Why cutting cattle can’t solve the climate crisis | Letters

Stuart Roberts, vice-president of the NFU, makes the green case for maintaining cattle grazing in the UK, while Simon Fairlie thinks cutting meat production is a distraction

It is too simplistic to say that cutting livestock numbers everywhere is the most efficient way of reducing emissions, as your article suggests (Governments urged to set deadlines for cutting livestock production, 12 December). The world’s livestock systems differ too significantly for them to be generalised, and doing so hinders the countries that are practising sustainable farming methods and which have an ambition to do even more.

Compared with the mass-scale intensive systems in the US or Brazil, our livestock systems are unrecognisable. British farmers do not clear rainforest to make way for beef production. Our meat does not come from the ashes of the Amazon. We value our carbon sinks.

Grazing cattle is the most sustainable way to use the 65% of UK farmland that is unsuitable for growing any other crop. It is hugely beneficial for the soil, helps lock up carbon, and is the best way to turn inedible grass into highly nutritious protein for a growing population to enjoy.

What’s more, British farmers have an ambition to become net zero by 2040. We want to lead the way in climate-friendly meat and dairy and pave the way for others to follow. This needs to be recognised.
Stuart Roberts
Vice-president, NFU

• Damian Carrington is correct that people in wealthy countries need to eat less meat. But to make targets for reductions in meat consumption is to put the cart before the horse. Excessive meat production is a symptom, not a cause, of the problem. Once we start to eliminate the use of fossil fuels, economic forces will reduce livestock numbers to sustainable levels because there will be increased demand for land for biomass, and because artificial fertilisers will almost certainly be in short supply.

Until that happens there is a danger that focusing on meat and livestock will be a futile distraction from the task at hand which is to put an end to the use of fossil fuels.
Simon Fairlie
The Land magazine

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