UK farmers must cut their meat and dairy production by a third over the next decade if climate crisis targets are to be achieved, a conservation charity has said.
A report by WWF revealed Britain’s pork and poultry production must be reduced and, with it, the environmentally-damaging imported feed they eat. This, together with a drastic reduction in people’s meat consumption would achieve not only lower greenhouse gas emissions and better environment and wildlife, but also better health.
“If we are serious about tackling the twin threats of climate change and nature loss, farming and land use can’t be an afterthought,” Tanya Steele, WWF chief executive, told The Guardian, suggesting it is not just farmers who have to pull their weight in tackling the climate collapse.
Farmers argue they can meet climate targets whilst producing meat
Livestock is a major cause of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions because of the methane they release and their feed’s environmental footprint.
Britain’s soy imports for animal feed must thus also be cut by around a fifth by 2030 according to the charity, to reduce deforestation and fertiliser overuse abroad.
But UK farmers argued they can reach climate targets whilst continuing to produce meat and dairy for the country.
Stuart Roberts, deputy president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Our farmers can deliver the necessary environmental and climate benefits while maintaining domestic food production, including the production of nutritious meat and dairy, and it’s important that we do so. With more than 90% of UK households still wanting to buy high quality red meat and dairy, British products are often the most sustainable options.”
“If we reduced sustainable production here, it would only export our carbon footprint to countries which don’t meet our own high environmental standards, and risk seeing food imports reduced to standards that would be illegal here,” he added.
Eat much less meat – and better quality
Meanwhile, Rob Percival, head of food and policy at the Soil Association, said UK households could continue to eat meat and save the planet, as long as they eat much less of it and higher quality.
He said: “Nature-friendly, agroecological farming can feed a growing population, but only if we eat less and better meat, ensuring what we do eat is high welfare, so that we can eliminate intensive animal farming and all the risks it poses to animal welfare, habitats for wildlife, and human health.”
He added cattle feeding on grass helps the soil, but that the high poultry production must be cut drastically because it causes river pollution in Britain and its soy feed leads to deforestation in South America.
Percival also called for an end to trade deals after Brexit which would allow low-welfare meat with a big carbon footprint into the UK.