When I first read that the National Beef Association (NBA) had published a report recommending that a “carbon tax” of £100 a head should be applied to cattle slaughtered over 28 months of age, I almost choked on my pastrami sandwich.
Indeed, as someone who fattens home-bred organic pedigree Sussex cattle entirely on grass, which can take more than 28 months to achieve, it was enough to give me mild indigestion.
It seems that I am not the only beef farmer who has found the NBA’s proposal hard to swallow.
When I rang the organisation to enquire why the report was no longer posted on its website, I was told that it had “been temporarily taken down for further consultation with members”. Presumably, this is PR speak for “we’ve got an almighty internal row going on”.
So why on earth is a lobby group for beef farmers proposing a carbon tax on its own members? Surely that’s a job for Friends of the Earth?
The NBA report suggests that, if the age of prime cattle at slaughter could be reduced, the carbon emissions of the beef industry could be cut significantly.
By redefining “prime cattle” as those slaughtered before they reach 27 months, this would massively cut annual carbon dioxide emissions, it argues.
Indeed, the NBA has done a calculation that suggests that if, by 2025, a maximum slaughter age of 27 months for UK prime beef cattle could be achieved, it would reduce carbon dioxide emissions so much that it would allow for a 34,300-head increase in the national suckler beef cow herd, without raising emissions.
Beef farmers have to face up to the implications of the daunting levels of greenhouse gas emissions associated with beef production.
As the NBA also points out, this would help reduce beef imports (currently 25% of UK consumption), which in turn would reduce carbon dioxide emissions still further, as chilled beef wouldn’t have to be shipped long distances to get to Britain.
A further enlightened suggestion of the NBA is that the £100 a head raised in taxes on any beef animal slaughtered over the age of 27 months would be ring-fenced to help new entrants and young farmers.
Put in these terms, I am quickly won over and congratulate the NBA on having the rare courage to bring forward such a report, given that it might cause considerable financial pain to some of its members, unless they can adjust their production systems to fattening their cattle at earlier ages.
This might be a considerable challenge for me, as I fatten all the progeny from my herd of 70 Sussex suckler cows and none of them are fed cake at any point in their lives (except a few grams a day in the first winter as weaned calves, so that they learn to run into a handling facility at the rattle of a paper bag).
The much bigger point is surely that beef farmers have to face up to the implications of the daunting levels of greenhouse gas emissions associated with beef production.
Sorting out climate change can’t just be something that other people do. So, I congratulate the NBA on its report and hope to see it reposted on the website as soon as “further consultation with members” has been completed.