Meat, dairy and nurturing the soil | Letters

Dr Phillip Williamson, Yvonne Ingham and J Peter Greaves respond to Guardian coverage of the IPCC special report on climate change and land

George Monbiot is grossly unfair to describe as “pathetic” the new IPCC special report on climate change and land (Here’s the true cost of eating meat. It’s worse than you think, 9 August). There was no fear of the farming industry, nor any other pressure to suppress the science. Furthermore, the “not mentioned” Nature paper on carbon opportunity costs is cited twice in chapter 5 of the report, and the considerable climatic advantages of reducing meat and dairy are explicitly assessed. Nevertheless, the priority must be to halt emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation, to avoid immediate carbon release. The recovery of carbon stocks through environmental restoration and dietary change are also highly desirable, yet are slower processes, with the former jeopardised by continued temperature increase.
Dr Phillip Williamson
University of East Anglia

• I’m fed up with George Monbiot and many others continually spouting about the evils of meat and dairy and the virtues of a plant-based diet. We can’t all do it, George!

After a kidney transplant I must keep strictly to a low oxalate diet to avoid kidney stones forming in my new kidney. Oxalate is present to varying degrees in almost all plants – in fact in just about anything that grows, including soya and other meat substitutes. Meat and dairy contain none.

Once George and the other plant evangelists have achieved their objective of destroying the meat and dairy industries and returning the land to nature and wildlife, can he suggest how I am to keep body and soul together?
Yvonne Ingham

• The much-trumpeted IPCC report (Impact of global heating on land poses threat to civilisation – UN, 9 August) is disappointing. The threat has been known for years, and in 2018 the IPCC said we had 12 years to limit catastrophe. Among the recommendations for “strong action from governments”, the report includes reforming farming subsidies and supporting small farmers, but it is weak on specifics. It points out that soil “is being lost more than 100 times faster than it is being formed in ploughed areas, and 10 to 20 times faster even on fields that are not tilled”. But there is no reference to conservation agriculture (CA), which nurtures the soil, encouraging water retention and CO2 absorption. What a wasted opportunity!

CA is being increasingly practised around the world, with increased yields for both small and large farms; it has been called the most climate-friendly form of agriculture. But it is important to realise that CA is an ecosystem approach based on three interlinked principles: (i) continuous no or minimum mechanical soil disturbance; (ii) permanent maintenance of soil mulch cover; and (iii) diversification of cropping system. CA is present in all continents and all agricultural systems. Conservation tillage, reduced tillage and minimum tillage are not conservation agriculture, and nor is no-till on its own.
J Peter Greaves
Blackheath, London

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