UK industry refutes NZ lamb and emissions claim

The UK meat industry has hit back against a claim made by a national newspaper that consumers should switch to New Zealand (NZ) lamb to save the planet.

Last month (31 October) the Daily Mail published a story claiming that a report from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) had stated Britain should import NZ lamb rather than consume domestically produced meat, because it was better for the environment.

However, Eblex senior director Nick Allen said he could not find a mention of NZ lamb in the report. “We are struggling to see where the assertion that it is better for the environment for people in the UK to eat NZ lamb comes from, and what facts there are to back this up,” he said.

The CGIAR report stated that up to 29% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from agriculture and food production and around 17,000 megatonnes (mt) of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere yearly through global food production. It suggested that the impact climate change will have on the environment would lead the global food industry to change the way food is produced.

Allen pointed out that England is already undertaking extensive research work to look at where performance efficiencies can be made to reduce emissions impacts further. He said: “We have identified the typical characteristics of high- and low-carbon farms, and have demonstrated the link between lower emissions and higher financial returns.”

Work commissioned by Eblex with the E-CO2 Project has also shown that the carbon footprint of beef production in England fell by 9.4% every decade for the last 40 years. Allen added that although CO2 figures for the sheep sector were more modest, there had still been a fall in the last decade of 9.3% through greater output per ewe.

Allen also stated that the country’s rain-fed grass pasture system allowed production to be carried out in an more environmentally manner. He said: “Most of the energy needs of beef cattle and sheep raised in the UK are met by grazing and conserving forage – around 95% for sheep and 85% for beef cattle – so the demand for additional foods to be grown to feed animals is minimal.

“We simply do not recognise, therefore, that there would be any ultimate environmental benefit in British consumers switching to exclusively NZ lamb.”

Chief livestock advisor at the NFU Pete Garbutt also failed to see why it would be best to import meat rather than produce it domestically. He said: “What is clear, though, is that our best farmers can match the performance of the best anywhere else in the world. Our industry is undertaking research work to look at where further efficiencies can be made to reduce the emissions impact even more.”

Related news:

>Carbon footprint for red meat has fallen, study says

>Industry must "own" environment issues, conference told

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