The UK would need to produce 25-30 per cent ‘less and better’ meat to hit the NFU’s net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target by 2040, according to modelling by the Green Alliance.
The researchers found it would be possible to achieve net zero in that time, but this had implications for what the UK produced and ate.
James Elliott, policy adviser at the Alliance, said based on 2016 figures, UK farming was emitting 1.5 times more carbon dioxide than it was sequestering – giving a net figure of 47 million tonnes annually.
Speaking at a virtual Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum policy conference, he said with the right policies progress could be made, but it would require a 60 per cent reduction by 2030, to be in line for net zero by 2040.
This could be done though through a combination of targeting emissions reduction in farming itself, restoring peatlands to lock in emissions, sequestering carbon such as through planting trees.
It would also need the public to shift diets and even replace use wood more in construction again.
UK trade policy would need to back up such measures rather than undermine farmers’ efforts, while public procurement and retailer influence could help shift diets.
Any changes would need strong support to help farmers transition to lower carbon practices.
Reducing food waste needs greater attention in the fight against climate change – not just changing diets.
Dr Liz Goodwin, director of Food Loss and Waste at the World Resources Institute, said one-third of all food globally was lost or wasted between farm and fork, accounting for a staggering 8 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and costing $940 billion (£76bn).
In developed countries, Dr Goodwin said shifting diets was still ’the single biggest thing’ that individuals could do to reduce agricultural GHG emissions, but cutting food waste was a close second, and received far less attention.
She added that, other than increasing productivity, cutting food waste would have the biggest impact on ensuring the world had enough food for its population in 2050.
The UK had reported the largest reduction is food waste of all countries, and businesses had made progress, with Tesco reducing waste by 47 per cent.
But coronavirus could change that, warned Dr Goodwin, adding a large volume of food would have to be redirected from hospitality businesses and could be wasted in the short-term.