Industry fights back over ‘go veggie’ message

The livestock sector and farming leaders have condemned the claim that people should go vegetarian to fight global warming as an over-simplification.

In an interview with The Times on Tuesday (27 Oct), Lord Stern of Brentford said: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases.”

“It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”

The article appeared on the front page of the newspaper under the headline: Climate chief: give up meat to save the planet.

In a joint letter industry leaders said the headline was misguided and adopting a balanced approach to tackling the challenges of climate change was the only way to make a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

“Trumpeting an isolated lifestyle change as a way of reducing our environmental impact is irresponsible and likely to be counterproductive,” it said.

“To be successful, all agriculture depends on the land resource and the prevailing climate conditions. Around 60 per cent of UK farmland is only suitable for growing grass; it would not support a crop directly consumable by humans.

“Without a grazing animal you could not use this land resource to produce food for the population. Globally, the same story is repeated. Therefore the challenge is to get the best food returns from the available land while minimising water usage and other environmental impacts, such as GHG emissions.”

The letter was signed by NFU president Peter Kendall, EBLEX chairman John Cross, NSA chairman Jonathan Barber, HCC chairman Rees Roberts, QMS chairman Donald Biggar and NBA chairman Christopher Thomas-Everard.

In a separate letter, NFU livestock chairman Alistair Mackintosh said that the story had been a simplistic take on what is a very complex issue.

“Figures show that methane emissions from UK agricultural production have fallen by 17 per cent since 1990 and the sector only accounts for around one per cent of the UK’s total CO2 emissions,” he said.

“Practical measures to further reduce emissions from livestock are being looked at, including changing diets, improving productivity and using anaerobic digestion to produce biogas as a source of renewable, green energy.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock in the UK by a contraction of the industry, in order to reduce output and livestock numbers, would simply ‘export’ our emissions to other countries and lead to an increase in UK food imports.”

Farmers on the FWi forums have also reacted with frustration.

“The argument against eating meat for ethical reasons is old, the new argument is the climate change effect of animals on our planet,” said Kansasfarmer. 

“Lord Stern does not address the issue that cattle and sheep are not new, they have been around for thousands of years, why suddenly are they such a threat?”

Another contributer 2658336 added: “It is worth blasting the idiots who blame all ruminants for global warming.  Sheep and cattle eating 80% or more grass are contributing to a major carbon sink via the permanent or semi-permanent grassland. Dairy cattle on high-energy feeds are (I’m afraid) another matter.  I think there is almost certainly an opening for “Grass sourced milk”.

Why not add your thoughts. Join the debate on the forums.