“Farmers are the coalface to the worsening consequences of the climate crisis. We feel the effects of our everyday lives.”
The above statement is from Joe Stanley, a British farmer, in his reply to the growing criticisms and pressure farmers face on climate change. He said they are facing increasing complaints about their contribution to climate change and are getting sustained assaults from the media. They are not the enemy in the battle against climate change (Stanley, 2019).
He says, “Meat consumption was only one element of a balanced look at global agriculture, but it has become a clarion call to western veganism despite the IPCC promoting the opportunities and benefits of resilient, sustainable, and low greenhouse gas emission (GHG) animal-sourced food”.
He also adds that around the world, there are vast variations in the sustainability of food production and that the UK happens to be world-class when it comes to sustainable food production.
Stanley accepts that ruminants such as cattle, goats, and sheep emit methane. However, the UK also has permanent pastures on which nothing else can be grown. These permanent pastures comprise 70 per cent of farmlands in the UK. He said that these are also GHG or carbon sinks.
UK’s sustainable farming practices don’t add to climate change
The following are his thoughts on the farming practices in the UK and how these are sustainable practices and do not necessarily contribute to climate change:
- Grasslands absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as the grass grows and sequesters it in the soil as organic matter; the more it’s grazed and trampled by livestock, the more it absorbs carbon.
- The 10 million hectares of grasslands in the UK hold 600million tonnes of CO2 and sequester an additional 2.4 million tonnes.
- Although UK agriculture contributes 10% of the country’s GHG emissions, this does not consider their pastures’ ability as carbon sinks.
- British livestock production is among the most sustainable in the world; 85 per cent of the water consumed by sheep and cattle falls as rain on their grasslands, which also accounts for 90 per cent of their feed.
- UK’s carbon footprint is 2.5 times lower than the global average, and its methane emissions decreased by 10 per cent.
- The president of the National Farmers Union, Minette Batters, has recently committed to a net-zero carbon emission from the agriculture sector by 2040.
UK’s farming practice, as compared with others in the world sustainable
Stanley cites clearing 1,400 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest to be used for farming or feeding it with grain grown on that cleared land as unsustainable practice.
Also, he said that it makes no sense to shun sustainably produced British meat in favour of a “plant-based diet” of avocados or almonds grown in some of the driest places on Earth using blue water sucked from rivers, lakes or aquifers.
He adds that a sustainable food system includes the producer, consumer, and state. And that British consumers should not be ‘overwhelmingly concerned’ about the seemingly high price of their household food because the UK is enjoying the ‘third most affordable shopping basket in the world”.
Sustainable food has a monetary cost that few are willing to pay
This is the paradox in our food system, he says. Sustainable food has a financial cost that few are willing to pay, and ‘farmers cannot act alone as the social and environmental conscience of the nation, not while they receive just 7 per cent of the agri-food value chain.
With regards to the higher standards of sustainable farming, he says this is a challenge that farmers are ready to take on. But he warns about it being ‘sold down the river in any quick free trade agreements – referring to cheap food and produce grown elsewhere in the world in the most unsustainable way. While UK’s sustainably grown products will only cater to the ones that could afford it and the poorest will ‘make do with the global dregs,’ he says;
Stanley concludes: “Sustainably produced, quality, high-welfare British food must be a choice for all. But to achieve this, farmers, consumers and government must prioritise climate-friendly food. Our future depends on it.”
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Stanley, J. (2019, November 2019). British farmers are not the enemy in the battle against the climate crisis. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/nov/03/uk-farmers-climate-crisis-livestock-sustainable
PHOTO CREDIT: Dairy Farming by Reuben Josh Juanitas