Let’s have a grown-up conversation about what the climate crisis means for our diets in Wales
Ben Lake, Plaid Cymru MP
Yesterday’s Free Trade Agreement between the UK Government and New Zealand paves the way for increased trade between the countries.
But what about Welsh sheep farmers who could now face increased competition from New Zealand lamb imports? And what does this mean for our steps to produce meat in a sustainable way?
We know that intensive farming systems are undoubtedly part of the problem of global warming and deforestation.
But unlike overseas food production which can come with higher carbon footprints and high use of chemicals and medicines, the soil beneath the grass which Welsh cattle eat absorb and store thousands of tonnes of carbon.
This maintains our iconic Welsh countryside, home to a huge wealth of biodiversity.
The current debate is far too black and white. Many people don’t understand the facts behind the headlines and think giving up all meat and dairy overnight will solve the problem.
The truth is, we can support our local food and farming and take steps to reduce our carbon footprint – it doesn’t need to be an either/or.
We understand that businesses are looking towards the UK Government’s net zero goal, and we are all being encouraged by some to reduce meat and dairy consumption, but local, seasonal produce is often overlooked in this binary debate.
In fact, producing and eating red meat sustainably and ethically can be a solution to fighting climate change.
Through careful land management and low-intensity farming methods, red meat can be produced, and eaten, in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. This benefits rural communities, Welsh farmers and consumers.
We are proud of the fact that Wales is one of the most sustainable places on Earth to produce red meat, as evidenced through independent research including Hybu Cig Cymru’s The Welsh Way: Towards Global Leadership in Sustainable Lamb and Beef Production.
It is low-intensity and the grasslands used for grazing act as carbon stores. It produces significantly fewer greenhouse gases than other systems around the world, and relies overwhelmingly on abundant grass and rainfall rather than energy-intensive imported feed.
Not only this, but buying Welsh Beef and Lamb also means supporting world-leading sustainable farming and the communities that support them.
It means supporting over 223,100 jobs and food and drink supply chain worth over £6 billion to the UK economy. With Welsh Gower Salt Marsh Lamb officially joining the club of the UK’s most iconic products last summer, now is the time to choose locally-sourced Welsh beef and lamb, rather than shipping in meat from the far corners of the world with a huge carbon footprint.
We at Plaid Cymru are therefore calling for it to be central to green policy-making.
In light of generation-defining events such as the Net Zero Strategy and the National Food Strategy, there has never been a better time to encourage eating sustainable and ethical meat.
The long-awaited UK Agriculture Act paves the way for farmers to be paid for producing ‘public goods’ and managing their land in an ‘environmentally sustainable way’. With the transition away from the Common Agriculture Policy likely to take seven years, now is the time to invest in high quality local meat.
But let’s ensure emerging trade deals don’t hurt Welsh domestic meat and dairy farming for example through the introduction of technical barriers to trade where previously there have been none.
Instead, we must most of the opportunities that are before us. The answer is not to stop eating red meat, but to produce and eat it more sustainably and ethically.
We need Government and policy support to make this happen.
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