UK livestock farming coming to an end in 'Apocalypse Cow'

UK livestock farmers will next week face a fresh barrage of climate criticism from a provocative anti-meat documentary due to screen on Channel 4. The programme, Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed the Planet, is fronted by agri-critic George Monbiot[1] , a leading proponent of rewilding[2] . In it he will set out "revolutionary ideas that could do away with agriculture as we know it".

The industry will be replaced by new food production systems that will "still feed 10bn people and bring the natural world back from the point of collapse", according to Mr Monbiot. Meat consumption, he said, posed a bigger threat to the environment[3] than fossil fuels or plastic. Animal grazing is a disaster, said the environmentalist.

It uses twice as much land as all the world's crops but produces just 1% of our food, he claimed. "We cut down trees that suck in atmospheric carbon and replace them with animals responsible for generating vast quantities of greenhouse gases," he said. "And we're blind to the problem: some of what we think are Britain's most beautiful landscapes, such as the Lake District, are treeless, sheep-wrecked deserts."

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Neither does Mr Monbiot have much truck with extensive meat production systems such as free-range or pasture-fed.

While these have a lower impact than intensive systems, they often require more land to achieve similar productivity, he said. This land could be better used for huge new forests[4] to capture carbon.

Livestock grazing is an inefficient way of producing food, believes Mr Monbiot

A similar argument was put forward by Defra's former chief scientist this week. Sir Ian Boyd told the Guardian newspaper that the public were subsidising the livestock industry to produce environmental damage.

Converting 50% of UK farmland into woodlands and natural habitats could cut cattle and sheep numbers by 90%, he said. And as farmland covers 70% of the country, this would create new landscapes across a third of the UK. The professor, who became a vegetarian while at Defra, suggested less productive hill land and pasture land would be better used for carbon capture and flood mitigation.

Currently this land produces just 20% of the UK's food, he said. It's estimated that such a drastic approach would cut UK food production by a fifth.

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Prof Boyd believes the deficit could be replaced by developing vertical farms, while Mr Monbiot suggests partial solutions lie in synthetic meats and a process that produces protein from bacteria and air. Responding to Prof Boyd's comments on twitter[5] , NFU president Minette Batters said: "It took two world wars to realise the error of not being able to produce enough food for our island nation."

Critics also claim that UK food production deficits will need to be plugged by imports - in effect off-shoring Britain's environmental footprint.

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Fighting back with the 'Welsh Way'

Welsh farming will shortly launch a marketing blitz that aims to pre-empt "ill-informed anti-farming" messages in the annual Veganuary campaign. The GBP250,000 initiative, across TV and social media platforms, will spell out the "Welsh Way" of livestock production - one with a relatively small environmental footprint. The meat industry is determined to get on the front foot and fight back against what it sees as the demonisation of livestock farming by environmentalists and some parts of the media.

Many are still smarting from the BBC[6] documentary Meat: A Threat To Our Planet?[7] which focused on intensive farming methods in north and south America without distinguishing them from UK practices. In their New Year messages, Welsh farm leaders all highlighted concerns over the rise of vegan "propaganda". NFU Cymru[8] president John Davies insisted the union will "not accept" fake anti-farming news.

"We are prepared to escalate our actions if required," he warned.

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Taking a similar line was Kevin Roberts, chairman of Hybu Cig Cymru[9] (HCC), the meat body behind this month's "Welsh Way" campaign. He urged the media to take a balanced approach to covering issues of diet and sustainability in 2020. Low-impact farming will be part of the solution to climate change and food security, he stressed.

In contrast meat-free alternatives often contained globally-sourced ingredients which may not be sustainably produced, said Mr Roberts.

"Issues around deforestation and intensive production are alien to how lamb and beef is produced in Wales," he added.

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During January the UK's meat levy bodies will work with the Food Advisory Board (FAB) to engage social media influencers in consumer campaigns.

FAB members will also be on standby to provide commentary in response to "media exaggeration" on meat and health topics.

  • Apocalypse Cow: How Meat Killed the Planet is on Channel 4 on Wednesday, January 8, 10pm.

References

  1. ^ George Monbiot (www.dailypost.co.uk)
  2. ^ rewilding (www.dailypost.co.uk)
  3. ^ environment (www.dailypost.co.uk)
  4. ^ forests (www.dailypost.co.uk)
  5. ^ twitter (www.dailypost.co.uk)
  6. ^ BBC (www.dailypost.co.uk)
  7. ^ Meat: A Threat To Our Planet? (www.dailypost.co.uk)
  8. ^ NFU Cymru (www.dailypost.co.uk)
  9. ^ Hybu Cig Cymru (www.dailypost.co.uk)

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