LIVESTOCK industry representatives said they ‘expected a kicking’ at COP26 when it opened in Glasgow, this week, but would be doing their best to make sure they got the message across that farming was not the enemy and part of the solution to climate change.

Addressing an audience at last weekend’s Borderway Agri Expo, both Neil Shand, of the National Beef Association, and Phil Stocker, of the National Sheep Association, said it would be a challenge for livestock farming to meet net zero, but that importing food from abroad presented a bigger threat to the environment than being in control of what was produced at home.

Read more: Bigger and better Borderway Agri Expo at Carlisle

Tim Sedgewick, of H and H Land and Estate, added: “Despite all the virtue signalling nonsense at COP26 about meat production emissions, the UK production methods for beef and lamb are among the most sustainable in the world.

“The real enemy of the climate is the continued reliance of the world on fossil fuels, something lost on those conference delegates, who have jetted in from various corners of the globe.”

Mr Shand pointed out that it needed 1.4m cows to produce the 380,000 tonnes of beef that was imported by the UK in 2019. That figure assumed an efficiency of 95% was achieved – which he doubted – but said that the UK’s ace to play was on farm assurance for the home-produced beef that provided 75% of what was consumed in the UK.

Acknowledging that farm assurance schemes had their critics, he argued: “Consumers want to know more about the product they are eating and how it is produced, and farm assurance delivers that confidence.

"It follows that the more farms that sign up to be ‘farm assured’ the better it will be to cement that confidence.”

Mr Stocker agreed and pointed out that whole life assurance was key to building consumer faith. “It can’t be right that participating farms keeping livestock for a few weeks mean that what they produce can be deemed ‘assured’. The entire chain of production needs to step up to the plate on assurance,” he argued.

But, he added, the system needed to be simpler for smaller, family farms to join by reducing red tape.

Both speakers also said that there was little immediate threat from the two trade deals announced recently for Australia and New Zealand. Globally, red meat supplies were quite tight, they said.

“Longer term, though, we have to be worried,” said Mr Stocker. “It won’t be this year and probably not next year, but further into the future both or either of those countries might need to find new markets and they will look upon the UK as a stable and lucrative market.”

“But, the world is changing around us,” said Mr Stocker. “The economy is experiencing supply chain problems when it comes to transport and shipping.

“The sheep industry is not entirely immune, but it is resilient. Farmers must also be cautious, though, of increases in other costs of production such as fertiliser, fuel and feed.”

Read more: A big day at Agri Beef Expo at Carlisle

Mr Shand pointed out that during lockdown, British consumers had reconnected with buying local and it was an area that needed to be exploited by the industry.

But, he argued, the food service industry was a ‘black hole’ for the sector where a lot of product went that could not be tracked. Catering and hospitality outlets needed to show more transparency on where their produce came from, he added.

On live animal exports, the seminar chairman, Chris Dodds, executive secretary of the LAA, said: “There’s something criminally wrong that live animals can come in to this country almost unhindered, but that this trade can’t go the other way.” There needs to be fairness in cross Border trade, he said.