Fantasy maths from the National Farmers Union

Soil carbon is important but it is staggering that both Minette Batters and Prince Charles have made unchallenged statements on @BBCr4today (14th July 2021): That some (livestock) farms are already carbon neutral and that soils could take up 70% of the world’s emissions.

This is all in an effort to promote sustainable livestock farming. Like Graham Harvey in his book ‘Grass-Fed Nation’ they have been seduced by the claims of Allan Savory; but these have been thoroughly debunked by the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN)

The fallacy rests on a confusion between fast and slow carbon cycles, between carbon stocks and flows, which with a little bit of naive maths creates a myth that now permeates the NFU’s PR on the future of farming.

We need better soil health to reduce net carbon release in a warming world, but it is no good using this as a ploy to retain high levels of meat consumption; and we need a massive reduction in the consumption trend.

Godfray et al [1] show the path we are on:

Good soil health will help create sustainable arable farming, but not as a silver bullet to cancel our fossil fuel emissions. Massive reductions in meat production mirrors the same reversal that is needed in all sectors of our economy, and it is a fantasy to suggest otherwise.

Efficient land use is also an issue. Today, over 50% of the UK’s land is devoted to livestock (and this does not include the foodstock we import to supplement their diet), and we import over 40% of our food. To be more self reliant, we have to make a radical shift in diet and land use, as the Centre for Alternative Technology clearly demonstrates in their report Zero Carbon Britain: Rising to the Climate Emergency from which the following Figure is taken:

Livestock reduce the efficiency of calories produced per hectare [2], which is a major issue when it comes to feeding the world.

In the context of the climate emergency, the other issue is that livestock makes a high and increasing contribution to our carbon emissions [1]:

Trying to hide these emissions amongst some warm aspirational words about regenerative livestock farming in idyllic English countryside, is pure delusion (as well as being heavily funded PR), with no scientific basis.

It is such a shame that the NFU (National Farmers Union) are promulgating junk science to advance their meat-first agenda, and it seems that Prince Charles is also on board. 

. . . o o O o o . . .

Science references:

[1] Godfray et al., ‘Meat consumption, health, and the environment’, Science 361, 243 (2018)

[2] Cassidy et al., ‘Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare’, Environ. Res. Lett. 8 (2013) 034015

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