Report Calls for Livestock Production Cuts

UK - A new report in the medical journal, The Lancet has called for a 30 per cent reduction in livestock production to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet the UK emission targets for 2030.
calendar icon 26 November 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

The report – The Health Benefits of Tackling Climate Change – looks at household energy emissions, urban land transport, low carbon electricity generation, short-lived greenhouse pollutants and agriculture and food.

In the section on agriculture and food, the report says: "Agriculture and food production account for 10 to 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

"Livestock farming is responsible for four-fifths of these emissions, which include methane (a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide) emitted by ruminant animals.

"Land-use changes, including deforestation for livestock production, add substantial further emissions. Increasing affluence boosts meat consumption, and forecasts predict livestock production will increase dramatically in the future to meet consumer demand.

"Heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and other disease associated with over-nutrition, high-fat diets, and reduced exercise are already increasing in some countries of low and middle income."

The report says that there are four scenarios for change that have already been earmarked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through agriculture: greater efficiency in livestock farming; more carbon capture through changes in land use; better manure management; and less dependence on fossil fuels.

"The study assesses the consequences for health of a fifth approach: a 30 per cent reduction in livestock production. The study assumes that this cut would lead to a similar fall in the consumption of meat and dairy produce," the report says.

However, the report has received sharp criticism from the farming community.

National Farmers' Union President, Peter Kendall, said The Lancet report, which has been backed by a number of Ministers, was another example of Government departments not working together. It appears the department most closely involved with food issues – Defra &ndash: has not been involved.

Mr Kendall said: "Farmers will be angry that, yet again, we have an ill-informed and simplistic report which appears to completely misunderstand agriculture's emissions and its role in climate change. But the most unbelievable thing is that this report appears to have been put together without any input from the one Government department that deals in food policy and understands the issues – Defra.

"We know this is a complex issue and that is why Defra has been looking at it. This report advocates a 30 per cent reduction in livestock numbers in countries that have the most efficient production systems and hence the lowest emissions. It is part-funded by the Department of Health and endorsed by three ministers with no thought for the unintended consequences of such a policy.

"What we need to do is look at doing things more efficiently rather than simply cutting livestock numbers. The car industry is praised for producing more efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles rather than being told to cut production. Likewise, a substantial investment in agricultural research and development is needed to enable farmers to produce food more efficiently with less impact on the environment.

"Other governments that value their livestock production are looking at exciting and innovative ways to reduce agriculture's environmental impacts while understanding the need to produce more food for an expanding global population. If the UK government wants to be seen as a leader at the climate change talks in Copenhagen, they will need to work with farmers and not alienate them with soundbites."

Further Reading

- You can view The Lancet report by clicking here.
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