8. Agriculture

Download a pdf version of the full report on how the government should address the Climate Emergency here.

Significantly reduce meat and dairy consumption and reform our agricultural system

This sector has to respond to a number of emergencies: climate, biodiversity and public health, to name just three. These issues can only be solved through rethinking our food and agricultural system in the round, which is global in nature. We cannot simply focus on improving the efficiency of food production to reduce carbon emissions. The destruction of ecosystems, air and water pollution, disruption of local livelihoods and public health challenges (such as nutritional deficiencies and obesity) must also be factored in and addressed. Ultimately, this means giving land back to nature to store carbon and restore wildlife, shifting away from environmentally destructive agriculture, dependent on high inputs of pesticides, nitrogen fertilisers and industrial animal feed. A more sustainable, healthy and local food and farming model needs to be incentivised that is largely plant-based. All intensively produced meat and dairy should be phased out.

However, this transition needs to go hand in glove with proper safety nets and a transition plan. This means supporting our farming communities to shift to more sustainable production methods, and ensuring that people on lower incomes or in more precarious circumstances have access to affordable, healthier, more sustainable food. Given the scale of change required in this sector, these proposals are just initial suggestions to shift the system. It is vital that Government keeps a close eye on developments and adjusts as we go, being prepared to intervene sharply where the need becomes clear.

Phase out agriculture that destroys the natural world

• Introduce a tax on industrial animal feed, which is driving the destruction of ecosystems locally and globally. The tax should rise steadily over time, towards an ultimate phase-out of industrial animal feed by no later than 2030.

• Introduce a tax on artificial nitrogen fertiliser, which would increase over time, learning from examples in Austria, Sweden and Netherlands

• Introduce a taxation regime to reduce pesticide application by at least 50% by active weight over the next 10 years, as achieved in Denmark, with a view to ultimately phasing out pesticide use altogether. In addition, reform pesticides regulation to immediately rule out the most polluting and carcinogenic substances

• Revenue from nitrogen and pesticide taxation should fund a public extension service to support farmers in moving away from high agricultural inputs towards agroecological methods. The Government should also establish a Commission on Farming to ensure the transition away from nature-destructive agriculture including diversification and retraining where required – recognising the integral role of farming and food production to rural economies 

• End new permits for large-scale intensive animal production and limit density of animals on pasture fed systems

• Establish consumption based greenhouse gas emissions accounting, where products like palm oil or soya consumed in the UK but produced abroad include the impact of greenhouse gases emitted, in order to deliver a genuinely net zero economy   

Reduce meat and dairy and transition to a new food and farming model

• Put a target in law of net zero emissions from agriculture and land use by 2040 at the latest 

• Introduce targets to significantly reduce meat and dairy consumption, in line with scientific advice (e.g. EAT-Lancet report, which recommends a reduction of red, white and processed meat by 80% from current levels)

• Immediately reform Public Health England and other official UK health guidelines for meat and dairy consumption, in line with scientific advice (as above)

• Use Government spending and fiscal powers to incentivise plant based diets and decrease per capita consumption of meat and dairy. Emphasis should be on reducing consumption of factory-farmed meat and dairy products, with exemptions allowed for local pasture-fed, ecological livestock

• Revenue from fiscal measures to incentivise plant based diets and the tax on industrial animal feed should fund extensive purchase or other support for sustainable, and where feasible locally-sourced, plant based food for public institutions. Public procurement for schools, hospitals, prisons and other public institutions, conform with EAT-Lancet recommendations

• Redirect £3bn of current agricultural subsidy support towards public goods such as agroecology, agroforestry, woodland creation, projects to build soil carbon in degraded agricultural soils and natural ecosystem restoration. Some of these funds should be earmarked specifically for innovation in agricultural techniques and production systems that reduce greenhouse gas emissions

• Progressively reduce and ban biodegradable waste going to landfill by 2025

• Allow treated waste food to be used for animal feed in agroecological pig farms