Ministers ‘afraid’ of targeting meat consumption in land use strategy | Agriculture

The government has been accused of being “alarmingly nervous” about encouraging the public to eat less meat after dropping the target from a major strategy.

The Guardian can reveal that the government’s next land-use strategy will not include reducing the area used for animal farming in England.

Climate groups have long urged the government to take steps to reduce meat consumption, and now accuse ministers of “exacerbating the cost-of-living crisis and continuing to drive us towards climate and environmental disaster”.

Eighty-five percent of the land that feeds the UK is committed to animal farming. A food strategy commissioned by the government by Henry Dimbleby last year found that for a sustainable future this needed to be reduced, cutting the average amount of meat consumption by 30%. Intensive and excessive animal farming leads to carbon emissions as well as pollution and nature degradation. It also uses up an area of ​​land that experts have found unsustainable.

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

However, a senior Defra source told the Guardian that recommendations to reduce animal husbandry would not be included, saying: “That’s not our job, that’s been the job of food strategy… It’s not up to us to tell people what we should eat. We’ll be offering a range of options.”

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

Craig Bennett, chief executive of Wildlife Trusts, said: “How can you have a land-use strategy on earth that completely fails to look at the single biggest driver of land-use change in this country and one of the easiest options for reducing emissions? The government is happy to ask people Eat less salt and sugar, but she is pathetically concerned about encouraging people to eat less meat but better.

“She has a complete and utter blind spot on this issue and fears some lobby groups. Her panel on climate change says reducing meat consumption is critical to achieving net zero.”

Megan Randles, Greenpeace UK advisor, said: “Climate scientists around the world 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.

“While Europe suffers a January heatwave, the government willfully ignores the truth about the role of meat production in climate change. It omitted a critical target to cut meat from its food strategy last year, despite the advice of its experts. Now responsibility over land use is passed to farmers With uncertainty about the level of support to be provided as the roll-out of new environmental land management schemes is continually delayed.”

“By not facing the facts, the UK government is exacerbating the cost of living crisis and continues to lead us towards climate and environmental disaster.”

Speaking at the Oxford Agriculture Conference, Agriculture Secretary Mark Spencer defended the government’s decision to take a hands-off approach when it came to telling landowners what to do.

“We definitely have a lot to do with looking at how and what we’re using the land for right now. Personally, I don’t want to get too prescriptive, because once you start creating these Whitehall things, you don’t always end up with the results you’re trying to achieve.”

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

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