UK farmers must cut meat and dairy production by a third over the next 10 years if scientific advice on limiting greenhouse gas emissions is to be adhered to, the charity WWF has said.
Even bigger cuts could be needed for UK pig and poultry herds, due to the imported food they eat, and people will have to eat far less meat than they do today, warned the charity. But the result would be reduced greenhouse gas emissions, a countryside with more wildlife and thriving nature, and better health, the report said.
Tanya Steele, WWF Chief Executive, said: “If we are serious about tackling the twin threats of climate change and nature loss, agriculture and land use cannot be an afterthought. . Many UK farmers are already using their skills and expertise to produce food in the most sustainable way possible, but they won’t be able to fix a broken system on their own. »
Livestock are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, the methane they produce and the carbon associated with the food they eat. The WWF said UK imports of soya for animal feed must be cut by around a fifth by 2030 because they are associated with deforestation and overuse of fertilizers overseas.
Livestock are also associated with air pollution, due to the ammonia that comes from their manure, which the government has pledged to tackle.
However, farmers have championed UK animal production as lower carbon than overseas alternatives. Stuart Roberts, Vice President of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Our farmers can provide the necessary environmental and climate benefits while maintaining national food production, including the production of nutritious meat and dairy products, and it is important that we do. With over 90% of UK households still wanting to buy high quality red meat and dairy products, UK produce is often the most sustainable option. »
He said the UK’s climate was well suited for beef and dairy production, and emissions from UK meat and dairy were less than half the global average. “If we were to reduce sustainable production here, it would only export our carbon footprint to countries that don’t meet our own high environmental standards and risk seeing food imports reduced to standards that would be illegal here,” he said. he adds.
George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association, dismissed the need for drastic cuts in UK meat and dairy production:2e emissions, only 10% are emitted by British agriculture. The bulk of the UK’s emissions come from transport and energy, which account for more than half of total emissions. With UK agriculture making up more than two-thirds of the UK’s landmass, its carbon emissions are already incredibly low compared to other land uses. If 70% of the landmass produces 10% of the emissions, that means the remaining 30% produces 90% of the emissions. Each acre of agricultural land is already 20 times less polluting compared to each acre of land in another sector.
He added: “The vast majority of farmers understand their responsibility both to produce good food and as stewards of the environment. Our ranchers manage the carbon in their soils for us every day of the week and deserve our support, not our criticism. In fact, we should eat more meat and dairy from UK sources to offset what we import to reduce our carbon footprint.
Rob Percival, food and policy manager at the Soil Association, said UK households should reduce their meat consumption but buy better quality meat. “Nature-friendly agro-ecological farming can feed a growing population, but only if we eat less and better meat, ensuring that we eat high well-being, so that we can eliminate intensive animal husbandry and all the risks it poses to animal welfare, wildlife habitats and human health,” he said.
He added that livestock grazing could support healthy soils and nature, but that deep reductions in intensive poultry production were needed, as cheap chicken production led to the pollution of rivers in the UK, as well as deforestation in South America due to imported soy.
He called for an end to post-Brexit trade deals that would open the door to low-welfare foods with a high carbon footprint.
Vicki Hird, head of sustainable farming at campaign organization Sustain, said the government must take the lead in making UK farming more sustainable, taking a ‘less but better’ approach to meat . “The government could help by encouraging the production of sustainable, pasture-fed beef and choosing only less but better quality meat and more plants in public markets. The government spends £2billion a year on food and could be a lot smarter and do a lot more good with what it buys.
Food waste is also a major problem and must be halved by 2030, according to the WWF report. Efforts to reduce household food waste seemed to bear fruit during the Covid-19 shutdowns, but supermarkets and their rejection of ‘imperfect’ but edible foods are still major causes of waste.
The report also called for deep reductions in the use of artificial fertilizers, using precision techniques and ending the use of nitrogen fertilizers where possible, in favor of natural alternatives. Fertilizer prices have risen sharply in recent months, due to high energy prices.