A new report detailing the ongoing dialogue shows a cautious acceptance among producer organisations that diets which lower greenhouse gas emissions are not automatically a threat to profitability, including diets containing less meat.

However, the dialogues identified a variety of barriers standing in the way of progress, including supermarket pricing policies, a lack of direction from government and competition with high carbon imported products.

The report – ‘Livestock consumption and climate change: progress and priorities’ – includes a series of recommendations and actions for producer organisations, the wider food industry, environmental NGOs and government to ensure this debate continues.

The findings support the case for the Sustainable Livestock Bill, which has its second reading today 12 November. WWF-UK and the FEC said the Bill would provide an ideal opportunity to take the dialogue on sustainable farming and food to a new level, involving not only producers, but manufacturers, retailers, NGOs and government. They encouraged MPs to back the Bill.

Mark Driscoll, head of WWF-UK’s One Planet Food programme, said:

“Many in the livestock industry feel victimised when it comes to the idea of reducing livestock consumption, and I can understand why. The meat eater versus vegetarian debate is a distraction. What we’re taking about here is sustainable food choices versus unsustainable ones. This report, and the encouraging dialogue we’ve had with some producer organisations, provides the perfect foundation to develop sustainable food choices through a Sustainable Livestock Bill. This government has an opportunity to make united progress.”

Over the past year, WWF-UK and the FEC have been working on a framework to help producers, policy makers and environmental groups break out of a stalemate over the role that changing meat and dairy consumption should play in tackling climate change.

The new report recommends a variety of actions to achieve this, including:

– Producer organisations to explore the strengths and limitations of supermarket producer groups as a mechanism for promoting sustainable diets

– Government to review whether the UK’s position in international trade negotiations is compatible with our commitment to sustainable development

– Environmental groups to clarify the vision they have for a lower impact livestock sector, particularly what they mean when they say people should eat ‘less but better’ meat and dairy.

Dr Tom MacMillan, executive director of the FEC, said:

“Behind the noisy headlines about meat, dairy and climate change we’ve found a great deal of goodwill among farmers and environmentalists, who want to find a way forward that takes climate change and animal welfare seriously, and doesn’t leave producers out of pocket. But it’s going to be difficult, and many of the barriers – in international trade and competition particularly – can only be tackled by government. The government has a mandate to take on this challenge, and today’s debate on the Sustainable Livestock Bill is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate its good faith.”

WWF-UK and the FEC believe that in order to meet the 80% greenhouse gas cuts by 2050 under the Climate Change Act, emissions from food consumption will have to be cut by 70% in the same period. Achieving this will require both advances in technology – including decarbonisation of the energy supply, production efficiencies and methane abatement – and behavioural changes, including eating less meat and wasting less food.

Notes to Editors

  1. To discuss the report – ‘Livestock consumption and climate change: progress and priorities – contact David Burrows (WWF dburrows@wwf.org.uk) or Liz Barling (FECliz.barling@foodethicscouncil.org).
  2. This report follows a succession of constructive meetings with producer groups, and the authors are particularly grateful to Eblex for its input. This report follows on from the one in September 2009 – Livestock consumption and climate change: a framework for dialogue. That report highlighted the efforts already being made by the food industry – including farmers, processors and retailers – to reduce the GHG ‘footprint’ of meat and dairy products. It also listed 27 suggestions for changes to all our eating habits to help cut those emissions – from financial and political measures to raise prices on high-emission products, to influencing consumer behaviour more directly.
  3. http://www.wwf.org.uk/wwf_articles.cfm?unewsid=3306
  4. The reports with FEC form part of WWF-UK’s wider One Planet Food programme. This programme incorporates the whole food chain, from the production of commodities (like palm oil and soya) through processing and on to consumption and disposal. As part of the One Planet Food initiative, WWF-UK is working to help guide and support the development of a food system that can fulfil the UK’s nutritional, social and economic needs, whilst reducing key environmental impacts. This is a complex task, and since 2008 WWF has been working in collaboration with scientists and key actors in the food system – businesses, policy makers, consumer organisations and other non-governmental organisations – to understand the impacts of the food consumed in the UK, whether grown here or imported from abroad.
  5. WWF-UK believes that global greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the production and consumption of food destined for the UK are reduced by 25% in 2020 and at least 70% in 2050, based on 1990 levels. In January WWF published a report – How Low Can We Go? – identifying how these targets could be met. http://www.wwf.org.uk/wwf_articles.cfm?unewsid=3666
  6. The Food Ethics Council is an independent advisory body that works towards a food system that is fair and healthy for people and the environment. Our advice to business, government and civil society helps find a way through controversial issues and supports better choices in food and farming.

Read the report.