A number of farmers have threatened to quit the National Beef Association (NBA) over a controversial report which recommended redefining the age of prime cattle to improve the industry’s carbon footprint.
A major row erupted after details of the report, published in Farmers Guardian, proposed the definition of prime cattle should be restricted to animals below 28 months old and that a ‘carbon tax’ should be introduced for animals slaughtered above that age.
Cumbria farmer and NBA member John Atkinson branded the proposal ‘bonkers’.
He said: “It puts one side of the beef industry against the other and the maths did not add up.”
Another farmer angered by the report was Joe Hope, a part-time ecologist from Machynlleth, Wales.
He added: “There are already costs associated with keeping animals for longer, especially with the 30-month cut off, so the last thing we need is another penalty when a lot of the reason we are doing down this route is for ecology and environmental benefits.”
Rare Breeds Survival Trust chief executive Christopher Price commended the NBA for its leadership, but warned industry must make changes if it wants to be credible in addressing the challenges of climate change, rather than trying to preserve industrial processes.
“The report assumes native breeds are upmarket lawnmowers but they should not be treated as environmental eccentricities,” he said.
“They play a core part in the future of a sustainable livestock sector and the NBA needs to work with the wider livestock sector to come up with a solution which addresses the full range of concerns.”
Farmers’ Union of Wales president Glyn Roberts said the union had received ‘many calls from angry members’, adding traditional systems where animals were finished over a longer period were more environmentally friendly.
Two Scottish Beef Association board members said they would resign if the plans got the green light.
NBA chief executive Neil Shand said a number of farmers had been in touch to express their views.
“There has been a misunderstanding as the report neither promotes intensive fed finishing nor demotes grass-based systems,” he said.
“It was intended to counter a Defra suggestion to reduce the suckler herd and allow more space in the UK for home-reared beef to high standards and reduce imports.”
Farmers Guardian understands an updated version of the report will be put to NBA members in the coming weeks.