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Climate Change Committee chair says trade deals ‘are unfair on farmers and won’t help emissions’

Lord Deben, Chair of the UK’s Climate Change Committee, has condemned the new trade agreements the UK is signing with New Zealand and Australia as “totally offensive” and has warned they would undermine efforts to tackle emissions.

In an interview with the Observer, he went on to say the agreements would damage efforts to ask UK farmers to help consumers shift to eating less meat, but of higher quality

Lord Deben said:

“I do see that you can do all sorts of things to encourage people to buy better meat, and I think we ought to be… that’s why I’m so deeply opposed – and find totally offensive – the agreements with both Australia and New Zealand, which are entirely unacceptable for climate change purposes.

“You cannot ask farmers to do in this country what we are going to ask them to do and import goods from people who are not [meeting the same standards]. The government promised it wouldn’t do that – and it is doing it. It is entirely against its promise.

“I shall go on fighting until we stop it. There has to be, internationally, standards that enable you to carry through climate change rules.”

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has warned that the deal agreed in principle with New Zealand “offers nothing in return” for British farmers. Chair of the NFU Minette Batters said: “The government is now asking British farmers to go toe-to-toe with some of the most export orientated farmers in the world, without the serious, long-term and properly funded investment in UK agriculture that can enable us to do so.”

She warned of the impact on British farmers. “This could damage the viability of many British farms in the years ahead, to the detriment of the public, who want more British food on their shelves, and to the detriment of our rural communities and cherished farmed landscapes.”

Lord Deben called on the Government to set an example by asking schools, hospitals and the armed forces to reduce the amount of meat they were using in meals as an example to the public. Sustain has previously called for this and submitted evidence to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee.

The former Tory cabinet minister said ministers would soon need to “bite this bullet” and find ways to encourage the public to make changes to their diets and lifestyles to help reduce emissions. “

The only way through it is to do it through its own procurement,” he said. “I think that rather than saying ‘we ought to eat 20% less meat’, we should be pressing for schools, hospitals, prisons, and the Army, Navy and Air Force to do all those things.

“You do not tell other people to do it – you do it yourself and you tell everybody that you are doing it. That’s probably the way you start to get behaviour change without it being a nanny state situation, in a context where so many people are fed up with being told what to do.”

He said that he was concerned about the failure of the Government’s Net Zero strategy to set out clear plans for restoring peat lands and vegetation that could help draw carbon out of the atmosphere.

“We still haven’t had a proper programme for land use,” he said. “You’ve actually got to have trees, you’ve got to have soil. The missing bit of it is the land-use programme.

“We have said that all peat lands have got to be renewed, put back to a proper state, by 2045 if we’re going to meet our net zero commitments. At the moment, it’s a pretty pathetic programme. It really isn’t enough.”

Published Monday 25 October 2021

Good Food Trade Campaign: Campaigning for good trade that benefits people and the planet at home and overseas.

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