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Urgent need for radical food and farming transformation

Our response to the CCC reports

Two reports published today by the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) call for urgent reform of UK land use to transition to low-carbon farming systems.

Read the full reports:

Our Response:

The Committee’s proposals are important and timely, and emphasise the urgent need for a radical transformation in the way that we produce and consume food in the UK.

We welcome the call for farmers to be rewarded for actions such as tree planting, restoring peatlands and improving soil and water quality, and the potential that is highlighted for improving overall productivity while moving towards net-zero by integrating trees with food production via agroforestry. Farmers are not to blame for the slow progress in cutting emissions from agriculture, and must be adequately supported in the Agriculture Bill and associated policy to transition towards the low-carbon farming systems we now urgently need.

Chickens and agroforestry

But is the Agriculture Bill up to the task?

It should be of concern that there is currently no reference to a net zero emissions target for the agriculture sector and soil health is inexplicably missing from the list of public goods. There is no target for carbon storage via increases to soil organic matter which would incentivise a transition to low-carbon, agroecological farming, delivered through whole farm systems such as organic. The piecemeal approach to public goods proposed in the Bill risks delivering inadequate and uneven climate outcomes, or worse, creating perverse and counter-productive outcomes across the UK.

tractor and field

Farmers are not to blame

One message in the report is clear – farmers are not to blame for the slow progress in cutting emissions from agriculture, for they have received insufficient support and incentive to do so from government. Farmers need assistance with skills, training and information to implement new uses of land, and they need the correct financial incentives to transition towards low-carbon farming systems. Among these are organic and agroecological whole farm systems that employ ‘closed loop’ practices that recycle nutrients and organic matter back to the soil, preserving the nutrient and carbon levels within the soil, allowing food to be produced on a sustainable basis using fewer inputs. The Ten Years for Agroecology in Europe project has shown that a widespread transition to agroecological farming would result in a 40% reduction in agricultural GHG emissions. These systems should be prioritised within the Agriculture Bill and should be at the heart of a 10 year transition plan to sustainable agriculture, as called for by the RSA Commission on the Future of Food, Farming and the Countryside.

Potatoes being dug in field

Less but better meat

The Committee on Climate Change recognises the need for dietary change, and the co-benefits for health and climate that would result from adherence to healthy eating guidelines, but it is disappointing that their dietary modelling includes a switch from beef and lamb to pork and poultry. This simply offshores the UK’s emissions, as both pork and poultry both have significant climate impacts due to embedded land use change in animal feed. Instead of shifting our emissions overseas, we should be aiming for a reduction in consumption of all meat types, while focussing diets on UK-grown livestock reared in higher welfare, agroecological systems. We welcome the Committee’s commitment to further Life Cycle Analysis on the climate impacts of pork and poultry, taking account of their feed, next year. In the meantime, the Government must begin the process of normalising more sustainable diets, harnessing public procurement policy and the imminent review of School Food Standards to introduce meat-free days and the use of higher quality British meat in schools, hospitals and other public settings.

chickens outside a coop

Read more about our food and farming policy priorities post-Brexit