books, blogs and better meat

CCC releases net zero report on agri-food policies, farmer blogs on NGOs, experts try to define ‘better and less’ meat, and chicken is apparently cheaper than chickpeas

Following the brevity of the new food strategy for England earlier this month, 619 pages from the climate change committee detail progress made in cutting emissions. In summary: the government is half decent when it comes to setting targets and talking about its zero emissions ambitions, but it is taking what the committee calls a “high risk approach” to achieving them. “It’s a little ironic that the CCC has called this a ‘progress report’ as the government’s progress on climate policy has stalled,” said Ami McCarthy of Greenpeace UK.

Progress in reducing agricultural emissions has been particularly “glacial”, according to the committee. Although they are essential to achieve net zero, agriculture and land use have “weakest policies”, he warned, the government’s strategy of a fortnight ago (33 pages) doing little to address this. There is too much reliance on technology and too little on demand-side measures.

Experts said the government should consider influencing dietary changes, such as mandating plant-based options in public places and asking health and education providers to mainstream carbon footprinting in their menus. The former is certainly gaining momentum while the latter has it springing from the ears of Jeremy Clarkson (the fast-car fanatic-turned-farmer has been a vocal critic of local authorities’ moves to serve plant-based meals at events). The CCC wants to see “a little less but better meat and dairy products” consumed.

What constitutes “better” is debatable (because it Footprint report found). Report a timely article in the newspaper natural food this week which covered definitions of “less meat but better” used in the scientific literature. Authors Kajsa Resare Sahlin and Joanna Trewern found that interpretations of better meat covered environmental sustainability, improved animal welfare and nutrition, but there was much less clarity about the farming systems that achieved these results. Social and economic themes like workers’ livelihoods were also “largely absent” from the conversation. “There remains work to be done to establish a vision for future animal production systems that have improved outcomes on sustainability themes and can be accepted by a wide range of stakeholders,” they wrote.

Which brings us to a poll, commissioned by the WWF, showing that over 70% of UK adults want the UK government to provide more support, including payments, to farmers who invest in agricultural practices that combat climate change as well as benefit wildlife and nature.

Meanwhile, new research from Rothamsted has shown that the high crop yields typically achieved using artificial fertilizers can instead be achieved through a combination of more environmentally friendly practices (such as growing a wider range of crops, planting beans or clover to improve soil fertility, and adding manure and compost to soils).

This will be music to the ears of producers faced with the exorbitant costs of chemical fertilizers. The UK Agricultural Partnership met this week to discuss soil health, as well as the potential for soil carbon markets. NFU Scotland Chairman Martin Kennedy recently posted on Facebook and blogged about the carbon positive content of his soils. He used the results to dig environmental NGOs who want to reverse agricultural policy “and focus aid primarily on the environment rather than food production”. Environmental groups who hit farmers for damaging the land call it “bullshit”, he reportedly said in a Facebook post.

Clarkson will be thrilled — both in sentiment and in language. The title of the latest episode of Ends Report’s Eco Chamber podcast – Dirty dairy, polluting poultry and muck-spreading chaos – suggests that there is also another side to the story. Agricultural pollution is a subject to watch.

Farmers were also screaming about protein transition this week – via a report by ProVeg International examining the opportunities and challenges of switching from traditional animal products to alternatives. Research with farmer groups covers everything from regenerative approaches and algae aquaculture to plant protein and cultured meat production.

Research has recently been initiated to determine whether cultured meat is a threat or an opportunity for UK farmers. Led by the Royal University of Agriculture, the work will explore what the concept means for “a range of real farming businesses” and help shape policy as interest in the produce grows.

Regulators in the United States and Europe are under pressure to follow Singapore’s lead in approving the first cultured meat for sale (chicken nuggets, naturally). Research from the Food Standards Association shows that a third of UK consumers are willing to try them, but see insects as a safer bet. Plants are the alternative protein of choice currently, however,

A new survey of 1,500 UK shoppers by the Vegan Society shows 35% reduce their meat consumption or cut it out altogether in an effort to stretch their weekly food budget. More than half (53%) said they would be interested in trying a vegan diet provided the savings were clearly stated. The company helpfully published evidence here showing that split red lentils, peanut butter, and baked beans are the cheapest proteins per serving.

The fact that chicken is fourth, ahead of chickpeas and kidney beans, is certainly concerning. The same applies to news provided by BigHospitality that Honest Burgers will be converting its all-vegan V Honest site near London’s Leicester Square to its core concept (we’ve asked why and are awaiting an answer). The move worked for the likes of Pret A Manger, but Britons (and tourists) obviously still want the option of beef in their burgers and cheese on their fries (although scientists are getting closer to imitation cheese milkman using yellow peas, reports Anthrocene).

The good news is that Honest is leading the charge towards regenerative agriculture – which it defines as “agriculture with the least possible impact on the soil and the environment”. By 2024, its 40 restaurants will serve beef from these farms. Whether this fits the definition of “better” is, it seems, debatable (see also last week Digest).

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