Red meat industry not climate change scapegoat

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Stevenson: ‘The solution to climate change must not be seen as a one size fits all’
Stevenson: ‘The solution to climate change must not be seen as a one size fits all’

Related tags Meat & Seafood

The red meat industry should not be used as a scapegoat in discussions surrounding climate change, according to the head of the Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC).

LMC chief executive Ian Stevenson’s comments were in response to a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ‘Climate Change and Land’, ​published on 8 August.

The paper suggested that a shift toward balanced diets containing plant-based foods and animal-sourced food produced sustainably, in low greenhouse gas emission systems, could help prevent and limit climate change.

Stevenson claimed the solution to climate change was more complex than reducing red meat intake and should instead be something all sectors claimed collective responsibility for.

“Recent coverage of this latest UN report depicts animal agriculture as a key problem in the climate change discussion,” ​he said. “However, when compared to other sectors in countries such as the UK, its emissions are significantly less.

“Official statistics from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have shown that transport accounted for 26% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Energy was responsible for 25%, 17% was businesses, 14% homes and just 10% from agriculture. Our industry is consistently being used as a scapegoat in what we feel is an incredibly complex issue.”

Stevenson drew attention to the rapidly growing population and the rising demand for quality meat protein and other dietary enrichments.

‘Vitally important role red meat plays’

“We must not forget the vitally important role that red meat plays as part of a healthy, balanced diet. The solution to climate change must not be seen as a one-size-fits-all. Climate change is a global problem with local solutions, in which agriculture plays a key part.” 

Meanwhile, Richard Parr, managing director of the Good Food Institute, said the report was an urgent wake-up call that highlighted the huge stresses industrial animal agriculture was putting on the land.

To save the planet, and feed a growing population, we need to start producing meat without the animal,”​ said Parr. “Plant-based and cultured meat are vastly more efficient, sustainable and compassionate than meat from industrial animal agriculture.”

Parr pointed to the increasing popularity of plant-based alternatives to sausages and burgers as a sign that the population was ready to change their diets and called for governments to pump more funding into plant-based and cultured meat.

“If Europe’s leaders are serious about reducing our impact on our climate and land, then governments need to act now – by investing in research and development for plant-based and cultured meat and fighting the absurd attempts to ban labelling terms such as ‘veggie burger’,”​ he added.

No sacrifices needed

“Shifting to a kinder, more sustainable food system doesn’t have to be a sacrifice – it just requires rethinking how meat is made.”

Rob Percival, head of food and health policy at the Soil Association, said it was right for the IPCC to call out the problems further intensification in food production would create and that more focus should be directed toward practices that improved the environment.

“We also need to radically change our diets, shifting to grass-fed livestock and plant proteins, away from unsustainable grain-fed meat,”​ he added.  

“It is possible to respond to the climate and biodiversity crises while protecting food security, but this will require that we face up to the need to eat and farm differently. A business-as-usual approach won’t cut it.”

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales – (HCC) welcomed the IPCC report and the way it highlighted how low-intensity livestock production systems, such as those in Wales, could make a positive contribution to global environmental management.

Chief executive Gwyn Howells drew attention the report’s recommendation that people’s diets should be made from a combination of plant-based products and food from sustainably-farmed animals, “as well as warning against taking land out of food production – arguing that this might impact on global food security”.

Making the most of land

Senior lecturer in environmental management at Bangor University Prysor Williams echoed Howells​ sentiments.

He added: “Eighty per cent of Wales’ agricultural land is unsuitable for growing arable crops. The IPCC’s focus on food security illustrates that making the most of such land by efficiently turning pasture into protein can be an important part of the balanced diet that our global population needs.”

The National Farmers Union (NFU) praised the report for its recognition of the important role animal products played in a balanced diet and how – when produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems – they actually played a part in the solution to climate change.

However, NFU president Minette Batters criticised media outlets for using the report to promote a reduction in meat consumption in the UK, while ignoring areas of the report that focused on food waste.

She went on to reiterate the NFU’s aspirations of becoming net zero by 2040, which would not mean downsizing on agricultural production. “This would only export our production to countries that may not have the same standards of environmental protection,”​ said Batters.

Related topics Meat, poultry & seafood Environment

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