By Steven Moore
A BBC documentary on meat production, broadcast on Monday night, illustrated why it was so important to maintain UK production standards in any future trade deals, according to a range of industry bodies.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union, in a joint statement with its Great Britain counterparts, said the programme “Meat: a threat to our planet?” had failed to point out the gulf between how meat is produced in the Americas compared to home methods.
“This was a massive oversight considering the BBC’s audience and would have left people with the impression that all meat is produced in the same way,” said the release signed by the four UK union presidents.
“We know the public want to eat sustainably and they can do this by investing in the UK livestock sector, which is already producing some of the most climate-friendly beef and lamb in the world and has an ambition to do even more.
“Beef production in the UK is already 2.5 times more efficient than the global average and four times more efficient than places which are deforesting land.
“Simply showing the envir-onmental impact of beef production in North and South America does nothing to help people make informed choices about food which can be grown and reared in ways that offer benefits for the environment.
“For example, with the UK’s climate, landscape and grass-based systems we have the means, and the ambition, to provide quality, nutritious meat in ways that not only protect the environment, but help mitigate the world’s impact on the climate.
“The documentary did, however, demonstrate the concerns UK farming has about future trade, and what we could expect to see on our supermarket shelves if the government were to allow food into the country which has been produced in ways that would be illegal here.
“If we are to maintain our values of environmental protection and animal welfare which are at the core of UK farming, and we know the public want to uphold, future trade deals must ensure all imports meet the standard required of UK farmers.”
Rob Percival, of the Soil Association, said the documentary showed the stark differences between livestock production systems.
“We should be wary of trade deals that fail to protect British farmers, or that allow meat produced to lower environmental or animal welfare standards onto our supermarket shelves,” he said.
“In the UK, when animals are grazed on pasture, this can capture carbon in soils and benefit wildlife, as the documentary recognised.
“We should stop importing feed crops associated with rainforest clearance, which are primarily fed to pigs and chickens, and re-orient our diets around more sustainable meat and plant proteins.
“This will mean eating less meat overall, but more meat from nature-friendly farming systems like organic.”
Patrick Holden, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, said there was no doubt that grain fed, intensively farmed livestock, including those found in feed-lots in the USA, were hugely damaging to the environment and public health.
Grazing ruminant animals, in-cluding cattle and sheep, had a critically important role to play in rebuilding soil fertility and carbon stocks, he said, though intensive, often monoculture systems which relied heavily on chemical inputs needed to be moved away from.
Mr Holden added: “Of course, sustainable livestock products should form part of a balanced diet. However, whilst we must all be striving to eat more plants, just as importantly as scrutinising where our animal products come from, we must also question the provenance and wider impact of the plants we eat.
“Are for example, imported soy or palm oil products, or highly processed meat alternatives, bet-ter than eating something we can produce in a sustainable way on our doorstep?”