Livestock Industry (Climate Change)

– in Westminster Hall at 4:57 pm on 25th March 2009.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East 4:57 pm, 25th March 2009

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr. Benton, for this debate, which is about an issue that has been of long-standing interest to me. Until recently, I was part of the small minority who were aware of it. It was always mentioned in the context of the debate around vegetarianism, as an add-on to the main arguments about the ethical case for giving up meat, the health benefits and so on.

I should probably get this out of the way straight away and say that I am a vegetarian. Actually, I have been a vegan since 1992 and a vegetarian since 1981, but I hope that I can convince people that I am not calling for this issue to be treated with the seriousness that it deserves because of my ethical concerns about vegetarianism. I am not trying to use this debate as a Trojan horse to push that case. I genuinely think, from an environmental point of view and also a development point of view, that we need to look at the impact of increasing meat and dairy consumption around the globe and the consequent growth of the livestock industry.

As I said, this was very much a marginal issue, but it is now crossing over and becoming mainstream. One of the key points in that process was when the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation published its report, "Livestock's Long Shadow" in 2006. It looked at a range of issues, including the impact of the livestock industry on land use, soil, water, biodiversity depletion and climate change. The report's conclusion was stark:

"The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global."

The basic fact is that the livestock industry uses huge amounts of water, grain, energy and land. On the UN figures, it is responsible for 18 per cent. of total global greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the emissions from all the world's planes, trains and cars put together.

I should say at this point that this speech will almost unavoidably be full of statistics, which I appreciate makes for dull listening, but it is important to get some of the facts and figures on the record. There are many different statistics floating around, and it has been difficult to come up with the definitive ones. For example, on the livestock industry's contribution to global greenhouses gases, the Government use the figure of 14 per cent. I shall use my figures and hope that we do not get into too much to-ing and fro-ing.

The first factor that I want to identify is the sheer amount of grain or soya crops that it takes to produce feed for animals. It takes 8 kg of grain to produce l kg of beef; 4 kg to produce the equivalent amount of pigmeat; and 2 kg for the same weight of chicken. That pushes up food prices throughout the world. Raj Patel wrote in his excellent book "Stuffed and Starved":

"The amount of grains fed to US livestock would be enough to feed 840 million people on a plant-based diet. The number of food-insecure people in the world in 2006 was, incidentally, 854 million".

But to return to climate change, my second point follows on from animal feed: the livestock industry also uses an absolutely huge amount of water. It takes 100 times as much water to produce 1 kg of beef as it does to grow 1 kg of vegetables. That is a particular factor in countries where water is a scarce resource.

The third factor is the amount of fossil fuel energy that the industry uses. It takes 2.2 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce a single calorie of plant protein; four times as much to produce 1 calorie of chicken protein; 17 times as much to produce 1 calorie of pork protein; 50 times as much for 1 calorie of lamb protein; and 54 times as much for 1 calorie of beef protein. Basically, it takes almost 120 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of beef.

The fourth and possibly most important impact is the amount of land use. It takes almost 21 sq m of land to produce 1 kg of beef, if we factor in animal feed, compared with 0.3 sq m to produce 1 kg of vegetables. Currently, about one third of all arable land in the world is used to produce animal feed crops, and that means deforestation, which releases carbon into the atmosphere. Large swathes of forest are being cleared to provide land to grow soya and grain to feed to cattle.

In the climate change debate, we are all familiar with concerns about biofuels and deforestation, but deforestation for new pasture lands and to create arable land on which to grow animal feed is responsible for about one third of livestock emissions globally. About 100 million tonnes of crops are being diverted to create biofuels this year, but 760 million tonnes are being used to feed animals, so I hope that that puts the issue in some context.

According to Friends of the Earth, which is to be congratulated on its "Food Chain" campaign that examines the environmental footprint of the food that we eat, more than 3,000 square miles of Amazon rainforest were cleared between August 2007 and August 2008. On that trend, cattle and soya production will destroy 40 per cent. of the Amazon in the next 40 years.

A short while ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Father Edilberto Sena, who has been on a crusade since 2001 to stop the world's largest private company, the trans-national grain trader Cargill, from using the vast new port that it has built on the Amazon river to export its soya from Brazil to northern Europe, to supply the intensive meat and dairy industries of Britain, Holland and France. He told MPs about the destruction being wreaked in Brazil and particularly his local community by that growing trade. Almost 80 per cent. of UK soybeans are imported from Brazil, so there is a strong link between meat and dairy consumption in this country and the deforestation of the Amazon.

The fifth impact is emissions. As I have already mentioned, the livestock industry contributes 18 per cent. of global greenhouse gas emissions, including 9 per cent. of global CO2 emissions, 37 per cent. of methane emissions and 65 per cent. of nitrous oxide emissions.

This is where we reach a fairly delicate subject, which I shall try to treat as delicately as possible. Methane is released by what is politely termed natural livestock emissions—slightly less politely, flatulence, belching and manure produced mainly by cattle. It has about 25 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide, and 1 g of methane produced by a cow's natural emissions therefore warms the planet 20 times as much as 1 g of CO2 from a car engine.

Livestock is also responsible for most of the world's nitrous oxide emissions, and that is related to fertiliser and muck spreading. Although nitrous oxide represents only a tiny proportion of global greenhouse gases, being about 1,000th of the world's CO2 emissions, it has a much more powerful effect. It has one of the longest lifetimes of any greenhouse gas, lasting up to 150 years, and it has about 300 times the warming potential of CO2. There are also other concerns about the environmental impact of the billions of tonnes of waste—unrelated to climate change—that those animals produce. The waste leaches into the water supply and emits 30 million tonnes of ammonia each year, and that translates into 68 per cent. of the emissions that cause acid rain. Pesticides are also an issue.

Those are the concerns, and the issue must be set in the context of the huge increase in the consumption of meat and dairy products over recent years, which has been caused by rising living standards in the developing world and the adoption of western diets, particularly in countries such as India and China. The United Nations report, "Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options" states that in 2003, on average, India consumed 5 kg of meat per person, the UK consumed 83 kg and the United States 123 kg. However, developing nations are increasing their meat consumption rapidly. In India, it has gone up from 5 kg per person in 2003 to 28 kg in 2007, and in the UK, in the developed world, we eat 50 per cent. more meat than we did in the 1960s. Meat production globally quadrupled between 1961 and 2001, and it is expected to double again by 2050.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

The hon. Lady makes a very cogent case on some very important issues. Does she accept that the most significant part of farming's carbon footprint is transport and food miles? Will she acknowledge, among the statistics to which she refers, that over the past 10 years the proportion of meat consumed in the UK that was produced in the UK has gone down by 12 percentage points, from 75 per cent. to 63 per cent? She refers to the fact that much of the rainforest has been destroyed to create pasture land, so that livestock can be reared over there and exported here, so will she not accept that a strong British livestock sector is a powerful way of combating climate change, because it ensures that we reduce the amount of miles involved in getting food from the field to the plate?

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I deliberately have not entered into the food-miles debate, because it is not possible to do so in the time available, but there is another debate to be had about food miles, and I support the idea that, wherever possible, people should buy food that is grown locally. It is complete madness that we import New Zealand lamb, for example, when we can get such meat much closer to home.

On the solutions, I am sure that the Minister will be relieved to hear that I am not suggesting that we must go vegetarian or vegan to save the planet. However, Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, researchers from the university of Chicago, said that becoming a vegetarian does more to fight climate change than switching from a gas-guzzler to a hybrid car. The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also said:

"If all families would just have one meatless day a week, this would have the same beneficial effect on greenhouse gas emission as taking almost one million cars off the roads for an entire year."

It would also be equivalent to replacing 1 billion light bulbs with energy saving bulbs.

Photo of Dan Rogerson Dan Rogerson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving us the opportunity to hear her arguments and debate the issues. She has concentrated on meat eating, perhaps understandably, and referred to dairy only a few times, but some issues may be there. She has framed the debate about livestock in general, so I should be interested to hear whether she has anything further to say about dairy. In some parts of the developing world, dairy is a stronger part of the diet than meat, because of price. Following the intervention of my hon. Friend Tim Farron, I wonder whether the hon. Lady agrees that the debate is not so much about what we eat but where it comes from. On biodiversity in the UK, the livestock sector is keenly involved in maintaining the historic landscape that we all enjoy.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I have already addressed the point about food miles and the fact that local food is better. I recognise that farming makes a contribution towards biodiversity and protecting the environment in the smaller sense of the word in the UK, rather than in the climate change sense. Although dairy products are to an extent a feature of the diet in developing countries, in Asia and particularly in China, they are not, but they are increasingly becoming a significant part of the diet. So all the points that I have made about animal feed and so on relate to the dairy industry and the growth on that front as well as to the meat industry.

The choice is either to reduce consumption or to try to find ways to tackle the emissions produced by the livestock industry. That is similar to the question in the aviation debate: should people be asked to reduce the number of flights that they take or should technological advances within aviation be considered? The best solution would be a combination of both. But I expect that the Minister will probably focus on the technological advances and how we can reduce the emissions that are created, so I shall make a brief comment on that point.

I draw the Minister's attention to a report from Farming Futures, which is supported by the farming industry, including the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association. That report suggests that the way forward is to make changes to cows' diets to prevent them producing so much methane, to have anaerobic digestion plants to deal with waste and by optimising fertiliser efficiency to reduce nitrous oxide emissions.

A methane tax was considered in New Zealand, and it was hoped that that would raise $5 million and that the money would be spent on funding research into ways to reduce emissions from livestock. However, that proposal was opposed by farmers and was replaced by a general carbon tax. Researchers in Australia reckoned that reducing emissions from animals by between 20 and 50 per cent. would result in cows producing more milk, because every time a cow releases a natural emission it loses energy. It is bizarre that people do such things for a living and I am not sure how it would be measured, but that example proves that the research is out there and that there are ways of doing that.

Oxfam has put forward a contraction and convergence plan on meat eating, which is similar to the idea of contraction and convergence in respect of broader climate change. The basic premise of that plan is that there should be a sustainable level of meat eating, which would involve those under the limit coming up to it and those above the limit coming down. Oxfam says that to preserve the situation as it is to prevent an increase in emissions but not to reduce them overall, the level would be about 33 kg per person.

Compassion in World Farming has also been campaigning on this issue and has talked about the need to factor it into any international discussions on climate change. Friends of the Earth, as part of their "Food Chain" campaign, has come up with some fairly radical suggestions. It has said that Government should stop subsidising intensive livestock farming and instead invest in research into local feed production, and it is talking about public sector procurement and saying that environmentally damaging food should not be purchased for schools, hospitals, care homes and so on. It also mentions changing global investment policy at the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and talks about other forms of bilateral finance and ensuring that the issue is addressed in international climate talks.

The key thing is making sure that people are aware. It comes back to the food miles debate. There has been a lot of discussion about how easy it would be to mark the environmental footprint of food. That is difficult, because we are all familiar with the argument that to import something from Africa may result in longer air or freight miles, but that if similar produce were grown in Holland, for example, where artificial lighting, heating and so on have to be used, the environmental footprint could be higher although the number of food miles would be lower. It would be difficult to attach some imprint on to food that gave a clear idea of its environmental footprint, but it is important that we are aware of that and factor it into our discussions.

This is not about finding a back-door way to promote vegetarianism or veganism but about climate change. I had hoped that another hon. Member would call for this debate, which is why, since "Livestock's Long Shadow" was published a couple of years ago, I have been sitting on it hoping that they would do so, but none has, which is why I am here. John Harris, who writes for The Guardian and is a long-term vegetarian, said in an excellent piece last year:

"right now, this is actually more about human lives than those of animals".

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State (Farming and the Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:15 pm, 25th March 2009

First and foremost, may I say how delighted I am to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr. Benton? Not only is it always a pleasure to see you in the Chair; it is a pleasure to be reassured about the robust state of your health. It is good to see you here.

I congratulate my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy on securing this debate in the momentary and wonderful lull in the terrible noise from that person across the road. I put it on the record that I regret that I could not properly follow the debate on asbestos led by Paul Rowen and the Under-Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, my hon. Friend Sarah McCarthy-Fry, because of the intrusive nature of the noise. I hope that the House authorities look again at seeing what could be done, particularly in respect of debates in this Chamber because we are much closer to it. People have the right to protest, but we should be able to carry on our business properly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East rightly said at the outset that she was a vegan but that that was not the primary reason for calling this debate. It is an important debate in its own right. She has put on the record that she is a vegan, and I respect her views on food, but I have to say that I am not. I suspect that my mum was probably introducing me to meat as a food even before I can remember: she probably fed me home-made shepherd's pie as she was weaning me. All I can say is that I have stuck with it.

Traditionally, here in the UK meat is an important source of protein, iron, calcium, zinc and other vitamins and minerals. I have a lot of sympathy with those who say that there is no such thing as bad food, that it is the diet that we get wrong and that we need a balanced diet and must exercise greater portion control. Delia Smith was arguing for that just the other day and I think that she is right.

My hon. Friend quoted an American who said that, in order to help deal with climate change, it would be better to become vegetarian or vegan than to change from a high-performance car to a hybrid car. I had better get it on the record and say that I am not going to do that either, I am afraid. Having blotted my copybook quite seriously from the outset—


'It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian [inc. vegan] diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. .....' 'In his 1583 text, Anatomy of Abuses, Stubbes wrote that previous generations "fed upon graine, corne, roots, pulse, hearbes, weedes, and such other baggage; and yet lived longer than we, were healthfuller than we, of better complexion than we, and much stronger than we in every respect." A century later, Macauley noted that, "meat was so dear in price that hundreds of thousands of families scarcely knew the taste of it," while half the population of England, "ate it not at all or not more often than once a week." .. "The potato is the principle food of the Irish peasantry, and few portions of the human family are more healthy, athletic, and active...That portion of the peasantry of England and Scotland who subsist on their barley and oatmeal bread, porridge, potatos, and other vegetables, with temperate, cleanly habits (and surroundings) are able to endure more fatigue and exposure than any other class of people in the same countries. Three-fourths of the whole human family, in all periods of time...have subsisted on non-flesh foods; and when their supplies have been abundant and their habits in other respects correct, they have been well nourished." .. The hardy Scotch have never been great meat eaters. In the remote districts kailbrose, shredded...

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I should like to put on the record that I drive a Smart car.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State (Farming and the Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Now we have got that clear.

My hon. Friend has raised a pertinent, important and challenging subject not just for the agricultural sector. Climate change is a challenging issue across the British economy, particularly at a time when the economy is under such pressure from other reasons—the global pressures on our economy—that we now know about all too well. We must not be pushed off this important agenda. It is important that we continue to focus on the factors that impact on climate change.

My hon. Friend mentioned the Food Futures report. Another study has estimated that across the European Union, total food consumption and production—not just livestock and meat production—accounts for between 20 and 30 per cent. of our climate change impacts. Our national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions tells us that the whole agriculture sector contributed about 7 per cent. of our total greenhouse gas emissions in 2006. About half that 7 per cent. comes from the livestock sector. Worldwide, as my hon. Friend quoted, livestock accounts for around 18 per cent. of greenhouse gas emissions.

Farming has a unique place in our country's way of life. We often say that farmers are the guardians of the countryside. They are part of our national identity. Perhaps most importantly, they help to feed us. Tim Farron was right to say that the more local food we eat, the better in terms of air miles. Occasionally, however, there are instances such as the recent change in the availability of carrots, when we had to import carrots because of poor weather. I shall say in a moment that farmers are on the front line and are the first to be affected by climate change. A balance must be struck to ensure that growth and production are sustainable not only in tackling climate change, but in the circumstances facing all sectors of British business, particularly farming, which is my Government responsibility. Farming is on the front line and is the first to feel the effects.

Climate change is one of the most important challenges facing us. The Climate Change Act 2008 commits us to an 80 per cent. reduction in all greenhouse gases by 2050. That is a challenging target, but all sectors of the economy, including the livestock sectors, must play a part in helping to meet the target. Some progress has been made, and between 1990 and 2006 emissions from the livestock sector declined by 18 per cent. due to a decline in emissions from enteric fermentation, agricultural waste disposal and agricultural soils. There is a risk that reducing direct emissions from agriculture could reduce UK production, with a resulting increase in food imports, thereby simply exporting our emissions and perhaps even increasing them. We are aware of that risk, and we want to ensure that UK agriculture improves its environmental impact without becoming less productive. We must assess the full impact of any measures to reduce emissions, to ensure that we do not simply export the problem and that action to reduce greenhouse gases does not conflict with other environmental goals.


"Farming has a unique place in our country's way of life. We often say that farmers are the guardians of the countryside. They are part of our national identity." '[....] Some of this land has been acquired through expropriation. This is as true in the third world today as it was centuries ago in the over-industrialized nations. Large numbers of poor people have been imprisoned, made homeless, killed, or have starved as a result of big landowners expropriating land for pasture. The same sort of expropriation has occurred, although not on the same scale, to provide grains for livestock Animals in the over-industrialized world. ....' 'Farmers manage over 75% of the total land area of the UK. ... ' 'Around 37% of the land on agricultural holdings is considered to be croppable land, i.e. land currently under crops, set-aside, bare fallow or temporary grass. Almost half of this croppable area is occupied by cereal crops. Horticultural crops (including vegetables, orchards, soft fruit and crops grown under glass) account for just 1% of the area on agricultural holdings. Permanent grassland and sole right rough grazing accounts for 57% of the area on agricultural holdings - see Figure 1. Cereal crops 17% Other arable crops 8% Horticultural crops 1% Fallow land 1% Set-aside 3% Temporary grass 7% Permanent grassland 33% Sole right rough grazing 24% Woodland 4% All other land 2% Figure 1: A breakdown of the total area on agricultural holdings as at June 2007 ..' 'Ancient woods are those where there is believed to have been continuous woodland cover since at least 1600 AD. .. The importance of ancient woodland As the terrestrial habitat most representative of original, natural, stable conditions, ancient woodland is home to more...

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

Does the Minister accept that most land used for livestock farming at the moment is unusable for other farming purposes, such as crops, and that much farm land, particularly in the uplands, is vital to carbon sequestration and fighting climate change from that angle? Furthermore, with £10.2 billion of food being wasted in the UK every year, does she accept that now is the time for serious investment in anaerobic digestion, as the hon. Member for Bristol, East said, to help farmers tackle climate change?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State (Farming and the Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is scary to be in such close agreement with him, but I am. I also agree with his point about anaerobic digestion, and I shall come to that in a moment if I have time.

Emissions from the livestock sector have declined by 18 per cent. and are projected to continue to fall to 32 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010, which is real and significant progress, but after 2010 they are projected to rise again, so there is urgent need for action, and that is true of all sectors of the economy. In taking forward solutions to these issues, the Government must work in close partnership with the industry. DEFRA is already working collaboratively with the dairy supply chain through the road map process to reduce the environmental impact of milk production and consumption in the UK. The road map includes some important action for the entire supply chain, including challenging targets on the reduction of greenhouse gas balance from dairy farms, as well as setting targets to reduce water usage and to improve waste disposal.

The meat industry is working on a similar road map for meat production. Helping all sectors of the economy to address climate change is a key priority for the Government. We fully recognise the challenges associated with tackling greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector as part of maintaining a sustainable and viable industry. Our agriculture and climate change work stream under the Farming Futures programmes—my hon. Friend will know about them—aims to address the challenges associated with tackling greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector and agriculture as a whole.

We continue to work directly with the sector to ensure that farmers are fully aware of the effects of climate change, and are well equipped to change their practices to reduce emissions and make their businesses more resilient to the impact of climate change. We are doing that through our rural climate change forum, our high-level stakeholder group, which provides valuable advice on policy, research and communications for climate change and land management. All the major stakeholders in the farming, forestry and land management sectors are represented on that group.

We understand how important it is for farmers to have easily accessible information on climate change, and we have funded the Farming Futures communications project since 2006 to provide farmers with practical advice on the impact of climate change and on how to take action to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The project has produced a series of fact sheets and case studies, including some on reducing emissions from the livestock sector. In addition, a series of regional workshops for farmers has been held.

We are mindful that our 80 per cent. emissions reduction target is ambitious, and the unique nature of the agricultural sector makes it even more challenging for it fully to play its part. The Committee on Climate Change has recently identified the technical abatement potential for the agriculture, forestry and land management sectors, and we are working with the Committee, the rural climate change forum and other stakeholders to develop the policy framework that we will need to have in place to ensure that those identified savings are realised.

It is important to note that some measures to tackle climate change in this sector provide real benefits not just for climate change, but for other environmental objectives, such as biodiversity and water, soil and air quality. Anaerobic digestion is a subject that we could spend all day discussing. It is a good example of win-win technology, and we are driving it forward. It could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the use of manures, slurries and other organic matter, such as food waste. Some innovative ideas are emerging on how to turn food waste from supermarkets to good use—

Sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(11)).


Emissions from the livestock sector have declined by 18 per cent. and are projected to continue to fall to 32 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2010....

Emissions have declined because this disgraced government have slaughtered so many animals during and after their shameful display of incompetance during FMD 2001.
They continue to slaughter valuable cows due to their FAILURE to tackle bTB with clarity and purpose.

Less animals = less coming out the back: that is nothing to be proud of Ms Kennedy, and is a further measure of PATHETIC agricultural policy.


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