Ministers ‘run scared’ of targeting meat consumption in land use strategy

Exclusive: England plan will omit aim of reducing area used for animal farming, key to cutting emissions

The government has been accused of being “pathetically nervous” about encouraging the public to eat less meat after excluding the aim from a key strategy.

The Guardian can reveal that the government’s upcoming land use strategy will not include a reduction in area used for animal agriculture in England.

Climate groups have long been urging the government to take steps to reduce meat consumption, and are now accusing ministers of “worsening the cost of living crisis and continuing to lead us towards climate and ecological catastrophe”.

Eighty-five per cent of the land that feeds the UK is committed to animal agriculture. A government-commissioned food strategy by Henry Dimbleby last year found that for a sustainable future, this has to be reduced, leading to a 30% cut in the average amount of meat consumption. Intensive and excessive animal agriculture leads to carbon emissions as well as pollution and the degradation of nature. It also uses an amount of land found by experts to be unsustainable.

However, this recommendation was not made as part of the government’s response to Dimbleby’s food strategy, and ministers at the time said more detail on land use and diet would be published as part of its land use strategy, which is due to be published in coming weeks.

However, a senior Defra source told the Guardian recommendations on reducing animal agriculture would not be included, saying: “That isn’t our job, that was the job of the food strategy … it’s not up to us to tell people what to eat. We will be presenting a range of options.”

Dimbleby has previously said there was “no other way to solve the equation” when it comes to land use and carbon emissions, pollution and net zero. He told the Guardian last year that no government would tell the public to eat less meat as the message was “politically toxic”.

Craig Bennett, the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “How on Earth can you have a land use strategy that totally fails to look at the largest single driver of land use change in this country and one of the quickest easiest options to reduce emissions? The government is happy to tell people to eat less salt and sugar but it is pathetically nervous about encouraging people to eat less but better meat.

“It has a complete and utter blind spot on this issue and is running scared of certain lobby groups. Its own climate change committee says that reducing meat consumption is crucial for meeting net zero.”

Megan Randles, a Greenpeace UK policy adviser, said: “Climate scientists the world over have warned that unless meat and dairy production is reduced, we could end fossil fuel use tomorrow and still be heading towards catastrophic levels of climate change.

“As Europe endures a January heatwave, the government is wilfully ignoring the truth about the role of meat production in climate change. It omitted a crucial meat reduction target from its food strategy last year, despite advice from its own experts. Now it’s passing the buck on land use to farmers with no certainty on the level of support to be offered as the rollout of new environmental land management schemes are continually delayed.”

“By not facing up to the facts, the UK government is worsening the cost of living crisis and continuing to lead us towards climate and ecological catastrophe.”

Speaking at the Oxford farming conference, the agriculture minister, Mark Spencer, defended the government’s decision to have a hands-off approach when it came to telling landowners what to do. “We certainly have a huge role in looking at how and what we use land for now. Personally, I don’t want to be too prescriptive, because once you start creating these things from Whitehall you don’t always end up with the results you are trying to achieve.”

He said meat produced in the UK was more sustainable than that from other countries, and said that, for example, beef from the UK would be better for the environment than imported beef from Mexico.

A Defra spokesperson said: “No decisions have been made on the content of the Land Use Framework or the quantity of land that could be used for animal agriculture in England in the future. We will publish our Land Use Framework later this year.

“The Framework will ensure we meet our net zero and biodiversity targets while helping farmers adapt to a changing climate as they continue to produce high quality and affordable produce that supports a healthy diet.”


Helena Horton

The GuardianTramp

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