Government criticised for “inadequate” progress on livestock sustainability
Published:  18 April, 2012

Environmental groups have hit out at the government for failing to take leadership on the issue of sustainability in the livestock sector.

Responding to a report published by Defra yesterday (17 April), which looks at progress made by the industry and government in England since the Sustainable Livestock Symposium convened by Friends of the Earth last year, environmental groups said that the government had failed to take sufficient action to address the impact of meat on the environment.

The report, which marks a year since the symposium, includes updates from Bpex, Eblex and the British Poultry Council, as well as an overview from Defra on government and industry initiatives on sustainability. It also includes a contribution from Friends of the Earth, which shares its views on the progress made by the government and industry since the symposium.

In its contribution, Friends of the Earth said that although the government had made some progress towards alternative livestock feeds, it had “shown too little leadership or coordination on the issues highlighted in the symposium” and had missed key opportunities during the year to bring along the process of change.

In particular, the group criticised the government for failing to take a stance on CAP reform that would favour sustainable livestock production, warning that some of the positions taken by government could “further drive intensification of the livestock sector”. It also criticised the government for not investigating the use of processed food waste as feed, lacking efforts to promote lower meat diets, missing the opportunity to promote sustianable livestock messages in the Government Buying Standards, and failing to address the issue of the cost of UK protein feed compared to imported soy.

Friends of the Earth did praise the industry for its involvement in research projects looking at alternative feed sources, and for producing industry roadmaps to look at how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, it added: “How far the industry can act without adequate support from both government and the food industry is open to question.”

Speaking after the publication of the report, Friends of the Earth’s senior farming campaigner Clare Oxborrow said: “Ministers are failing to deal with the enormous impact meat and dairy production has on wildlife and communities – particularly from soy grown at the expense of forests in South America and imported into the UK for animal feed. Although there has been some progress on research into imported soy alternatives, far more must be done to enable UK farmers to switch to planet-friendly farming methods.

“Reforming European farming policy is essential for the environment and global food security – UK Ministers must push for changes aimed at cultivating home-grown alternatives to overseas soy. We cannot allow our food system to cost the earth – the government must do better.”

The WWF has also condemened the progress outlined in the report, describing the government’s as “woefully inadequate on sustainable food”.

Although the organisation recognised that British food and farming industries are reducing their environmental impact through changes in technology and management practices, it pointed out that production efficiencies alone will not allow the UK to reach its greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Mark Driscoll, head of the One Planet food programme at WWF-UK, said the government should integrate sustainability criteria into healthy eating advice and encourage consumers to eat “less but better” livestock products.

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