The UK government has “no intention” of telling the public to reduce meat consumption for environmental reasons, a senior minister has confirmed.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said “a lot of emphasis” is instead being put on developing technologies to reduce methane emissions from ruminant livestock

“It’s probably a better way to tackle the challenge than just trying to lecture people about meat eating. The government has got no intention of doing that,” he said.

Speaking at a House of Lords committee last week, Eustice said trials are currently being conducted on the feed additive Bovaer, which could cut emissions from cattle and sheep by around 30%.

“There are other emerging technologies that claim they could go even further than that,” he suggested.

During his evidence session, Eustice said the debate about the environmental impact of meat production is often overly simplistic as it tends to only focus on greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is not as straightforward as saying ‘livestock is bad for the environment’. Livestock done the right way is positive for biodiversity,” he said.

The Conservative MP gave examples of livestock farming on permanent pasture, as well as integrating grass and livestock production into intensive arable rotations.

“The conclusions that people reach tend to boil down to whether they are a statistician that will look at one area of our environment up close, or whether they are an ecologist where they step back and look at the whole ecosystem. Their conclusions on meat will often be quite different,” he said.

Food labelling

The House of Lords committee was told that UK government officials are considering introducing a new labelling system, which outlines the environmental impact of different food products.

Eustice suggested it could be based on a simple traffic light colour-coded system, but he acknowledged it comes back to the same question about how to define environmental sustainability.

“It’s complex because are you looking just at climate change and carbon emissions, or are you looking at biodiversity and other environmental outcomes? Sadly, there is often a tension between those two,” the Environment Secretary said.