The science around the environmental impacts of meat-eating is “disputed” and the government would not “lecture” people on consuming less, Eustice told a Lords select committee on climate change.
His comments stand in contrast to recommendations from the government’s own climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with both groups saying a reduction in meat and dairy consumption is necessary to limit global warming.
In a recent report to the government, the CCC said meat and dairy consumption must fall by 20 per cent by 2030 and 35 per cent by 2050 in order to achieve the UK’s net zero target.
Meat and dairy products are often considered harmful to the planet due to the industrialisation of their production, rather than the fact of eating the products themselves.
Producing meat and dairy products on a mass scale generates large quantities of methane via cattle, while deforestation is linked to the rearing of livestock as forests are cleared to house and feed animals.
The Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee has been exploring the issue of mobilising public action on climate change through behavioural change, with high-carbon activities like flying and meat-eating in focus throughout the inquiry.
Several witnesses have told the committee that encouraging the public to eat less meat and dairy is a useful way to reduce carbon emissions at an individual level.
When questioned about the government’s plans to encourage less meat consumption, however, Eustice said: “The government is very explicit in saying that from an environmental perspective, we’re not telling people that they shouldn’t eat meat.”
He said the government was exploring alternative ways to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture through technologies such as “methane inhibitors” for cattle.
“This is an area where people often say ‘there’s no technological answer, therefore people just have to eat less meat. I think that’s wrong. There are very legitimate arguments that say that livestock are part of a healthy environment, and there are technological answers too,” Eustice said.
He said technological advances were “probably a better way to tackle the challenge than just trying to lecture people about meat eating, and the government’s got no intention of doing that beyond the eat well plate that’s [been] long-established”.
Eustice suggested the public could be encouraged to eat meat with a lower environmental impact through labelling on food products about its provenance that people could trust.
Simon Billing, executive director at the Eating Better Alliance said:
“Report after report by the world’s most renowned scientists have all reached the same conclusion that we won’t reach net zero without changing what we eat, in particular how we produce and consume meat. The government’s own advisers, the Climate Change Committee has set targets for meat reduction, recognising that livestock agriculture is a big emitter of greenhouse gases.
“The government needs to step up and take food out of the “too-hard” box and should use this “perfect storm” of rising food costs and global food insecurity to do things differently.”
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