A government funded report calling for a sharp reduction in livestock numbers to help combat climate change and improve the nation’s diet has been slammed by farmers and opposition leaders.

A study by the Lancet, which was part-funded by the Department of Health, calls for a 30% reduction in livestock numbers in developed countries.

The NFU said the report offered simplistic solutions without recognising the complex challenges the food system faces or the strategies and practical measures that the industry is developing with DEFRA.

“Farmers will be angry that yet again we have an ill informed and simplistic report which appears to completely misunderstand agriculture’s emissions and its role in climate change. But the most unbelievable thing is that this report appears to have been put together without any input from the one government department that deals in food policy and understands the issues – DEFRA,” said NFU president Peter Kendall.

“We know this is a complex issue and that is why DEFRA has been looking at it. This report advocates a 30 per cent reduction in livestock numbers in countries that have the most efficient production systems and hence the lowest emissions. It is part funded by the Department of Health and endorsed by three ministers with no thought for the unintended consequences of such a policy.

“What we need to do is look at doing things more efficiently rather than simply cutting livestock numbers. The car industry is praised for producing more efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles rather than being told to cut production. Likewise, a substantial investment in agricultural research and development is needed to enable farmers to produce food more efficiently with less impact on the environment.

“Other governments that value their livestock production are looking at exciting and innovative ways to reduce agriculture’s environmental impacts while understanding the need to produce more food for an expanding global population. If the UK government wants to be seen as a leader at the climate change talks in Copenhagen they will need to work with farmers and not alienate them with soundbites.”

Shadow DEFRA secretary Nick Herbert also criticised the report.

“Agriculture must play a part in reducing emissions, but careless demands like this don’t just undermine farming, they erode public support for action on climate change,” he said.

“Is it now the government’s policy to promote a 30 per cent reduction in livestock or not?”

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