Red meat and dairy produced in the UK are among the most sustainable in the world.
Many of us are trying to do the right thing in reducing our environmental impact. But from plastic pollution to carbon emissions, there is a lot to consider with everything we do and buy.
When it comes to the food we eat, the way it is produced has a huge impact on its environmental impact and sustainability.
Red meat and dairy from the UK offers a more sustainable option, as our landscape and climate make it some of the most sustainably produced in the world.
Source: 2018 UK greenhouse gas emissions: final figures – statistical summary
The carbon footprint of milk produced in the UK is nearly a third lower than the global average, and beef and lamb is almost half the global average. In fact, all red meat and dairy only contributes around 6% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions.*
Farmers are committed to doing their bit and they understand the role they have in cutting carbon emissions. That’s why they're focusing on the journey to carbon-neutral by 2040.
Although a lot of our countryside in the UK is farmland, only a small amount can actually be used to grow crops like wheat and potatoes and even less to grow fruit and vegetables.
In fact, 65% of the UK’s agricultural land is typically grassland, meadows, woodlands, hills and even mountains. This land is unable to sustain food crops, but is ideal for grazing cattle and sheep.
Using this land to graze livestock, like sheep and cows, allows farmers to produce good-quality, nutritious food and maintain the land for nature, providing wildlife with habitats for food sources and shelter.
We may love to moan about our weather, but rainwater makes up around 90% of the water needed to produce red meat and dairy in Britain*, which is pretty convenient seeing as we get so much rain!
This means only a small amount of treated or tap water is needed to produce British beef, lamb, pork and milk.
*Source - UNESCO IHE and AHDB
Cows, sheep and pigs play a really important role in sustainable food production because they can turn the plants such as grass and food by-products we can't eat, into meat and milk for humans, providing high quality protein alongside a range of nutrients we can't make ourselves.
Now, let’s be clear, everything we give to livestock to eat is balanced in nutrients and of good quality, but most of it isn’t food we can eat.
For a start, humans get no nourishment from grass (we quite literally don't have the stomach for it) however cows and sheep very much do.
Next, you’ve got crop waste, or by-products from wheat, barley, maize, oil seed rape and so much more.
And finally, you’ve got food-processing waste, like pea pods, vegetable peelings, sugar pulp and even spent grain from beer making. Cheers!
Net zero: farming's 2040 goal
The National Farmers' Union has set the ambitious goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across the whole of agriculture in England and Wales by 2040.
The NFU sees agriculture as uniquely placed to be part of the solution against climate change, as both an emissions source and a store. For instance, did you know British farming supports over a million hectares of woodland and forests? Plus, since 2005 farmers have planted over 30,000km of hedgerows – helping biodiversity. English farmers also provide 19,000 hectares of meadows, which provide pollen and nectar sources.
That means a more sustainable agricultural industry, with minimal environmental impact from the food we eat.
"The NFU believes that the agricultural sector is very much part of the solution to decarbonising the UK economy and achieving net zero and we are working on proposals for pilot schemes to introduce policy incentives to bring to life net zero for farmers and growers"
There are a lot of mixed messages in the media around food and nutrition meaning it’s easy to get confused. That’s why we’ve started the We Eat Balanced campaign, to provide an evidence-based antidote to the misinformation.
We know that the food choices we make are integral to our health and wellbeing, and a balanced diet is one that offers variety, nourishment and enjoyment whilst remaining in harmony with the environment.
Here in the UK we have a balanced approach to farming, and we want to shine a light on that too. Our farmers are united in their ambition to bring high quality, naturally nutrient rich produce to people, and are continuously driving towards a carbon neutral food industry with high welfare standards at its heart.