A food policy motion for Spring Conference

The deadline is approaching for submitting motions to Spring Conference, which should be a great chance to pin down our policies and demonstrate our values. For me, those values include deep concern about both climate change and animal welfare. If you share those concerns, please sign a motion that’s being submitted – available at this link.

On climate change, we should further strengthen our party’s green credentials by grappling with the environmental impacts of food production. The Climate Change Committee’s pathway to net zero includes reducing meat consumption by at least 35% by 2050. Importantly, this is based on the representative citizens’ Climate Assembly, which was comfortable with reducing meat and dairy consumption by 20-40%. The reason why these reductions are required is both because of the emissions that livestock directly produce and because growing crops to feed livestock is an inefficient use of land that needs to be freed up for carbon capture and nature.

The ‘National Food Strategy’ that reported in July (and that our party called for in our last three manifestos) similarly calls for a 30 per cent reduction in meat consumption within a decade, as part of a plan to create the best balance of healthy food production and nature. But the current government seems unlikely to accept that recommendation: its climate strategy has “nothing to say on diet changes” and the government even deleted a report on the topic. As the motion sets out, the Lib Dems can do better (and do so without resorting to higher taxes on meat, for example).

On animal welfare too, it is time for Lib Dems to lead the debate. Although the current government is making some progress, and British farming has much to be proud of, in some areas the UK is falling behind and there is a lot more to be done. If we were still in the EU, we would now be committed to ‘ending the cage age’ by 2027 – ending the use of pig farrowing crates, caged hens and more – but the UK government has not yet agreed to match this. As another example, the UK kills tens of millions of male chicks each year (as males of egg-laying breeds are no longer considered efficient sources of meat), but thanks to new technologies Germany, France have banned this mass culling from 1 January 2022 (with Italy and probably the EU as a whole set to follow). The UK should be following suit.

It is important to consider food’s animal welfare and climate impacts in tandem. We don’t want farmers to be forced by climate considerations (and the government’s trade policies) to simply move even further towards intensification, with indoor production and faster-growing, short-lived breeds. What we need is ‘less but better meat’, with the lowest welfare products replaced with plant-based options. Alongside raising minimum welfare standards, and applying them to imports too, a good place to start would be ensuring that state-provided meals involve a bit less meat and dairy and otherwise follow particularly high welfare standards. Both the animal welfare standards and environmental impact of food products should also be clearly labelled, so that consumers can do their bit and so that supermarkets and food chains can be made to report on the overall environmental impacts and welfare standards of the food they sell.

I know from my role on the Federal Policy Committee that there is unlikely to be time for a full policy paper on food or animal welfare anytime soon, despite the timeliness of all these issues (not to mention the potential links between food systems and pandemic risks). So to help ensure a debate at Spring Conference, please take a look at the full motion and lend your signature.

* Adam Corlett is an economic analyst and Lib Dem member

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44 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 30th Dec '21 - 11:36am

    Forgive me being blunt but the motion you are promoting could sit perfectly comfortably within the Monster Raving Loony Party manifesto. For example, I can imagine the reaction Liberal Democrat activists would get in the fishing communities of North East Scotland to the suggestion that commercially caught fish should be stunned.

  • I welcome this motion. Efforts to reduce meat and dairy consumption are probably among the most effective means we have to combat climate change. George Monbiot writes The best way to save the planet? Drop meat and dairy
    “Whether human beings survive this century and the next, whether other lifeforms can live alongside us: more than anything, this depends on the way we eat. We can cut our consumption of everything else almost to zero and still we will drive living systems to collapse, unless we change our diets.
    All the evidence now points in one direction: the crucial shift is from an animal- to a plant-based diet. A paper published last week in Science reveals that while some kinds of meat and dairy production are more damaging than others, all are more harmful to the living world than growing plant protein. It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land, but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production.”

    As to Animal welfare, anyone who has ever been a PPC will understand the strength of community feeling around the need for improved animal welfare standards.

  • Adam Corlett 30th Dec '21 - 7:36pm

    Thanks Joe!

    Brad, the position of the British Veterinary Association on that topic is as follows:
    “Evidence indicates that wild-caught fish (cod, haddock, dab, plaice) may remain conscious and therefore experience significant suffering for long periods during on-board storage. As sentient animals, like farmed fish, we support the principle that wild-caught fish in commercial fisheries should be stunned and immediately slaughtered as soon as possible after capture.” The motion is careful to make clear that this is a long-term goal (though some new vessels already incorporate stunning).

  • Declaring an interest – livestock vet speaking here.

    I have some serious problems with this motion, though there are some valid points in amongst it. It would be the perfect way to alienate farming and rural communities we are only just beginning to win round. Lib Dems standing up for rural people is the reason I joined this party, if this motion is passed in its entirety it wouldn’t be good. It reads as being wholly unsupportive of livestock farming. Why not instead focus on policies which incentivize research into reducing carbon emissions within farming. if you care to read the farming press it is filled with improving emissions on farm. The laser identification of male chicks is good and I support this. Perhaps a less invasive and better way to end male chick culling then we should support gene-editing, the technology exists to prevent embryogenesis of male chicks while still an egg, or for them to have biomarker which can be detected before the incubation process starts. New breeding techniques with gene-editing n in both crops and livestock (note this is not the same as GM) unlocks so many options at reducing fertilizer (which is carbon heavy to produce) , pesticides and antibiotics. if we are serious about reducing emissions in ag then this technology must be embraced, and I feel that is a motion that should be brought to conference at some stage in the near future.
    We absolutely must take the industry with us, don’t alienate them. They are aware of the challenges. Efficient farms with healthy animals are also carbon efficient farms. I support focusing subsidies and grants around achieving these aims. If we reduce livestock numbers, all we do is export our industry, removing jobs, and letting countries which produce meat and dairy in a more carbon heavy way import it into our country.

    ‘High density animal farming increases the risks of pandemics and antibiotic resistance’ – this is a fairly subjective claim. The reduction in use of antibiotics has been a huge success story in British agriculture. We have reduced usage by 50% since 2014, now have the 5th lowest usage in Europe. Additionally usage of critically important antibiotics (with the aim of these being reserved for human medicine) has reduced by 75%. The industry is aiming to improve this further still.

  • ‘…minimise the castration and tail docking of lambs.’ This is a hugely important stage of husbandry and can’t be done away with. Flystrike would be far more detrimental to their welfare. I’d imagine the thousands of teenage pregnancies would also be considered worse for animal welfare when these lambs are slaughtered. In any case, legislation is likely on its way to provide anesthetic for this procedure, which the Numnuts device that has been developed can do.

    ‘Introducing a mandatory, tiered welfare labelling system for all animal-based products, working in parallel with the EU, to promote and reward higher standards.’ we have the Red Tractor Assurance scheme, if this scheme is flawed then it should be improved. Another scheme would be an inefficient use of public money, and if its levy funded it is likely to create resentment that farms and food business are paying for another box ticking exercise to jump through.

    Your points around phasing out of certain slaughter techniques are good. The best, highest welfare slaughter method should always be sought, and abattoirs should be incentivized to convert.

    I have been quite disparaging but I appreciate the points that you are trying to make and what you’re trying to achieve with this. I don’t know what your background is Adam but it does gives off a general mood of livestock farming = bad, which I don’t feel is very fair. However, outside pair of eyes are always good to challenge mainstream practices to see where improvements can be made. I just feel you have to be very careful with language when proposing policy for an industry that consistently gets it in the neck.

  • Nonconformistradical 30th Dec '21 - 11:43pm

    “Why not instead focus on policies which incentivize research into reducing carbon emissions within farming. if you care to read the farming press it is filled with improving emissions on farm.”

    Fair point from Will McLean. I’m no expert but I understood a lot of work was being done on breeding ruminant livestock so as to reduce its methane emissions.

    Adam – I’m wondering who else might have been involved in developing this proposed motion. Did you seek objective and constructive comment and criticism from members from the country’s livestock faming industry? If you didn’t would you consider holding this motion back for submission at the Autumn conference and seeking such comment and criticism in the meantime?

    I ask because (a) politics is the art of the possible and (b) you might well have ended up with a better motion which attracted wider support than it might otherwise do.

    I write as someone definitely omnivorous – I prefer to buy free range or organic chicken (I almost never cook any other meat) but then I can afford to. Would that all who eat meat could do so.

  • Chris Moore 31st Dec '21 - 8:28am

    Adam, unfortunately, the motion reads as if livestock farming is an unmitigated horrow show, and it is up to enlightened LDs to set ignorant farmers right.

    I can’t support it as it stands.

    PS I am a vegetarian for health and ethical reasons.

  • Tristan Ward 31st Dec '21 - 9:55am

    What Chris Moore said but I am not vegetarian.

    This is a fine way to alienate voters in what used to be core Lib Dem areas in the west country, rural Scotland and rural Wales. Also by election successes in Breacon and Radnor and North Shrophire, and Tim Farron’s seat. It reads to me as if it as been written by the animal rights lobby with a couple of bits about global warming thrown in. Not least, it directs what people should and should not eat, which is illiberal. I don’t care what people eat, as long as CO2 equivalent into the atmosphere is stabilized and animal welfare standards maintained and improved.

    I will put a suggested alternative motion in the next post.

  • Tristan Ward 31st Dec '21 - 9:59am

    A Conference notes and supports the aims of the National Farmer’s Union to make British Agriculture Carbon Neutral by 2040.

    B conference regrets that the current Government:
    a) has not created a system for support for farmers and land managers that supports UK food security and carbon sequestration
    b) risks allowing the UK to fall behind world welfare standards,.
    c) has sought trade deals that risk undermining British farmers and increasing carbon dioxide production;
    d) by its botched “Brexit” significantly damaged exports of British food and fish products.

    Conference believes that:
    i) carbon production by agriculture must be urgently reduced
    ii) British standards of animal welfare in food production must be maintained and improved;
    ii) Britain must not “export” carbon dioxide production and low animal welfare standards offshore as a result of poor trade deals after Brexit.

    Conference calls on the Government to:
    1. Maintain and improve UK welfare standards by:
    a) Ending the “cage age” by 2027;
    b) reducing maximum broiler stocking densities.
    c) Maintaining pressure to phase out beak trimming.
    d) Banning the import or sale of meat that falls below minimum British welfare standards.
    [other reasonable and achievable standards]

    2) bring forward as rapidly as possible a coherent system for support of farmers and land management that:
    a) penalizes unacceptable welfare practices;
    b) rewards management of land in ways that reduce carbon dioxide production (for example by changes of diet of ruminants and reduction of soil inversion practices);

    c) supports innovative farming and land management practice and allows investment in such practices

    3) ensures the UK food sector is able to compete globally on a level playing field by:
    a) preventing the sale of meat and fish that falls below minimum British welfare standards;
    b) by the introduction of carbon tariff on all food products payable at the UK border equivalent to the cost of removal from the atmosphere of carbon dioxide equivalent created in its production;

    c) the introduction of a market mechanism enabling those who reduce carbon dioxide equivalent are rewarded and those who create carbon dioxide equivalent pay the cost of removal of an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

    d) introduction of mechanisms that ensure all those who produce carbon dioxide equivalent pay costs of removal of an equal amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

  • Stewart EDGE 31st Dec '21 - 10:23am

    Tristan Ward’s two posts strike me as the right position to take – for the planet, for animal welfare, for support of farming, and for LibDem prospects in rural (and other) areas.

  • Adam Corlett 31st Dec '21 - 12:22pm

    @Tristan: Thanks for your thoughtful response. Personally I’d be happy to see carbon pricing (i.e. the existing UK Emissions Trading Scheme that applies to most other sectors) applied to agriculture, with both emissions and removals assessed. However, there are practical challenges to doing that – and the recent Lib Dem paper on carbon pricing did not recommend it (for now). And it would (of course) mean substantial increases in the price of beef and lamb. So I’d say that your text is actually far more radical and politically risky than the proposed motion, which attempts to use lighter-handed measures to reduce meat consumption.

  • Tristan Ward 31st Dec '21 - 1:02pm

    Thank you Adam. I fear I may have been a bit brusque – apologies for that.

    For what it’s worth my feeling – and its no more than feeling – is that the public will accept some moves to carbon pricing now.

    In any event, my fear is that we are running out of time. I think carbon pricing now (including reward for reduction and payment to those taking carbon out of the air) is essential if we are to have any hope of getting to net zero in a way that avoids a global temperature rise that results in positive feedback loops kicking in so that warming runs out of control.

    I will accept the rebuke of “radical and risky” as akin to Sir Humphrey’s “very courageous minister”!

  • Adam Corlett 31st Dec '21 - 1:03pm

    @Will: Thanks for your great comments. I’d note that the Conference Committee is meant to favour motions that are (in their words) “likely to lead to an interesting debate, with amendments and speakers both for and against”!

    To respond on a few points:
    1) On emissions, I agree that there are various ways to reduce the emissions intensity of farming, which should all be encouraged, but the Climate Change Committee has already factored that in (yet still requires lower meat consumption). Existing Lib Dem policy is to reduce overall emissions even faster than the government’s 2050-based plan, so that does imply significant reductions in meat consumption – though it’s possible that reduction might come disproportionately from imports.
    2) On antibiotics, while I agree that the UK has made a lot of progress it’s still the case that a large majority of the world’s antibiotics go to livestock.
    3) On castrating and tail docking lambs, the motion is careful to say “minimise” rather than eliminate at this point. When the Farm Animal Welfare Council looked at this, they said: “In conclusion, we understand the various pressures on producers that encourage castration but are of the view that castration is often used as the easy option, rather than considering if it really is necessary.” …”A considerable reduction in the number of lambs that are castrated routinely could be achieved by improvements in husbandry.” and “In conclusion, it is our view that tail docking is often performed out of tradition rather than necessity and, at best, may only be partially effective in reducing flystrike. Furthermore, it is a difficult ethical judgement as to whether to perform a painful procedure on large numbers of animals for the potential benefit of a small minority. Greater effort should be directed towards prevention of flystrike by methods other than tail docking.”
    4) On labelling, I think it’s really important that low-welfare producers (including overseas) should have to set out their standards too. There should be a simple traffic light system, rather than consumers having to know the difference between Red Tractor and Soil Association Organic and RSPCA Assured etc. etc., and having to guess at what standards are involved when a product has no kitemark. A consistent tiered system would also allow both the public sector and businesses to say ‘we only buy welfare grades A to C’, for example.

  • Tristan Ward 31st Dec '21 - 1:07pm

    By the way – I am aware of a business launching soon that “connects British businesses with British farmers with a view to the business offsetting their emissions within farmland. The business will pay the farmer to adopt regenerative farming practices and as a result of these changes, the farms are able to reduce on-farm emissions and increase the rate of carbon sequestration.” Carbon pricing may be closer than we think!

    Some details here: https://www.cla.org.uk/natural-capital/?search=Sub-51&asset_taxonomy=&business_taxonomy=&speciality_taxonomy=&county=

  • Will McLean 31st Dec '21 - 2:02pm

    I am reassured by the following comments after my post.

    To be frank, your response comes across as very naive. If you really want to propose policy in this sector, then please visit farms, abattoirs, people who live and work in these sectors, otherwise you come across as patronising and completely out of touch.

    Please listen to people in the party that don’t hold the completely urban and vegan view of the world that you must hold, you might even change your point of view

  • Tristan Ward 31st Dec '21 - 2:02pm

    @ Will McClean

    Hello Will,

    I agree that gene editing offers exciting ways to deal with welfare problems, and many many other things.

    I am curious though why you say “[gene editing] is not the same as GM”. As I understand this, the government argues that GE is different because edited organisms do not contain DNA from different species, and instead only produce changes that could be made slowly using traditional breeding methods. (There was a press release along these lines back in January for example.

    But this is simply not true. CRISPR for example may insert synthetic DNA into a target DNA sequence, but there is no rule so far as I can see that requires the synthetic DNA to come from a naturally occurring genome (which is what would be required for it to be analogous to traditional breeding techniques – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CRISPR_gene_editing#Genome_engineering for example – I have looked at some original papers too)

    Indeed the Government’s own consultation paper says “”GE can also be used to introduce novel combinations of genetic material into organisms that would not result from traditional breeding methods, for example the introduction of genetic material from a different species” (page 4 of the consultation paper here: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/agri-food-chain-directorate/the-regulation-of-genetic-technologies/supporting_documents/20210106%20Gene%20editing%20consultation%20document%20FINAL.pdf )

    Accordingly I think GE should be classed as simply a kind of genetic modification, which was the (In my view correct) conclusion of the European Court of Justice a few years ago.

    Am I missing something?

  • Will McLean 31st Dec '21 - 2:31pm

    Hi Tristan,

    You are certainly someone who is sure to make sure nothing gets passed them! I respect that!

    I don’t profess to be a geneticist, just a vet with an interest. To be honest, my understanding had been that GE, as you’ve outlined, is genetic information from the same organism. But as you’ve provided links that contradict that, in that synthetic DNA is also deemed acceptable, which I hadn’t known about.

    My understanding is, and I could be wrong, is that GM is using DNA from one species and moving it to another. And GE is all within the same organism.

    In any case, my view is if you are opposed to gene editing you are about as scientifically literate as an antivaxxer. The technology is proven and safe. It’s PR and semantics at the end of the day, and frankly any opposition to it in my view is NIMBYism on a grand scale. It’s a good example of where the EU is far from perfect, being pig-headed in its opposition to this technology.

  • John MacKenzie 31st Dec '21 - 4:16pm

    I support Tristan’s comments and his alternative draft motion.

    The difficulty with the current draft is that very specific things are being proposed, which will directly impact farmers and others in the sector, without being specific about dealing with the consequences. If there are alternatives (which appears to be the case from Adam’s follow up comment on tail docking), then perhaps it should be in the motion. Someone watching or reporting on the conference might get the impression that LDs focus on micro issues, without having answers to the bigger issues. My take was that the alternative draft was much more about issues rather than positions, and would facilitate debate on big issues eg “global playing field vs minimum standards”.

    There are so many points of detail in the motion I wonder whether you would do justice to any in the time available? If you kept to bigger issues then you could spend time on why this policy was necessary, and not get into the specifics of, eg, the evolving welfare concerns on fishing boats.

    While the objectives of the motion are understood and I expect widely supported here, there is a political point, as the last thing we want to do is get the message through that the Conservative government have no interest in farmers, only to give the impression that the LDs don’t understand farming either…

  • @ Tristan Ward

    Your ideas are excellent. I note that they would also make any accusations of EUphilia completely impossible as they would render our agricultural policies completely at odds with the rules of the single market. This would have the added benefit of preventing the inevitable accusations that will doubtless be thrown by the Tories at the next general election.

  • Chris Moore 1st Jan '22 - 8:57am

    Tristan’s motion is much better, as it presents farming in a positive light.

    Thank you for some really interesting and well-informed posts.

  • Tristan Ward 1st Jan '22 - 12:09pm

    Thanks to all for your comments.

    @Adam.

    I am not so sure my suggestions are incompatible with the EU. The EU is bringing in its own carbon tarrif, and it would be sensible for a UK one to be compatible. https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/green-taxation-0/carbon-border-adjustment-mechanism_en for details.

    As to welfare standards, one would try to keep these as close to EU ones as possible so as enable easy export and import.

    More difficult is the agricultural support, I agree. I simply do not know about carbon trading issues, but if, as Adam C suggested it is comparable with the UK emissions trading scheme – that is currently at least – simply a rollover from the EU equivalent scheme as I understand it.

    @John M

    Thanks for your comment John. You put one of my concerns so much better than I could!

    @Will McL,

    Thanks for your feedback Will. I have a bee in my bonnet about the GE/GM thing. My fear is that the public will see that they have been lied to about GE being “different” from GM and end up distrusting both technologies completely if something does go wrong with it. Despite not being scientifically illiterate I am more cautious than you about whether GE can be used in an unrestrained kind of way, especially in plants.

  • @ Tristan

    It’s more the differences in welfare standards that would do it. When we were in the EU our welfare standards were higher than those in many other EU countries. We weren’t however permitted to restrict imports of, for example, Danish pork. That would have been a breach of single market rules. Increasing your own standards to restrict imports is one of the oldest games in the international trade play book. The EU don’t allow it within the single market under any circumstances.

  • Tristan Ward 1st Jan '22 - 12:28pm

    @ Adam Corlett

    Hello Adam,

    Would you be prepared to withdraw/not submit this motion with a view to putting it forward at the Autumn Conference? In the meantime it could be worked on to be address some of the comments here perhaps in consultation with more of the industry players? I would like to think that Will McK could contribute – as is said about diversity, the more viewpoints the better to create better policy. I would be happy to help if wanted (former farmer, current agricultural lawyer and one time geneticist is my expertise if useful).

    I do think food/farming policy is a potential area for the Party to campaign on so it’s important for this to be right; and I do think the draft motion originally proposed is one that identifies the Lib Dems too exclusively with a very narrow interest with the potential for our political enemies to take advantage of us. As someone said, if you have to spend minutes explaining a policy, it’s too complicated..

  • Neil James Sandison 1st Jan '22 - 1:11pm

    I must congratulate both Adam and Tristan on excellent contributions to this important debate .Perhaps we need an enabling motion to set up a working group to come back with a viable white paper for the Autumn Conference . This could be added to the draft motion or put forward as an amendment to the motion if it is selected ,Suggest some pre conference consultation with Duncan Brack and agriculture spokesperson . Agree carbon pricing case grows day by day but we do need to assist the farming industry to transition to a new economy whilst ensuring animal welfare still remains a top priority .

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Jan '22 - 2:25pm

    “Perhaps we need an enabling motion to set up a working group to come back with a viable white paper for the Autumn Conference .”

    Might it be possible to include a consultation session during the Spring Conference as well?

  • Barry Lofty 1st Jan '22 - 2:43pm

    For all the worthy contributions on this subject, much of which goes over my uneducated head, it might be worth taking note of Liz Webster’s words in an earlier post!

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Jan '22 - 3:20pm

    @Barry Foster
    You mean Liz Webster 31st Dec ’21 – 12:20pm?

    It isn’t just about greenhouse gas emissions – it’s also about animal welfare.

    If there are viable ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from UK-farmed animals while enabling the UK livestock farmers to farm sustainably while reducing animal harm mightn’t that attract support?

    Personally I’m uneasy at the level of dependence on intensive livestock farming on the other side of the planet. I’d be more comfortable if we produced more of our own food anyway. And I’d be even more comfortable if fields continued to be used for farming (be it arable or livestock) rather than being turned into solar energy farms. Covering masses of industrial and commercial buildings with solar panels seems to me to be a better approach.

  • When I used to breed chickens, I always felt that it was a waste that half of my new hatchlings were male roosters. I only wished there was technology that could determine that six of chicks before they hatch, or even determine their sex so that there will be no excessive roosters.
    Until then, It would be better to breed only duel purpose original breeds such as the Buff Orpingtons, Welsummer or Light Sussex for both egg production & meat for male chicks.
    Lets also go ORGANIC !

  • Barry Lofty 1st Jan '22 - 3:52pm

    [email protected] Yes Liz Webster’s contribution was straightforward and made complete sense, to me at least, some of the other solutions seem so overly complex?? I guess you were referring to me???

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Jan '22 - 6:32pm

    @Barry Lofty
    “I guess you were referring to me???”
    Oh sorry! Must have had something/someone on my mind!

  • Matt Haines 2nd Jan '22 - 12:34pm

    While I appreciate what they are trying to achieve with this motion idea, it’s very clearly written by someone who doesn’t understand farming (and the challenges it poses). Nothing will turn the rural vote away from us quicker than city dwelling environmentalists who think they know better. The fact that we have Vets and Agricultural workers in this comment section firmly disagreeing with what is written says an awful lot.

    I think the best thing we can do is to engage with rural and agricultural communities/businesses and develop policies off the back of that.

    You’ll find farmers far more willing to protect the environment and improve animal welfare than many realise. What they need is support to do that, not more restrictions that straddles them with smaller margins.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Jan '22 - 12:45pm

    “I think the best thing we can do is to engage with rural and agricultural communities/businesses and develop policies off the back of that.”

    Yes – I suggested above a consultation session at the Spring conference – people from rural and agricultural communities/businesses could be invited to that.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 2nd Jan '22 - 2:05pm

    Adam, I have emailed you with my details. Please add my name to the motion.
    Thank you for putting forward this motion – I do hope it is accepted for debate

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Jan ’22 – 3:20pm:
    If there are viable ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from UK-farmed animals while enabling the UK livestock farmers to farm sustainably while reducing animal harm mightn’t that attract support?

    More natural grass-fed production. This is why New Zealand lamb is claimed to embody only a quarter of the CO2 emissions than British lamb…

    ‘British or New Zealand Lamb: Which Is More Sustainable?’:
    https://www.ecoandbeyond.co/articles/british-new-zealand-lamb/

    In 2007, Lincoln University in New Zealand, published a food miles and carbon footprint study. It concluded that lamb from NZ was more sustainable than lamb produced in the UK because it has a lower carbon footprint. […]

    The research showed that for each tonne of NZ lamb produced and imported, 688kg of CO2 is emitted.

    When compared to the 2849.1kg of CO2 emitted in UK production, the most sustainable lamb would appear to be that from NZ.

    British farmers were understandably vexed and local researchers and farmers raised doubts over the findings. But many conceded that sheep production was more efficient in NZ than in the UK.

    It’s Not Just the Food Miles

    Several UK academics backed up the research. Prof Gareth Edwards-Jones from the agriculture department at Bangor University in Wales, agreed with the findings.

    “They have slightly better weather. This means their grass can grow for longer and they don’t have to give their sheep as much feed as they do in the UK.”

    We could grow more grass for longer by raising the atmospheric CO2 level…

    ‘Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Greening Earth, Study Finds’:
    https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2016/carbon-dioxide-fertilization-greening-earth

    From a quarter to half of Earth’s vegetated lands has shown significant greening over the last 35 years largely due to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on April 25 [2016]. […]

    The greening represents an increase in leaves on plants and trees equivalent in area to two times the continental United States.

  • Tristan Ward 31st Dec ’21 – 9:59am:
    2) bring forward as rapidly as possible a coherent system for support of farmers and land management that:
    a) penalizes unacceptable welfare practices;
    b) rewards management of land in ways that reduce carbon dioxide production (for example by changes of diet of ruminants and reduction of soil inversion practices);
    c) supports innovative farming and land management practice and allows investment in such practices

    Does the Agriculture Act 2020 not do that? It’s a huge improvement over the “environmental destruction” of the EU’s CAP.

    ‘We have an Agriculture Act – but let’s not relax now’ [November 2020]:
    https://www.sustainweb.org/blogs/nov20-new-agriculture-act2020/

    What we secured in the final Agriculture Act

    Much farm support will now be based on delivering public goods or benefits – supporting farmers whilst helping deliver on top priorities like nature protection, soil health, climate change mitigation, clean air and water, and animal welfare. Environmental Land Management and other policies across all four nations should be better as a result. But there is more work to do on implementation.

    A mention in the Act for agro-ecology, soil protection and far greater recognition of the role of whole-farm approaches in delivering sustainable food and farming. All valuable steps.

    A brand new fair dealing regulation and transparency for the supply chain – as we know supply chain abuse can hurt farmers’ livelihoods and sustainability here and overseas.

    ‘Landmark Agriculture Act spells new era for British food and farming’ [November 2020]:
    https://www.devonlive.com/news/uk-world-news/landmark-agriculture-act-spells-new-4691095

    A seven-year agricultural transition period is set to begin in 2021, marking a clean break away from Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) towards a new Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme. […]

    The ELM system will replace the poorly targeted Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) subsidy system, which largely pays farmers for the total amount of land farmed and has skewed payments towards the largest landowners, rather than rewarding farmers for any specific public benefits.

  • Tristan Ward 2nd Jan '22 - 5:16pm

    Hello Jeff

    The Agruxulture Act provides a framework, but there remains a huge amount of work before there is a coherent system in place. Right now we ha e pilot schemes but not much more for farmers and land managers still don’t really know enough about what will happen.

    I am one of those who thinks the CAP was mot an environmental disaster. There is a huge amount of regulatory requirement about what is required to be done/not done if the farmer/land manager is to receive subsidy – so called “cross compliance. ” in it most recent iteration (until abolished by the Tories as one of so called benefits of Brexit – it also required diversity of cropping on arable land for example. Excellent agricultural practice now gone.

  • Tristan Ward 2nd Jan ’22 – 5:16pm:
    Right now we ha e pilot schemes but not much more for farmers and land managers still don’t really know enough about what will happen.

    UK agriculture is near the start of a seven-year transition period. It’s not realistic to change agricultural practices overnight. Another new scheme is to be launched this week…

    ‘Farmers to be paid to restore natural habitats in push to rewild countryside’ [January 2022]:
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2022/01/01/farmers-get-funds-restore-natural-habitats-rewild-britain-new/

    At the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday, the Environment Secretary will set out details of a new Local Nature Recovery scheme, which will pay farmers to create new habitats, plant trees, and restore peat and wetland areas.

    Speaking ahead of the conference, Mr Eustice said: “Successful and profitable agricultural production is crucial to our food security.

    “We are facing challenges on issues like biodiversity loss and climate change, so we must use our freedom from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy to establish a new system of rewards and incentives in agriculture.”

    I am one of those who thinks the CAP was mot an environmental disaster.

    The Common Agricultural Policy was dysfunctional for both UK farmers and the environment as explained by George Monbiot…

    ‘The one good thing about Brexit? Leaving the EU’s disgraceful farming system’ [October 2018]:
    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/10/brexit-leaving-eu-farming-agriculture

    I’m a remainer, but there’s one result of Brexit I can’t wait to see: leaving the EU’s common agricultural policy. This is the farm subsidy system that spends €50bn (£44bn) a year on achieving none of its objectives. It is among the most powerful drivers of environmental destruction in the northern hemisphere. Because payments are made only for land that’s in “agricultural condition”, the system creates a perverse incentive to clear wildlife habitats, even in places unsuitable for farming, to produce the empty ground that qualifies for public money. These payments have led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of magnificent wild places across Europe.

  • Phillip Bennion 3rd Jan '22 - 6:39pm

    In North Shropshire the farming and allied downstream vote moved to us as the Tories were seen to have abandoned our farmers. The most certain way to alienate these new
    Lib Dem voters is to introduce policies that micromanage farming and sound as if they were thought up by the metropolitan elites. Despite most of the suggestions being reasonable, my advice would be to proceed with care. We have a great opportunity to attract the rural vote and we can introduce the soundest of these measures in coalition with Labour after the next General Election, following consultation with the NFU and other interested parties. If we alienate these voters now, it will make it more difficult for us to win the constituencies that we need to, in order to form such a government.

    Just one detailed comment: we are not supporting or pushing the government on re-wilding 30% of our farmland. This will have profound indirect land use change (ILUC) effects requiring the productive capacity to be replaced elsewhere. The likely outcome is a net increase in emissions of GHGs as forest is cleared elsewhere in the world to provide our food. We have always supported the use of effective environmental schemes for farmers to provide quality habitat, but this can be achieved within the farmed environment.

    As Liz Webster pointed out, the science of emissions in agriculture is complex. Most of our emissions are not from CO2 but from methane and N2O. These need to be separated from carbon emissions and are not suitable for ETS for instance. N2O emissions in particular are weather dependent. Push too hard on this lever and farming soon becomes uneconomic and we then have to import all of our food from less sustainable producers, putting yet more pressure on the rain forests.

    If anyone wants to see our targeted farming leaflet from the North Shropshire campaign I have a pdf file.

  • Tristan Ward 5th Jan '22 - 9:18am

    @ Philli Bennnion

    Why do you say methane and NO2 emissions are not suitable for ES trading? Is that because the system simply doesn’t cater for them, or is there some more fundamental reason? I can see no reason why in principle these polluters should not be integrated into a carbon trading system, or indeed for one of their own.

  • Tristan Ward 5th Jan '22 - 12:29pm
  • Phillip Bennion 8th Jan '22 - 10:24am

    Hi Tristan , It would be possible to run a specific ETS for methane, as it is predictable and reduceable, even if not to zero. It behaves differently to CO2 with a different cycle. The problem with N2O is that emissions are currently not measured. Fertiliser is used as a proxy, Hence the only way of reducing emissions would be to reduce fertiliser use towards zero. We we would be looking at reducing crop yields by 75% for cereals and 50% for roots and vegetables. The problem with using fertiliser use as a proxy is that actual emissions can vary by around a factor of 100. The IPCC default is 1% of fertiliser is emitted as N2O. I chaired the DEFRA/LINK research project looking at this in a UK situation and our worst case was just over 0.5% (when in a trial governed by date, we had to apply fertiliser in inappropriate field conditions) and the average was 0.2%. However in the US maize belt it can be 5% if thunderstorms cause the fertiliser to run off into wetlands and deltas.

    N2O is emitted in spikes when excess rainfall events create waterlogging. The farmer would have to buy up permits when thunderstorms strike. Once permits became scarce, a run of wet weather would mean that farmers would need to buy more permits than existed.

    Much can be gained through good fertiliser management, heeding medium term weather forecasts, not applying to wet ground, splitting fertiliser doses several times or ensuring ground cover all year round. There would be no point in any of this if the reduced emissions of the individual farmer using best practice could not be rewarded.

    ETS was designed for CO2 emissions from large factories, where indirect land use effects are negligible. Academic studies have suggested that indirect land use effects are the biggest factor in agricultural emissions and suggest that agriculture is not suited to ETS. Output will be displaced to a point outside the system e.g. Brazil.

  • Tristan Ward 9th Jan '22 - 10:07am

    Thank you Phillip Bennion for the help and detailed explanation. As a former farmer (and therefore N user) I was aware of some of it, but not in the detail you have given, so this is really useful and I see the difficulties for NO2.

    That said I wonder if the problem is over emphasised? This is after all just weather, and farmers are well used to dealing with weather. Waterlogged soil means a bad crop, and that’s just the way it is. Any sensible farmer doesn’t put nitrogen on waterlogged soil if only because of the damage done to soil structure etc.

    More significantly, the implication for what you are saying is that fertiliser use is the problem, but fertiliser use cannot be reduced because of the effects on yield (I agree). That leaves the problem of NO2 production unaddressed – which doesn’t sound like an option when it is 300 times a potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. What other solutions are out there?

    I wonder if a solution might be to average out N2O emissions on a crude per hectare/kg of N applied over a period of years, perhaps with allowance for soil types? That way variations in weather will average out. It will not be accurate but we should not let the best be the enemy of the good.

    Tristan

  • Tristan Ward 9th Jan '22 - 10:17am

    Contributors to this debate might be interested in this report of the Public Accounts Committee:

    Extracts from the executive summary:

    Government fails to explain how “changes in land use will not simply result in more food being imported, with the environmental impacts of food production being “exported” to countries with lower environmental standards.”

    DEFRA “concedes its confidence in the scheme looks like blind optimism without the details of what it has planned.”

    https://committees.parliament.uk/publications/8357/documents/85142/default/

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