Increasing consumption of good quality red meat will actually help the UK reduce its impact on the environment, not damage it as the latest Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report has claimed.
Liz Bowles, head of farming at the Soil Association, said grass fed beef, produced with few or no protein or cereal crops was more climate friendly than poultry due to its feed requirements pushing up its carbon footprint.
Consumption of beef and lamb has fallen in the last 40 years while the UK’s insatiable appetite for poultry has continued to rise.
Ms Bowles was speaking at the Three Counties Farming Conference in Malvern on the same day the CCC published a report which said UK livestock numbers would need to be slashed in half to curb global warming.
It suggested eating more pig and poultry produce and moving towards ‘alternative’ proteins such as lab-grown ‘synthetic’ meat.
But Ms Bowles said looking at each sector in silo negated the environmental and landscape value of grazing livestock.
Ms Bowles, who runs a large flock of Shropshire sheep in Devon, also took aim at the inherent failings in the report, particularly its ‘misleading’ use of global emissions data, rather than assessing figures for the UK.
“They are working on old emissions calculations,” she told the event in Malvern on Thursday evening (November 15).
“If you take global emissions, for example beef cattle in Kenya have much higher emissions as cattle are grown for five years and graze on barren land half the year, emitting far more methane per kilo.
“Emissions from our beef cattle are much lower.
"The NFU would never say that"
NFU president Minette Batters told the conference she had complained to the BBC over its ‘dishonest’ reporting of the study, which said the NFU ‘agreed’ livestock numbers needed to be cut.
“The NFU did not say that," said Ms Batters. "The NFU would never say that.”
The BBC, which has come under increasing pressure from groups including the Countryside Alliance over its reporting of rural issues, was forced to pull the article from its website.
Ms Bowles added: “In fact producing beef and lamb from grass is one of the most climate friendly ways and more so than producing chicken or pigs.”
However, she said a move away from non-grass based red meat systems was needed.
“In the future I believe it will not be acceptable for livestock to be produced on a cereals based diet,” she added.
Neil Parish, chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, highlighted the ‘intricacies’ of the UK’s farming industry, with the livestock, poultry and arable sectors all reliant on each other.
Ms Bowles said a move to organic and more agro ecological farming systems would reduce the sector’s environmental impact further, and highlighted a 42 per cent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved.
“We will have to factor in the negative consequences of our food production,” she added.
Derek Wilkinson, who runs conventional and organic salad growing operations in Stratford-Upon-Avon and in Senegal, told the audience it cost ‘a lot more’ to produce organically and consumers had to be provided with a choice on price.
Similarly, ‘offshoring’ our food supply and climate impact was not the answer.