People should be eating less, but better, meat – which is produced in the UK – to tackle climate change, Government adviser Lord Deben has said.
And British farmers producing “the best meat” should not be undermined by trade deals with countries such as Australia, Brazil and the US, where production has a bigger carbon footprint, he warned.
Lord Deben, chairman of the independent advisory Climate Change Committee, made his comments at the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) conference focusing on the move towards net zero.
He criticised trade deals with countries such as Australia, where references to climate change were removed under pressure from the Australian government, and said there is no excuse for undermining British farmers.
CLA president Mark Tufnell also said trade deals should not allow countries that do not meet the UK’s high environmental standards to sell their produce here tariff-free.
He said UK meat is being “tarred with the same brush” as that produced in other countries, when British beef emits less than half the greenhouse gases of global average production.
He called for environmental and carbon footprint labelling so consumers can make their own choice about the food they were buying.
Lord Deben, himself a small-scale organic farmer who produces meat, said the Climate Change Committee has warned that “over the next 20 years, we’re going to have to reduce the amount of meat that we eat by 30%”, as part of efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero overall, known as net zero.
“But we’ve also said we should be replacing it by better meat – we should eat less and better, and the best meat is the meat which actually is produced in these islands.”
He called for better labelling, including in restaurants, so people can make the right choices and said “no school, no hospital, no Army barracks should be feeding its people except on the food which is properly grown – in this country as far as is humanly possible – with the interests of net zero in mind”.
And he said: “I want to say the Climate Change Committee is absolutely clear that we cannot do trade agreements with other countries which do not make it clear that they have to meet the same standards of climate change mitigation that we have.
“And there is no excuse to undermine our farmers, who are going to be asked to do more and more, by saying that our markets can be open to them.”
Addressing the conference, Mr Tufnell – who farms beef, sheep and cereals on his 2,000-acre farm near Cirencester – said the UK can now decide that accessing the market of one of the world’s biggest economies should be a privilege.
“And our Government should say once and for all to any country in a potential trade agreement that, if they do not meet high environmental standards, that they are not allowed to sell their products into our market on a tariff-free basis.”
Speaking to the PA news agency after his speech, Mr Tufnell said a carbon footprint label, similar to the traffic light system for fat and salt, could give consumers a choice on what they buy, while there is also a need to cut food waste to tackle emissions.
“If we have Australian beef or Brazilian beef coming into this country, I think that, provided the consumer knows that that’s where it comes from, and they have a clear label and they have a clear way of distinguishing it – both in the way it’s been produced and also the carbon element – then I think they have a much more informed choice, and it’s for them to decide.”
Asked whether meat production in the UK must be reduced to free up land for new trees, he said the climate target of planting 10,000 hectares a year in England does not have to be met in large blocks of land.
It could be delivered by extending woodlands slightly, changing the use of unproductive farmland or increasing and infilling hedgerows, he suggested.
Environment Secretary George Eustice was asked if the Government – which has said it will not tell people what to eat – should endorse the “less and better meat” message Lord Deben suggested.
He said well-managed livestock grazed on pasture systems could have an important role in storing carbon, and reducing fertiliser and animal feed, with livestock eating more forage on the farm, could be environmentally-friendly, good for wildlife and reduce the carbon impact.
He said there is a modest but “vocal” consumer trend towards more veganism and people can make that choice.
“But I don’t particularly think it’s for the Government to start telling people what they should or shouldn’t eat.
“The right approach for us is to incentivise landowners and farmers to farm in a more sustainable way, and part of that can indeed be well-managed pasture-based systems and that’s what we intend to support,” he said.
He made his comments after a speech in which he set out details of post-Brexit farming payments which aim to reward landowners for delivering environmental benefits such as healthy, carbon-storing soils.
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