Blinkered report on climate change

29 January 2015

Prosperous Living for the World in 2050, is the title of the most recent Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) report.

We are incredibly concerned about the wider implications of some of the advice in this new report on climate change regarding agriculture and food. In particular, the recommendation that consumers should shift from beef and lamb to intensively reared poultry and pork.

Our concerns are:

Climate change cannot be considered in isolation from other vital policy objectives

Shifting from eating ruminants to pigs and poultry may reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but it would also be damaging to food security, land and water use, soil quality, biodiversity and animal welfare.

There will be a detrimental impact on animal welfare

The advice to move from beef and lamb to intensively reared poultry and pork would have a damaging impact on animal welfare. 

Many cattle and sheep are reared extensively outdoors and such systems, if well managed, have good standards of animal welfare. However, most pigs and poultry are reared industrially indoors and these systems have inherent severe disadvantages for animal welfare.

It will put our food security at risk

Feeding human-edible cereals to animals is inefficient.  Studies show that for every 100 calories that we feed to animals in the form of human-edible crops, we receive on average just 17-30 calories in the form of meat and milk.

A Chatham House study stresses that feeding grain to animals “represents a staggeringly inefficient use of resources”. It states that the “use of crops and arable land for livestock production indirectly places rich meat and dairy consumers in competition for calories with poor crop consumers.”

Our food will lose nutritional quality

The FAO has pointed out that the modern western diet lacks nutrient quality and highlights the need to integrate nutritional quality into food policy.

Free-range animals – that consume fresh forage and have higher activity levels – often provide meat of higher nutritional quality than animals that are reared industrially. Meat from free-range chickens contains substantially less fat and generally a higher proportion of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than meat from chickens reared industrially. Similarly, pasture-fed beef has less fat and higher proportions of omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed beef.

There are better ways to reduce our GHG emissions. If we halved our consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs in the EU we could reduce GHG emissions by 25–40%.

We all need to be eating less meat, dairy products and eggs, and when we do, ensure they are grass-fed.

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