Diets for the climate: UK government hit with legal challenge for neglecting critical cuts to meat & dairy
25 Aug 2022 --- England’s policymakers have come under fire from environmental activists launching a legal challenge against the government’s food strategy, which they argue is falling short of plans to cut meat and dairy consumption.
In particular, lawyers at Leigh Day, representing the campaign group Feedback, assert that this is a critical breach of UK laws, such as the Climate Change Act.
Feedback argues that the Government Food Strategy, published in June, “ignored the clear advice” on meat and dairy reduction coming from its own Climate Change Committee and guidance from its adviser Henry Dimbleby.
The action group’s claim for judicial review was filed at the nation’s High Court on Tuesday.
“Ultimately, we want a new Food Strategy that will create a sustainable food system and avert us from climate chaos. We hope the government will listen to the advice of its own experts and take meaningful action to reduce meat and dairy emissions,” Christina O’Sullivan, digital campaigns and communications manager of Feedback, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Henry Dimbleby, who wrote the Independent Review of the food strategy, recently stated that addressing meat is ‘politically toxic’.”
However, O’Sullivan concedes that legal processes can be lengthy. “Since the publication of the Government Food Strategy, the UK has experienced the hottest day on record. Meaningful action on climate change must be taken and this must include meat reduction.”
The government has three weeks to submit a summary of its response to Feedback’s judicial review claim.
A rift between farmers and climate ambitions
Feedback calls the UK government’s current strategy “unlawful,” stressing that it is directly at odds with the government’s Net Zero Strategy, which stated the Food Strategy would outline how emissions savings in food and agriculture would be achieved in support of climate targets.
UK farmers have been generally resistant to the idea of a blanket policy to curb industry’s reliance on animal produce. This sentiment has resounded in other markets, with South Africa recently moving to enforce a regulation that almost had tens of thousands of plant-based products seized for containing now-banned meat-related words and phrases like “meatballs,” “burgers” and “nuggets.”
While deemed a step forward for the environment, there are concerns that a policy to curb industry’s reliance on meat and dairy could be politically contentious. Last month, YouGov released a poll highlighting that just a third of survey participants are willing to cut down on meat and dairy to aid in the fight against climate change.
But Dimbleby’s independent review of the UK’s National Food Strategy – commissioned by the government’s CCC in 2019 – underscores substantial reductions in meat and dairy as critical to tackling climate change.
The committee has repeatedly called for the UK to reduce meat and dairy consumption by a fifth by 2030 and for meat consumption to be cut by 35% by 2050. It described the June food strategy as a “missed opportunity” for the climate.
The idea of a “missed opportunity” has also been the rallying cry of US-based activists, who mirrored their UK counterparts in a recent pushback against the stateside Inflation Reduction Act – set in place to reduce the US’s carbon footprint in years ahead – which they argue neglects the “significant carbon contributions” from agricultural practices.
Climate activists generally support taxing meat and dairy farming practices, while beefing up innovation surrounding meat alternatives.
“Our client believes that there is something inherently wrong with the government promising to address carbon emissions as part of its Food Strategy, but then omitting any action on one of the biggest contributors to the problem, namely meat and dairy,” comments Leigh Day lawyer Rowan Smith.
“The legal case focuses on the government’s failure to take into account expert and independent advice. What is the value in having that advice, if the government can effectively ignore it? Our client hopes to test these arguments in court.”
As the genesis of the alternative meat revolution continues its course, will conventional farmers be sidelined entirely? A host of cell-based protein pioneers previously spoke to FoodIngredientsFirst, underscoring that such alternative meat companies may actually have an opportunity to collaborate with farmers at the early stages of production – involving them in cell sourcing and cell feedstock, for instance – rather than competing with them.
By Benjamin Ferrer
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