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Government Fails to Improve Livestock Sustainability

19 April 2012, at 1:46pm

UK - Friends of the Earth has said that UK government progress has been inadequate and significant opportunities have been missed over the past year to encourage and promote more sustainable livestock production and consumption.

Last year, the government, industry and others held a Sustainable Livestock Symposium in March 2011, organised by Friends of the Earth. Here Jim Paice, Minister of Agriculture promised that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) would play its part in addressing the environmental imports of livestock production and consumption with regard to sustainable food and farming in the future.

A report released this week, by DEFRA, gives an overview on progress to date. However Friends of the Earth say that the government has not done enough to begin the progress of change needed.

This is despite Defra committing £12.6 million to research designed to deliver answers to questions about the environmental fate of greenhouse gases, to help the industry what works to reduce greenhouse gases at farm-level.

Friends of the Earth pick out the governments position taken on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, saying that it will do little to drive reform that favours more sustainable livestock production.

Friends of the Earth also criticised the lack of attention paid to the use of processed food waste as feed, and a lack of effort made to promote sustainable diets to reduce the impacts of meat and dairy consumption.

Mark Driscoll, head of the one planet food programme at WWF-UK said: “The first step is defining what a sustainable diet is and integrating sustainability criteria into healthy eating advice. There’s also a need to define what we mean by ‘less but better livestock products’, and to work with farmers, retailers and consumer groups to help us move towards a more sustainable food system that’s fair for all.”

WWF said there was widespread recognition of the need to change the types of food we eat, focusing on the hot spots. A culture of food consumption that rewards farmers for investing in sustainable production, even while people eat a lower volume of resource intensive foods, could reduce the risk of off?shoring and help to ensure that the rural economy thrives.

Discussing the use of soy in the UK industry, Friends of the Earth said that the issues of costs of UK protein feed (relative to soy) and how farmers are able to deal with a highly concentrated buyers' market has not been addressed. There seems little effort to ensure UK domestic feed production or grass based systems are more profitable, says the group.

Commenting on this, 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."

Discussing the industry, the environmental group praised the involvement of industry bodies in research projects, particularly those looking at feed issues.

Whilst praising the industry for creating roadmaps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Friends of the Earth said no specific objectives have been set to reduce the global impact of UK livestock supply chains.

The poultry sector was picked out for making little progress, which was notable due to its high use of soy and also considerable barriers to progress (in terms of finance and alternative feed).

On a retailer level, Marks and Spencer were praised for their investment into research on alternative feeds, however information on what other retailers were actively involved in was unknown.

Mr Paice said that he was encouraged by the work that has been undertaken by the industry, government and others to improve livestock sustainability in the UK.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.