Cutting meat and dairy consumption ‘won’t help the environment’, says NFU

By Oliver Morrison contact

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/AuntSpray
©iStock/AuntSpray

Related tags: Climate change, farming, Dairy

It is wrong to focus on reducing people’s consumption of meat and dairy in order to combat climate change, according to National Farmers' Union (NFU) president Minette Batters.

Her comments came after the release of a landmark report from the Committee on Climate Change, a group of government advisors, which sets out how the UK can net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 and which has enormous potential ramifications for the food and beverage industry.

A ‘new dawn’ calls for a new diet

CCC net zero’s recommendations include a 20% reduction in the consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy, replaced by an increase in consumption of pork, poultry and plant-based products. It calls for a healthier diet, through slightly less beef, lamb and dairy consumption, as livestock are a major source of emissions.

It calls for a fifth of agricultural land to shift to tree planting, energy crops like biofuels, and peatland restoration.

“Constantly talking about reducing our consumption of meat is actually wrong,”​ Batters told the BBC’s World at One programme. “What is very frustrating here is that we focus on diet and not on wider lifestyle.” ​She said the committee’s recommendations should instead focus on many of “the other things we use: textiles, iPhones all coming in from countries that haven’t even started decarbonising.”

The NFU has already said it remains committed to making farming net zero emissions by 2040, but has rejected calls to curb demand for livestock, which it insisted was raised to higher environmental standards than most other countries.

“We absolutely recognise that climate change is a massive issue for everybody, it’s why we set out to achieve net zero in our agricultural emissions by 2040,”​ she said.

The net zero report calls for major changes to farming practices

She added the NFU is calling for ‘smarter farming’ not ‘downsizing production’.  

“Yes, is about better carbon storage and yes it’s about more renewable energy. But we’re responsible for only 10% of emissions at the moment and there is so much we can do without lowering production: it’s about smarter farming.”

She added it would be a mistake to push for British agriculture to move from livestock to arable.

“This is not what it’s about,”​ she said. “The climate change report does not suggest that. 65% of the UK is grassland. It’s absolutely vital that it is grazed. You have a far bigger challenge if you have rotting grassland. So in the UK we want to maintain those grasslands; we are one of the greenest countries in the world. If anywhere in the world should be producing meat and dairy it’s in this part of Western Europe.”

Net Zero by 2050 -- The Committee on Climate Change recommendations:

Diet and agriculture

Agriculture is one of the “largest remaining sources of emissions in our net zero scenarios,​” says the report.

“Mapping of UK agriculture emissions against consumer diets is challenging (as not all food products produced in the UK are consumed here and much of what we consume is imported from abroad). However, taking UK agricultural emissions on a per household basis suggests average household emissions in our net-zero scenarios of between 0.4-0.7 tCO2e in 2050, down from 1.6 tCO2e today. While increases in the productivity of agriculture will bring down some emissions from food production, a big part of this reduction relies on household effort. Shifts towards healthier diets relying less on carbon-intensive animal products (like lamb, beef and dairy) would bring down emissions from agriculture in the UK.”

It also calls for action on food waste

“Reducing food waste is a key step that individuals can take to reduce emissions. Currently, a significant share of agricultural land is devoted to the production of food that ends up being thrown away, often still in an edible state. Around 10 million tonnes of food that leaves the farm is wasted each year, with 70% of this being binned within households. This equates to consumers spending 14% of their weekly shop on food that goes in the bin.”

Related topics: Policy

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1 comment

Biased Comment

Posted by Chris,

Excellent demonstration of biased comment by Minette Batters, totally ignoring medical advice, real climate change and animal welfare issues, selecting instead meat industry misleading statements and inaccuracies. Only doing her job maybe - but we could do with presentation of some short term and long term plans instead of waffle.

Same applies to the Cargill questionnaire of selected individuals in Brazil, U.S., Netherlands and Vietnam - all with major dependencies on the meat trade - but no comment on what the meat industry has done and is doing to the environment - and nothing on animal welfare.

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