The UK population needs to eat about 30% less meat, but the aim is to free up land for biodiversity and carbon sequestration, not for health reasons, the author of a National Food Strategy for England told the Oxford Farming Conference.
Speaking during a session on Friday morning, Henry Dimbleby said that when writing his 2021 report, various interest groups had pushed for him to suggest that eating meat was bad for human health.
For me, the primary reason for reducing meat is about the land. It is taking up too much land
“People aren’t looking to tell the truth, they are looking to find the arguments that support their position.
“For me, the primary reason for reducing meat is about the land. It is taking up too much land. We need some of that land to do other things,” he said.
He argued his strategy was not a radical plan, and that up to 65% of land would still be farmed in a similar way as it is today.
However, he said all farmers will have to produce food more sustainably, and pointed out that 20% of land currently produces 1% to 3% of our calories, so there is an “opportunity to re-purpose what we do”.
While he accepted it will be a huge and complex job to get it right, he added that none of it will make sense if the UK government remains on a path to liberalise trade, allowing importing countries to continue to produce food in a destructive way.
I urge the government to focus on the next deals, not just on getting the deals quickly, but getting the right deals
Dimbleby was critical of the speed in which UK trade deals have been done with New Zealand and Australia, suggesting that the main driver was a desire by UK government ministers to be seen to be making progress post-Brexit.
“I urge the government to focus on the next deals, not just on getting the deals quickly, but getting the right deals. If we sign a similar trade deal with Brazil that we have done with Australia and New Zealand, it would be absolutely disastrous,” he said.