Scientist slams industry over environment

A government advisor has slammed the meat industry for its lack of action over climate change, warning that it is “miles behind” other food sectors.

Speaking at the 12th annual Langford Food Industry Conference, Gareth Edwards-Jones, of Bangor University, said the industry’s lack of response to the challenge of climate change is “very worrying”. The Defra advisor warned that unless the meat industry takes action to reduce environmental impact, the government will “come down hard” on the sector and could implement policies such as carbon tax on meat.

“Red meat is constantly mentioned at policy meetings. As an industry you are entirely dislocated and you are not intelligently engaging with the people who make policy decisions,” he said

Pointing out that there is no bank of established scientific knowledge about the impact of meat on the environment, only a host of misleading information on the internet, Edwards-Jones blasted processors for making it “very difficult” for scientists to make carbon measurements in plants, urging them to “let me in to do carbon assessments so we can establish a proper supply chain analysis”.

The scientist said that the UK meat sector is years behind horticulture and other meat industries when it comes to environmental measurements and action. He added that New Zealand has compiled a comprehensive report on the life cycle analysis of meat, which will land on the desks of supermarket buyers soon.

“These retailers will expect the same from UK producers. They have already ratcheted the bar up and you are years behind,” he said, pointing out that retailers are considering ‘choice-editing’ in the future, which would see them put only low-carbon products on the shelves.

Speaking in defence of the meat industry, AHDB export manager Jean Pierre Garnier pointed out that both BPEX and EBLEX are doing a lot of work with processors and farmers to measure and improve the environmental impact of UK meat production.

Edwards-Jones welcomed this news, but said that none of that information is reaching policy-makers, who are considering action such as official advice to eat less meat, carbon tax and individual carbon budgets for consumers.

“The meat industry needs to stop talking to itself and start engaging with policy makers,” he said. “If the government sees the industry trying to meet its targets, it might be more sympathetic. If it does not, it will go in hard.”