Grazing cattle on the uplands is part of the solution to climate change and is not exacerbating the problem, Farming Minister Robert Goodwill has said.
Mr Goodwill acknowledged some people may have an ‘agenda’ to reduce meat consumption, but pointed out vegetables and crops cannot be grown across large parts of the UK.
“The uplands of our country are well-suited for producing good quality beef and lamb,” he said during an interview with Farmers Guardian.
"If we want to manage our uplands in a sustainable way to deliver public goods, part of that is using grazing livestock.
“We need to look at how we can feed cattle in a way which produces less methane and makes livestock production more sustainable, but using grazing as part of rotational farming is part of the solution, not the problem.”
In Scotland, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has shown similar support for the red meat sector.
At a recent meeting at Lanark Mart, he insisted there was an opportunity for a win-win on climate change and red meat production.
The two Ministers’ comments came shortly after the publication of a Committee on Climate Change report, urging the Government to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The report recommended one-fifth of the UK’s agricultural land shift to alternative uses such as afforestation, biomass production and peatland restoration, with farm payments post-Brexit linked to actions to reduce and sequester emissions.
While welcoming action to mitigate climate change, the National Sheep Association (NSA) hit out at the authors for attacking the ‘easy target’ of livestock farming.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “The role of grazed grassland, rotational and permanent leys in building soil organic matter, soil biology and storing carbon is ignored.
“Many of the climate change assumptions regarding ruminant livestock farming are based on global production systems, which are different to mainstream methods in the UK.”
Speaking at the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in Aberdeen last week, NFU Scotland director of policy Jonnie Hall blamed the current Common Agricultural Policy, which he said had incentivised inertia and had not delivered for the environment.
However, he said the industry was well on its way to meeting a 70 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030.