Sourcing British, climate-friendly beef and lamb can play an important role in tackling the climate crisis – that’s the take-home message from the NFU’s meeting with the country’s universities this week.
The 40 university delegates heard from a variety of speakers including Dr Michelle Cain (University of Oxford), Professor Michael Lee (Rothamsted Institute), Dan Crossley (Food Ethics Council), Professor Judy Buttriss (British Nutrition Foundation), Alan Hayes (IGD) and James Evans (Shropshire beef farmer).
The speakers explained why over-simplistic reporting of beef and lamb farming could, if taken to extremes, actually make the climate and environmental problem worse and gave scientific evidence as to why greenhouse gas emissions are not a black and white issue, especially when it comes to livestock production.
Delegates also heard about the UK’s looming dietary deficiency crisis and the role red meat plays in providing the body with important nutrients – nutrients that would be difficult to achieve in other diets.
NFU President Minette Batters, who chaired the discussion, said: “The world is crying out for a leader in sustainable food production and British farmers are ready to take this opportunity. We are already producing some of the most climate-friendly beef and lamb in the world, with our beef production currently 2.5 times more efficient than the global average. What’s more, our farmers are working towards net zero across the whole of British agriculture.
“As this event has made clear, food sustainability is a complex issue. We need to consider the wider implications of our diets, look at the nuances of the metrics used to determine climate and environmental impact, and question the sourcing of all of our food, not just our meat products.
“For universities, the question they should be asking is not whether they should be serving meat or not, but where has it been produced, and to what environmental and animal welfare standards?
“British farmers have an ambition to build on their incredible work producing sustainable beef and lamb and I hope this event will mark the start of bigger and bolder conversations about food sustainability. But we cannot do this alone – we need to go on this journey towards a climate-friendly food system together with the government, education establishments and the general public. And sourcing British red meat is a great place to start.”
Dr Ellie Atkins, a lecturer of Biological Sciences at Staffordshire University, attended the event. She said: “As someone who educates students on sustainable food, managing land and biodiversity, it’s was really interesting to hear an array of experts share their knowledge and views.
“It’s great to see cases where farmers are working with the land to produce meat and doing it really well– increasing biodiversity, productivity and profitability, as well as the health and welfare of their cows.
“The event has reinforced my view that we can have livestock farming here in Britain, we can encourage biodiversity and we can produce sustainable food. We know British meat is produced to high environmental and animal welfare standards, we just need to keep championing these.”
Dan Wells, Sussex dairy farmer and one of NFU’s Student & Young Farmer Ambassadors, said: “Within the public sphere there’s actually relatively little knowledge about the environmental and nutritional benefits of red meat production.
“It was great to see universities so receptive and wanting to be better informed so they can make the right choices for them when it comes to their food, and pass on this knowledge to their students.”
The event took place at the NFU’s London office on Wednesday 27 November.