Industry slates less meat call

A UN report calling for a substantial diet change away from meat has been described as "negative" by industry leaders, who said it "should be kept in perspective".

Compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, the study, Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials, has reiterated evidence that animal products, both meat and dairy, require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.

The report comes in the wake of a UN report last month, which puts meat consumption at the head of factors that are causing a loss of global biodiversity. And in September 2008, the chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called on people to give up meat for one day a week to help the planet.

NFU chief livestock adviser John Mercer has described the global report as only looking at the negative impacts of food production. He said that, in the UK, all farmers take their environmental responsibilities seriously and improvements are already being made in reducing their impact. He added that the NFU would agree with the report authors that the impacts of agriculture "depend to a substantial degree on specific aspects of the activities and hence the resource management regime".

"The NFU believes that the key to finding solutions to the environ-mental and social challenges we face is to build on the good work that our farmers are already doing, by ensuring investments are made in agricultural research and development," said Mercer. "The new technologies that emerge will hopefully enable agriculture around the world to satisfy the very real growing demand for food, while reducing its environmental impact."

Duncan Pullar, Eblex research and development head, said English beef and lamb production, in the main, is not intensive and that it uses a small amount of co-products from the food and brewing industries, which would otherwise go to waste. "In doing this, the beef and sheep production systems contribute to a more sustainable food system."

"We should keep things in perspective. Most of the greenhouse gas problem stems from fossil fuel burning, so alternative green energy is going to make the biggest impact on changing the direction of travel. That does not mean that livestock production should not make its contribution. We are investing heavily in research into how individual producers can make an impact in reducing emissions for instance just by maximising feed efficiency, we can cut emissions from animals by up to 15%. However, cutting back on eating livestock products on their own is not going to solve the problem."

The UNEP report concludes that by dramatically reforming, re-thinking and redesigning the energy and agriculture sectors, significant environmental, social and economic returns could be generated.

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