Industry chiefs have rushed to defend UK farming after the sector came under attack about its environmental and welfare record this week.
The Independent’s front page on Monday, which claimed the UK dairy industry downturn had forced farmers to move to ’American-style factory dairies’ of up to 2,000 cows, was condemned by farm experts.
It came at the same time as a report suggested red meat should be taxed because of the supposed negative contribution of livestock production to greenhouse gases.
But producers and industry leaders said it was vital farming’s voice was heard in the environmental debate.
Amy Jackson, a Nuffield Scholar who specialises in the barriers to large-scale dairy farming, said, in light of the Independent article, the dairy industry needed to keep familiarising the public with how modern systems operated.
"There seems to be a determination to link low milk prices to housing cows," she said. "People see studies on mastisis and lameness in housed herds but there are good operators in all different types of systems."
The Independent article quoted Kerry McCarthy, Shadow Defra Minister, who claimed the public did not want ’intensification’ in agriculture due to its environmental impact and animal welfare concerns.
NFU dairy board chairman Rob Harrison said the comments and article were not ’helpful or constructive’ at a time when dairy farmers faced continued budget strains.
"The industry’s problems are not related to mega dairies and linking the two together is not helpful or constructive," he said.
"What we are seeing is the medium-sized 200-250 cow family farm is more resilient. Some of the larger farms, when prices are low, are losing even more money."
Farmers Guardian contacted Ms McCarthy following her comments and she claimed to understand the current plight of dairy farmers.
"I do not believe a push towards mega-dairies and ever-greater intensification is the solution for the industry, and I do not think the public wants to see this either," she added.
A report from think tank Chatham House, Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption, claimed agriculture was a major driver of climate change.
The report highlights several potential measures to bring about changing diets, including a ’carbon tax’ to limit meat consumption.
NFU climate change adviser Ceris Jones stressed the importance of ’actions and mechanisms’ to safeguard the environment while allowing farmers to retain production capacity. She claimed greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture had fallen about 19 per cent since 1990.
Farmers were also quick to defend meat’s environmental and nutritional benefits.
Jilly Greed from Ladies in beef, and also a Devon beef finisher, said natural grass-based grazing of suckler beef was vital in combating greenhouse gases.
Eunice Finney, a Staffordshire beef farmer, said: "Red meat is very important part of a healthy nutritious diet and is produced to the highest welfare standards.
"I feel on these issues the industry needs to have a strong voice."