The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report said an estimated three to seven million hectares of grassland that would no longer be needed should instead grow forests and biofuels which would help soak up carbon dioxide.
A suggestion that people should stop or cut down on the amount of red meat they consume ‘is not the answer to solving the UK’s high level of carbon emissions’.
Nigel Scollan, director of the Institute for Global Food Security and member of the Meat Advisory Panel, was among others to back the industry in response to the Committee on Climate Change report advising a 20 to 50 per cent cut in the UK’s sheep and cattle numbers to curb climate change.
It said beef, dairy and lamb made up the most carbon-intensive feedstock and consumers should therefore reduce their consumption by up to 46 per cent.
Twenty per cent of its loss would be made up of 25 per cent more pig and poultry produce, with the remaining 30 per cent coming from ‘alternative’ proteins produced off-farm, such as lab-grown and synthetic meat.
The report said national action was required to produce a 26 to 36 per cent reduction in grasslands and rough grazing by 2050, with a call on farmers to replace the estimated three to seven million hectares of grassland no longer required for stock with forests and biofuels to help soak up carbon dioxide.
Mr Scollan said: “Arable and livestock farming are intrinsically linked. The animals play a vital role in growing crops effectively and sustainably, as manure enriches the soil with nutrients to help it grow.
“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.”
NFU president Minette Batters said designing a farming system solely around an approach to mitigate greenhouse gases would be a ‘fundamental mistake’ which risked producing a ‘one-eyed policy’.
Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) said more than 80 per cent of the country’s farmland was comprised of grass and rough grazing, not suitable for fruit, cereals or vegetables, ‘but ideal for producing top quality beef and lamb using one of our greatest natural assets – grass’.
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. #sustainablefarming pic.twitter.com/QSIaeUOTeg— Jim Beary (@FarmerBeary)
In the interest of sanity, RT the crap out this 👍 pic.twitter.com/D2qFG9wxdO— Will Case (@will_case)
And 89 per cent of 1.8m hectares of agricultural land in Wales is grassland, much of which is permanent pasture for beef and sheep.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) said the report had failed to consider full life cycle analysis and the role of animals, pasture and carbon sequestion, and confused ‘what is essentially a natural carbon cycle that is dependent on the use of fossil fuels and land use change’.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “Some people seem hell bent on portraying sheep as the enemy, but they deliver far more than just high quality and nutritious meat, and could be argued to be the ultimate in renewable technology.”
Farmers also took to social media to hit back at the report, suggesting growing trees was a ‘short term relief’ and it would be more logical to help farmers better their soils to provide a longer term carbon sink.
It followed the CCC’s recommendations that farm subsidies should increase the proportion of UK land under forestry from 14 to 19 per cent.
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 being 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.”