Opinion

‘CCC report is nonsense but the NFU has been asleep at the wheel’

Forget Brexit, the truly worrying story to come out of London this week was the report from the Government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC), calling for up to 50% reduction in UK cattle and sheep numbers.

The so-called rationale behind this recommendation is based on the assertion that ruminant livestock produce higher levels of Greenhouses gases than other farmed animals. One could argue that the main thrust of the CCC report is bad enough.

But worse again, has been the very feeble response from the National Farmers’ Union.

Yes, the union has expressed disappointment at the report’s main recommendation. But the real question is: Should matters have been allowed to get to this stage in the first place?

In my opinion, the CCC report is further evidence of the fact that environmental and conservation groups are now the real drivers of farm policy in the UK.

In other words, the NFU is guilty of being caught asleep at the wheel at a time when production agriculture needs every bit of support that it can muster.

In arriving at their conclusions, CCC members seem to have overlooked the fact that the world is short of food.

Moreover, there is a growing demand for high-quality animal protein within many of the world’s fastest-growing economies. China is the most obvious example of this.

As a consequence, there are major exporting opportunities to be availed of by agri-food companies across the UK with a vested interest in cattle and sheep production.

I would also argue that the CCC report does not stack up from an environmental perspective.

Permanent grassland – which underpins almost all our dairy, beef and lamb output – represents one of the most effective ‘carbon sumps’ available to mankind.

So, replacing these landscapes, that have evolved over hundreds of years, with woodland is going to do very little when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emission levels.

The CCC report also overlooks that fact that sheep play a crucial role in maintaining the environment and conservation value of our hill areas.

Many of our most treasured landscapes have been created courtesy of their grazing habits. And, of course, all of this would be destroyed if British sheep numbers were to be decimated.

The flaws of focusing on pig and poultry

According to the CCC report, livestock production in the UK should become more focused on poultry and pig output.

This not so salient recommendation overlooks the fact that meat production of this nature is reliant on cereal and plant protein imports, much of which is derived from GM crop varieties. I hardly think this is a scenario that stacks up from an environmental perspective.

The last time I checked, the UK was only 63% self-sufficient in terms of food. Given these circumstances, should we not be encouraging production agriculture rather than trying to kill it off?

It’s time the farming unions took the environmental and conservation groups to task, where production agriculture is concerned.

Food is the fundamental driver of every economy and community. The public at large must be reminded of this very basic fact in the strongest possible terms.