'Farmers are being bullied over misplaced anti-meat focus of climate change debate', union leader says

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers' Union. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

Farmers are being made to feel “isolated” and “terrorised” because of a deeply flawed approach to tackling climate change, according to the industry’s union leader.

Minette Batters has accused a “metropolitan elite” of bullying farmers by focusing on meat-eating alone to tackle climate change.

The president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), posting on social media, said some sections of the media were “destroying lives” by their portrayal of farming’s contribution to climate change.

“I won’t stand by and watch farmers be bullied by a metropolitan elite that is too idle or too ignorant to face up to the fact that just focusing on meat eating alone doesn’t tackle climate change,” she said.

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Agriculture contributes 10 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, with the NFU having set a target for the industry to go net zero by 2040.

Mrs Batters said other causes of emissions are overlooked in the wider public discourse, adding: “Agriculture is the only industry that is both a (carbon) source and a sink. So why can’t everyone focus on the serious challenges like our clothing, technology, cars, holidays, food waste?”

Recent studies have backed balanced diets. The RSA Commission wants more meat to be produced from sustainable livestock systems, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advocated “diversification” in the food system, involving diets that include “animal-sourced food produced in resilient, sustainable and low greenhouse gas emission systems”.

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Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mrs Batters accused some sections of the media of misrepresenting those findings.

She said: “We absolutely recognise our role in combating climate change. We have set out to achieve a net zero pilot and are all pulling together, so it’s just incredibly frustrating that when these reports come out, some sections of the media take one thing from them: that we should be looking to stop eating meat. None of these reports have said that.”

She added: “Farming is quite an isolated job, there are enormous concerns around the implications of Brexit and farmers desperately want to do the right thing for their stock and the environment... but they find it difficult to stomach this approach of ‘we don’t want you to produce meat’.

“All the experts are saying to maintain carbon sinks, grazing livestock has enormous benefits. It’s time to put the negative side of this debate behind us and champion what we have in the UK.”

Her comments came as Goldsmiths, University of London, said it would no longer sell beef products on campus as it pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025 – a move which shows a lack of understanding between British beef and beef produced elsewhere, the NFU’s vice president Stuart Roberts said.

“Our standards of beef production in the UK are among the most efficient in the world, with British livestock grazing in extensive, grass-based systems – meaning a greenhouse gas footprint 2.5 times smaller than the global average.

"Anyone wanting to play their part in helping our planet amid the current climate change challenge we’re all facing should buy British, locally produced beef reared to some of the highest and environmentally sustainable standards in the world.”

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