strongest in agricultural communities, where people have the closest contact with livestock. This sounds counterintuitive, but the researchers suggest that it's because these people understand (and possibly dislike) more about the current meat production system than the average urban grocery shopper. From the study:

"This indicates farmers may see cultured meat as a way to address the mass demand for affordable meat, enabling them to move away from intensive industrial production systems and return to more traditional systems, which are more harmonious with environmental and animal welfare outcomes."

There's also some evidence that pro-cultured meat messaging emphasizes benefits such as no need for antibiotics and improved food safety; these are reasons that resonate more with the general public than messaging about animal cruelty, welfare, and the environment.

Christopher Bryant, a psychologist from Bath University who was lead researcher for this study, says this bodes well for the future. Passing that halfway mark of Germans who don't eat meat full-time means a tipping point has been reached. He told the Guardian,

"The social implications here are potentially quite profound. The view that being a carnivore is ‘normal’ is part of the lay moral reasoning for continuing to eat meat. But once that is a minority view, and meat replacement options become cheaper and tastier, the trend is likely to continue in one direction."

Furthermore, France and Germany have significant political clout when it comes to agricultural reform. Historically, Germany has always had an agricultural deficit, while France has a surplus, which makes them both staunch supporters of the Common Agricultural Policy. This program is responsible for 40% of the European Union's agriculture budget and grants subsidies to farmers, including livestock providers. Reform has been difficult in years gone by, due to the strong influence of livestock farmers in France; but after studying the shifting dietary habits of these countries' residents, it's apparent that change could be coming in the near future.

The time is ripe for it. Particularly in light of COVID-19, when transmission of zoonotic disease from animals to humans has shaken the entire world, people are reexamining their relationships to food and questioning more closely what they should and should not be eating. Similarly, concern about antibiotic resistance is higher than ever, and people are starting to realize that farmed animals should not be receiving antibiotics in large quantities for no reason other than to offset the risks of cramped, disease-ridden conditions and to spur on abnormally fast growth. As Jens Tuider, director of ProVeg International, said in a press release,

"Globally, more than 70% of antibiotics are used on animals in intensive farming, dramatically decreasing the efficacy of antibiotics intended for humans. This represents a serious threat to global public health, with a projected death toll from antibiotic-resistant diseases of 10 million per year by 2050. Since cellular [cultured] agriculture has no need for antibiotics, it could significantly mitigate against this major risk to public health."

We're not out of the woods yet. Even if developed countries are slowly moving away from heavy meat consumption, there are many developing countries that are starting to eat more of it, as their wealth and access to it increases. But it doesn't hurt to set an example, to show that there are other ways of living and eating that do not involve consuming large quantities of cheap meat, nor contribute to upholding the heavily-industrialized farming systems that are causing so many damage to our already-overtaxed planet.