Farming groups joined forces to refute suggestions cutting UK livestock numbers by up to 50 per cent would help curb climate change.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report said beef, dairy and lamb made up the most carbon-intensive feedstock and consumers should therefore reduce their consumption.
It suggested eating more pig and poultry produce and moving towards ’alternative’ proteins such as lab-grown ’synthetic’ meat.
The furore was intensified by a BBC report which claimed the NFU had agreed livestock numbers should be cut.
Speaking at the Three Counties Farming Conference in Malvern later that day, NFU president Minette Batters hit out at the broadcaster’s ’dishonest’ reporting.
“The NFU did not say that," said Ms Batters. "The NFU would never say that.”
After receiving complaints, the BBC was forced to pull the article from its website.
Nigel Scollan, director of the Institute for Global Food Security and member of the Meat Advisory Panel, said: “Without livestock, we would increase our reliance on chemical fertilisers, which are produced by using non-renewable energy and therefore further contributing to our carbon footprint.”
Quality Meat Scotland said more than 80 per cent of the country’s farmland comprised grass and rough grazing, not suitable for fruit, cereals or vegetables, while 89 per cent of 1.8m hectares of agricultural land in Wales was also grassland, much of which is permanent pasture for beef and sheep.
Peak District upland farmer Jim Beary said: “[The report] also assumes all lamb and beef production is intensive and reliant on cereals. Pasture-based red meat production sequates up to four times more carbon than trees.
“[It] concerns me to see farmers bearing the brunt of the blame for climate change when, in reality, we are only a small contributor to the problem and can be a major contributor to the solution.”
Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, added: "Producing beef and lamb from grass is one of the most climate friendly ways and more so than producing chicken or pigs.”