University takes red meat off the menu to cut carbon emissions – sparking anger from farmers

The University of Cambridge claims it made significant carbon reductions by taking beef and lamb off

The University of Cambridge claims it made significant carbon reductions by taking beef and lamb off its menu. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

East Anglia's farming leaders have criticised a university's 'overly-simplistic' approach to reducing its carbon footprint by taking red meat off the menu.

The University of Cambridge says its sustainable food policy - which includes removing beef and lamb from the menu, promoting plant-based food options and reducing food waste - has cut carbon emissions per kilogram of food purchased by 33pc.

Andrew Balmford, professor of conservation science at Cambridge, said: "The university's catering managers have, in a very short time, dramatically reduced the environmental footprint of their operation while simultaneously increasing sales and profit. It is hard to imagine any other interventions that could yield such dramatic benefits in so short span of time."

But farmers in East Anglia said the carbon footprint of British red meat was only 40pc of world averages, and that grazing livestock are an important tool in managing environmentally-important landscapes and grassland.

The university released its results on the same day that the National Farmers' Union (NFU) published a report on how the sector aims to reach a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, through measures including bigger hedgerows, precision delivery of fertilisers and improving the health of cattle and sheep.

NFU East Anglia's regional director Rachel Carrington said: "Today the NFU has set out ambitious plans for agriculture to be net zero by 2040 so it's hugely disappointing to hear that the University of Cambridge is taking this overly-simplistic approach.

"Tackling climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and farmers are ready to play their part. But we will not stop climate change by curbing our own production and exporting it abroad, to countries which may not have the same environmental standards or climate ambitions we have here.

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"It would have been far better for the university to commit to sourcing locally-produced beef and lamb, reared on its doorstep to some of the highest and environmentally sustainable standards in the world."

Judith Jacobs, a beef and sheep farmer near Peterborough, added: "This is a short-sighted decision that is denying students choice in the food they can buy.

"About 65pc of UK farmland is only suitable for growing grass. Grazing cows and sheep on this grassland is the most effective and sustainable way to use this land. It also acts as an important store of carbon.

"Our cattle and sheep graze on environmentally-important landscapes including the RSPB Washes, SSSIs (sites of special scientific interest) and Environment Agency river banks - all land that couldn't be farmed for anything else."