PLANT-BASED meat alternatives have been slammed as 'industrialised and processed' by the National Sheep Association, which has questioned the motives of the supermarkets now pushing these products as 'sustainable'.

The sheep producers' body was reacting to Tesco and Asda’s stated intentions to substantially grow their ranges of plant-based foods. Tesco has announced plans to increase its sales of meat alternatives by 300% over the next five years, while Asda has revealed plans to add dedicated vegan aisles in many of its stores.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “We are now seeing mass-produced industrialised and processed foods being dressed up as sustainable food options, and here we have two of our biggest retailers setting growth targets based on them being better for consumers health and for the environment.

"Unsurprisingly there are no targets for increasing the sales of fresh fruit and vegetables and it looks as though this could be another means of increasing profit margins through adding ‘value’ through intensive food processing and highly packaged products," said Mr Stocker.

“If this is not being done for profit reasons and is truly an altruistic decision then I would strongly question the sustainability criteria being used," he stated. "The NSA supports moves to improve diets and part of this for some people will mean having to moderate the amount of meat they eat, but for Tesco to blandly say that plant-based foods are more sustainable infers that meat production is unsustainable, and we know that is not the case."

The NSA accused the plant-based meat sector of avoiding using 'holistic metrics' to measure the sustainability of the full life cycle of food production and processing.

"In terms of British lamb once you look at nutrient density, the unprocessed nature of our product, land use, the ability to produce mainly from grass alone, the semi-natural, extensive method of sheep farming, the thousands of family farms, and the symbiotic relationship with nature both within and above the soil, then lamb starts to look like a highly sustainable food," said Mr Stocker.

“Even if the decision is based on the assumption that vegan foods don’t ‘take a life’, then people need to be reminded that this is untrue. It may help peoples conscience, but even plant-based foods result in the death or the destruction of life – whether this is through habitat destruction in the case of palm oil or almond production, or pest control in crop production – whether it's chemical or biological.

“If Tesco and Asda are serious about driving sustainable food production and consumption then the NSA challenges these retailers to set targets for increasing the market share for British lamb within its overall meat and protein category.”