Yesterday (10th September), the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) released a plan setting out its vision to become carbon neutral by 2040. We find the proposals in the report, together with remarks made in The Guardian by an NFU spokesperson, very disappointing.
Whilst the proposal does present several beneficial approaches, including rotations, introducing clover and herbal leys in pasture, capturing carbon through more woodlands and more carbon-rich soil, and preventing soil compaction, the overall picture remains intensive.
Against the conclusions of several recent reports, the NFU plans to achieve its goal without cutting beef production or converting substantial areas of farmland into forest.
Instead, it aims to boost efficiency through precision use of agro-chemicals. The resulting reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilisers simply makes an intrinsically harmful approach somewhat less damaging.
The report also advocates feeding additives to livestock to reduce methane emissions produced by farm animals. But these additives could be harmful to animals’ digestive systems, so consideration must be taken to ensure that this is avoided.
Gene editing of animals to increase disease resistance is also on the NFU’s list of solutions. This may be acceptable in some circumstances but not if the disease is caused by keeping animals in intensive, crowded and stressful conditions. The disease should be addressed by improving the conditions in which the animals are kept, to avoid continuation or growth of intensive farming.
Failing to address vital changes needed
A report released earlier this year by the Committee on Climate Change recommended “a 20% reduction in consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy”. and, many other publications (including the recent IPCC report on Climate Change and Land) stress that reduced consumption of animal products is essential if we are to avoid dangerous levels of climate change. However, the NFU’s report ignores this and aims to keep livestock production at its current high levels.
In addition, the report does not recognise the harm done by intensive monoculture production to soils, the environment and biodiversity. Neither does it appear to identify that there are many reasons, in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, why far-reaching changes are needed to UK farming.
“Disappointingly, this report fails to address the vital changes needed to UK farming such as the need to move to agroecology i.e. farming in ways that work with and enhance natural systems. A reduction in meat and dairy consumption is essential if we are to meet climate targets, yet this is missing from the NFU’s vision” said Peter Stevenson, our Chief Policy Advisor. “While several of the recommendations are welcome, in the main they will simply provide a sticking plaster to an industry that requires fundamental reform.”