Tomorrow the House of Commons will debate a new law to make the UK’s meat and dairy production more sustainable, but it is still unclear whether or not the self-styled "greenest government ever" is going to back it. South American rainforests and wildlife rich grasslands are being trashed to graze animals for export to the UK and Europe - and to grow soy to feed our factory farms. This problem is being largely ignored by the Government.
Martyn Williams is a parliamentary campaigner for Friends of the Earth
Tomorrow the House of Commons will debate a new law to make the UK’s meat and dairy production more sustainable, but it is still unclear whether or not the self-styled “greenest government ever” is going to back it. South American rainforests and wildlife rich grasslands are being trashed to graze animals for export to the UK and Europe – and to grow soy to feed our factory farms. This problem is being largely ignored by the Government.
Their website announcing the Natural Environment White Paper pledges to protect forests, our “essential carbon sinks”, the loss of which they acknowledge is an economic – as well as environmental – disaster waiting to happen.
But it makes no mention of the biggest threat to rainforests – soy and cattle ranching are on course to destroy 40 per cent of the Amazon by 2050. In fact, government interventions in food production are making matters worse.
Friends of the Earth research found that the Government spends more than £700 million of taxpayers’ money propping up factory farming each year. Public money is also being spent on very rainforest unfriendly meat and dairy for schools, hospitals and care homes.
There are concerns UK farmers bucking the system and feeding their animals a home-grown diet, but there are few incentives for others to follow the herd. Meanwhile, consumers have no way of knowing when they’re eating up the rainforests. While the Government spends yet more millions on labelling and marketing initiatives and healthy eating advice, none of it helps us to make genuinely planet-friendly choices.
Correcting this madness wouldn’t take a monumental effort by the government – its recent business plan already commits it to changing procurement rules, food labelling and the Common Agricultural Policy. But it has never once said any of these reforms would aim to reduce soy imports.
Rob Flello’s Sustainable Livestock Bill would change this – it would require Ministers to factor the livestock’s sustainability into new policies. The Bill therefore poses an interesting test. In part this is for David Cameron – the man who built his leadership campaign around the environment and promised to lead the “greenest Government ever” within days of coming to power.
But it is also a test for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman. She has already faced criticism for accepting heavy cuts to her budget which her Liberal Democrat counterpart, Chris Huhne, fought off at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
After last month’s biodiversity conference Ms Spelman promised:
“… effective and urgent action to halt the loss of habitats and species.”
Let’s hope her first act on returning home is not to block a Bill that would do just that.
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