NFU's net-zero plan doesn't mention meat

According to a report from the National Farmers Union (NFU), agriculture and farming is responsible for 10 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, releasing 45.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere in 2017. This is an overall decrease from the figures in the 90s, though progress toward lower emissions has been slow in recent years. These figures have prompted the NFU to develop a plan for decreasing the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. The plan includes three key themes that the union intends to draw industry attention to:

- “Improving farming’s productive efficiency to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions – enabling farming to produce the same quantity of food, or more, with less inputs in smarter ways;
- “Farmland carbon storage in soils and vegetation – improving land management and changing land use to capture more carbon, through bigger hedgerows, more woodland, and especially more carbon-rich soil;
- “Boosting renewable energy and the bioeconomy to displace greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and to create GHG removal through photosynthesis and carbon capture.”

The NFU believes that policy with these aims in mind could help the industry to make the transition toward sustainability, bringing it to net zero emissions by 2040. The plan intends to reorganise the structure of the industry’s input and output systems, capturing more emissions and using less fuel while incorporating biofuels and bio-material into the production system.

Regarding the plan, NFU president Minette Batters has said: “we can deliver on our commitment to net zero while retaining, if not growing, our agricultural capacity. British farmers are proud to produce food to some of the highest standards of animal welfare and environmental protection in the world. We must avoid anything that undermines UK food production, and merely exports our greenhouse gas emissions to other parts of the world.” Though the plan intends to significantly decrease the industry’s emissions, environmental activists have claimed that it may be insufficient in the wider push toward zero emissions. Friends of the Earth campaigner Gus Shrubsole has reacted to the report, stating: “Eating less but better meat is a crucial part of the fight against climate breakdown, yet astonishingly there is no mention of this in the NFU's report. Doing so would free up much more land for trees and agroforestry, which would absorb huge quantities of carbon from the atmosphere. But it seems the NFU is still not prepared to contemplate significant land use change in Britain, despite the Committee on Climate Change recommending this as being vital.” Though the NFU has addressed these concerns, claiming that cuts to beef production are not necessary to bring the industry to net zero emissions if the NFU’s plan is properly implemented, the implementation relies on increased support from the Government, NGOs and shareholders which is yet to be confirmed. Further, researchers have indicated that ruminant meat production and consumption is responsible for half of the agriculture industry’s land use and emissions, despite only providing three per cent of the industry’s calories, making meat production inefficient despite being profitable, reported on here. The same researchers have claimed that biofuel, a large part of the NFU’s plan, is an inefficient energy resource which uses up land that could be used for biodiversity promotion or solar projects, which produce about 100 times more energy.

As of yet, the plan is yet to be put into practice, as the NFU begins to carry out preliminary research and land assessment.

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