In its new report, Land Use: Policies for a Net Zero UK, the CCC, whose purpose is to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change, says it is necessary to reduce the 13.6m tonnes of food waste produced annually by 20%, and the consumption of beef, lamb and dairy by at least 20% per person.
It says this reduction is well within current healthy eating guidelines, and would reduce on-farm emissions of seven megatonnes of CO2 by 2050.
The group, which consists of dozens of experts and organizations, said it considered an extensive evidence base to support its findings, which also include increased tree planting, low-carbon farming practices, restoration of peatlands, and encouraging the growth of bioenergy crops.
The CCC estimates the changes in land use would require funding of at least £1.4bn per year, which can be partly provided by the private sector and partly through public funding. However, this would be outweighed by generating a net social benefit of £3.3bn per year.
The report says that implementation of low-cost, low-regret actions to incentivize a shift in diets away from red meat and dairy should begin this year. It points to figures that the consumption of dairy products has decreased by 16% between 2000 and 2018, largely due to reduced consumption of milk and milk products, although cheese consumption increased by 14% over the period.
Connected to this, it says that UK retailer Sainsbury’s reported year-on-year increase in customers searching for vegan products online (+82%) and in sales of plant-based products (+65%).
Other observations in the report are that plant-based proteins and dairy replacements or analogues have an important role to play in shifting to sustainable diets. Similarly, plant-based milk alternatives can be used much like dairy milk, and costs are expected to reduce further due to economies of scale and moving along learning curves.
Plant-based protein sources have significantly less GHG emissions than animal-sourced proteins when compared on a like-for-like basis, the report noted, adding that the most GHG-intensive production methods for plant-based proteins generally have less emissions than even the most GHG-efficient sources of animal-based protein.
It also states that, currently, around 30% of global GHG emissions come from the food system, of which around 50% are accounted for by livestock.
Clean Air Strategy
The government’s Clean Air Strategy targets the reduction of ammonia alongside other damaging air pollutants to improve air quality. Agriculture accounts for 88% of ammonia emissions, which comes from three main sources: livestock manure and urine and the use of nitrogen fertilizer.
The three main proposals will require the adoption of low-emissions farming equipment and measures. While these proposals are targeting a reduction in ammonia, the associated benefits for non-CO2 emissions will be variable, with the proposal to extend environmental permitting to the dairy and intensive beef sectors offering the largest opportunity to reduce non-CO2 emissions.
The report proposes extending environmental permitting to the dairy and intensive beef sectors from 2025, which would go beyond the Industrial Emissions Directive, which only requires the regulation of intensive pig and poultry sectors.
The CCC document also notes the need for low-carbon farm practices to reduce soil, livestock and manure management emissions, including innovative measures such as methane inhibitors for cattle and low-carbon fertilizers.
Arla Foods is mentioned in the report for its efforts to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Dairy UK challenges report
Dairy UK chief executive, Dr Judith Bryans, said she disagreed with reducing dairy consumption.
“Dairy forms and important part of UK diets, beyond the mere provision of protein. It provides a range of vitamins and minerals which could not be easily substituted, leaving many consumers struggling to replace the valuable package of nutrients they get from dairy,” Bryans said.
She said the scale of change being requested by the Committee could result in the unintended consequence of micronutrient deficiencies resulting in negative health outcomes.
“We don’t want to see British consumers moving away from naturally nutrient rich foods towards taking supplements. It would also be inappropriate to encourage consumers to move away from dairy products towards alternatives, when the unintended consequences of doing so are not yet fully understood. This could see consumers having to navigate incredibly complex areas such as nutrition and sustainability when trying to complete their weekly shopping, without the sufficient knowledge to do so.”
Bryans said over the last decade the industry has achieved a reduction of 24% in greenhouse gas emissions, and made strides forward on water efficiency, biodiversity and food waste, as well as taking other measures to improve the overall footprint of dairy.
She added the dairy sector takes its commitment to continuous improvement in the area of environmental sustainability very seriously and firmly believes that agriculture can move to net zero.
“We fully agree with the need to reduce food waste and its impact on the environment, and happy to see the Committee’s report recognise the need to create a supportive environment for farmers to help them in making changes going forward. It is key that any changes asked for are based on consistent and strong scientific data.
“We are ready to work with the Committee on Climate Change to help ensure our industry plays its part in addressing climate change, and can be a part of a sustainable food system in the UK.”