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NFU hits back over livestock carbon footprint

PUBLISHED: 12:57 14 April 2008 | UPDATED: 08:24 28 March 2014

APRIL 14, 2008: The National Farmers' Union has hit back at claims that livestock production has a huge environmental
footprint that could be eliminated by cutting out meat and milk from
dietary habits.

The NFU claims that such a decision could even be counter-productive to the planet.

The NFU's counter attack has been prompted by proposals being discussed by a London council to have "choice edit" menus in its staff canteens by removing meat and dairy products, and by guidelines issued by the food and farming pressure group Sustain, which encourage other authorities to do likewise.

The NFU's Director of Communications Anthony Gibson says the climate change case against livestock farming has been based on exaggerated and out of date information, which confuses the worldwide and UK situations.

Far from being responsible for "18 per cent" of GHG emissions, as was claimed in a 2006 UN report, called 'Livestock's Long Shadow', farmed livestock in the UK account for only eight per cent of gross emissions, and even that figure takes no account of the greenhouse gases that would be emitted in the course of replacing the contribution that livestock make to diets and fertility.

If cereal production increased, at the expense of permanent pasture, for example, it would lead to significant emissions of CO2 from soils, while the fertility provided by livestock manures would need to be replaced by additional fertiliser, involving further emissions of nitrous oxide.

"Taking all of that into account, the net contribution of livestock to climate change is insignificant", argues Mr Gibson.

"Weighed in the balance on the other side are all of the undoubted environmental benefits for which we have grazing livestock especially to thank: the grazed upland habitats, our uniquely hedged landscape, the lowland biodiversity and the manure without which organic farming would become impossible."

Against that background, Mr Gibson has written to Sustain to challenge their guidelines.

He said: "The NFU does not feel that ill-conceived choice-editing policies produced on the back of flawed evidence deliver meaningful reductions. We of course recognise the need to reduce the overall environmental impact of livestock production (in line with other responsible industries) but feel that these reductions can be achieved through technological advances in areas such as feeding, breeding and anaerobic digestion.

"Nowhere in the document does it recognise the livestock industry is improving its carbon footprint. Methane emissions show a continual decrease. Livestock farms help complete the carbon cycle. Cows graze on grass and other green forages, important sinks for carbon across large parts of the British countryside. Livestock farmers are vital in habitat creation in large parts of the country. And this whole issue has to be seen in a much wider international context - climate change is, after all, a global problem that will not be addressed by ill-conceived ideas implemented in England alone."


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