31st May


Eat More Meat to Save the Planet

This is the full (unedited) piece, written by George Dunn, TFA Chief Executive, for The Cumberland News and Westmorland Gazette, published on the 31 May 2019

Eat More Meat to Save the Planet

A significant amount of nonsense is being peddled around concerning the contribution of UK agriculture to carbon emissions and climate change.  Beef, sheep, and dairy production have come in for particular attack from uninformed and disingenuous commentators.  Too often we see reports stating that agriculture accounts for 25% of our carbon emissions.  That might be true at a global level, but the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) reports that of the UK’s 468 mt CO2e emissions, only 10% of these are emitted by agriculture.  The bulk of UK emissions come from transport and energy which account for over half of our total emissions.

With UK agriculture accounting for well over two-thirds of the total landmass of our country, our carbon emissions are already incredibly low by comparison.  If 70% of the landmass is producing 10% of the emissions it must mean it the remaining 30% is producing 90% of the emissions.  Every acre of land in agriculture is already less polluting by a factor of 20 in comparison to every acre of land in another sector.

Through its landmass, agriculture is also a major store of carbon.  Over 10 million ha of grassland across the UK, on which livestock and dairy production take place, is storing something like 600 million tonnes of carbon and it is estimated that this accounts for about one-third of the UK’s below ground carbon stock.  This grassland is also responsible for the sequestration of around 2.4 Mt CO2e each year.  So rather than castigating livestock and dairy production in the UK, we should be celebrating the fact that it is already a low emitter of carbon and a massive part of our carbon storage capacity.

Campaigns like “Meat-free Monday” are promoted on the basis that reducing meat consumption is better for the planet because it reduces carbon emissions.  However, perhaps many of the celebrity endorsements of the campaign would do better to look at reducing the extent to which they use air travel as a better means of achieving their goal.  Transport alone accounts for nearly 3 times the amount of carbon emissions in the UK in comparison to agriculture.  Focusing on agriculture and meat production, in particular, is aiming at the wrong target.

The recent campaign launched by the Vegan Society and Humane Society encouraging airlines to offer non-meat, non-dairy meals to allow passengers to offset the carbon emissions for which they are responsible through their flights, is simply bizarre when you look at the true facts.

Of course, people should be free to choose vegan or meat-free diets if they want, but not in the belief that in doing so they are saving the planet through the false premise of carbon offsetting.

The argument is not that agriculture should be exempt from looking at how it can improve its performance in terms of carbon emissions, sequestration and storage but this must be done from a sensible and well-informed basis which some of the lobby groups appear unable to achieve.  The vast majority of farmers understand the responsibility on their shoulders to be both producers of great food and custodians of the environment.  Through the work that our farmers do, day in and day out not only do they provide nutritious, sustainable and tasty food they are also providing landscape, biodiversity, access, renewable energy, management of water resources and stewardship of soils.  Economically, farming underpins much of UK tourism and the vitally important food processing sector within the UK.

Our livestock farmers are managing the carbon in their soils on our behalf every day of the week and they deserve our support, not our criticism.  In fact, we should be eating more meat and dairy products from UK sources in order to save the planet.  Not only are we more efficient in terms of our carbon management in comparison to other parts of the world, but we save on emissions from the transportation used to bring product in from abroad – a win/win situation.  Add to this our much higher animal health and welfare and wider environmental standards and then consider why we would be wanting to do trade deals with other parts of the globe to bring in food with a higher carbon footprint and with lower standards then we achieve at home.  Dr Liam Fox as Secretary of State for International Trade should consider these points very carefully when he is negotiating any post-Brexit trade deals.


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