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NFU hits out at report proposals to cut livestock numbers

PUBLISHED: 14:04 16 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:04 16 November 2018

Lord Deben, John Gummer, stands in a field near his Winston home Picture: SU ANDERSON

Lord Deben, John Gummer, stands in a field near his Winston home Picture: SU ANDERSON

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A report from a committee chaired by a Suffolk lord, which is calling for sheep and cattle numbers to be cut to tackle climate change, has come under fire from farmers’ leaders.

NFU deputy president Guy Smith, who farms at St Osyth, near Clacton Picture: NFUNFU deputy president Guy Smith, who farms at St Osyth, near Clacton Picture: NFU

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has hit out at a report from the Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Lord Deben, which called for a cut by between a fifth and a half for sheep and cattle farming.

Land must be managed in a “fundamentally different” way, with bold changes needed so land can produce food, but deliver greenhouse gas reductions and cope with climate impacts such as flooding, as well as providing space for a growing population to live, it said.

Boosting woodland cover from 13% today to 19% by 2050, restoring as much as 70% of UK peatland, more hedgerows and more mixed farming could help deliver needed emissions cuts, it added.

Reducing meat consumption in line with the Government’s healthy eating guidelines would cut emissions and free up land for other uses, it argued, though the report does not call for people to switch to vegetarian diets.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “The NFU has been clear with its position on British farming’s role in tackling climate change; reducing livestock numbers in the UK is not a part of that policy. We are disappointed to see the Committee on Climate Change include that recommendation in its report. The report simply does not recognise the environmental benefits grass-fed beef and sheep production brings to the UK.”

NFU deputy president Guy 
Smith, who farms near Clacton-on-Sea, said the sector was at the forefront of climate change impacts, but any future farming policy needed to enable farmers to meet the food production needs of the nation, alongside environmental ambitions.

Lord Deben said there was “an urgent need” to change the way we use our land as he advocated mixed farming.

“What we’re saying is not that 
the answer is vegetarianism, that would be the wrong answer, it’s 
that people will eat better meat, 
eat less of it, get the balanced 
diet that the Government wants,” 
he said. Beef cattle have a role 
to play in fertilising the soil through their manure and even 
the way they walk, he said, but 
he warned against the intensive farming that monocultures 
produce.

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