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Volume 519: debated on Thursday 2 December 2010


Thursday 2 December 2010


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Factory Farming

The Petition of residents of the Coventry South constituency,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that animals in British factory farms are pumped full of protein to speed up their growth; notes that soy is a major source of protein; further notes that, in order to produce enough protein, precious habitats like rainforests are cleared in South America to make way for vast soy plantations; and further declares that this increases climate changing gases in the atmosphere, damages the Earth’s free life-support systems, which provide us with clean water, healthy soil and air to breathe, forces small farmers off their land, making them unable to grow food for their families, and fails UK farmers, leaving them vulnerable to fluctuating commodity prices.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take steps to shift subsidies away from factory farming, to support farmers to grow their own animal feed and to ensure supermarkets offer fair deals to everyone.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr Jim Cunningham, Official Report, 10 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 388.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

The Government are committed to supporting a sustainable future for UK farmers including those in our meat and dairy sectors. DEFRA’s structural reform priorities of:

support for British farming and the encouragement of sustainable food production;

enhancing the environment and biodiversity to improve quality of life; and,

support for a strong and sustainable green economy, resilient to climate change put this support at the forefront of what the Department does.

We are committing significant resources at a time of budgetary restraint to improve our understanding of the knowledge base for sustainability. For example, the Government are currently co-funding research with the livestock industry on what happens when home grown legumes replace soya in pig diets and on an analysis of nutrition regimes for ruminants to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs).

In partnership with the devolved Administrations, DEFRA has committed £12.6 millions into research to improve our understanding of GHG emissions from farms across the UK. And the Government are working with 30 countries in the Global Research Alliance to collaborate on research on agricultural GHG emissions reductions including from livestock.

In addition, the Technology Strategy Board, in conjunction with DEFRA and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, is currently planning a call of up to £15 million for business-led, applied research projects that will help to deliver a sustainable future supply of protein for the UK.

The Government are committed to tackling the deforestation that has accompanied soya consumption, while recognising that soya production and consumption is not all about feeding it to livestock. In fact, two thirds of all manufactured food products for human consumption contain derivatives or ingredients made from soya as do many cosmetics. Soya oil production, of which soya meal for livestock feeding is a co-product, is also a valuable source of energy as a biofuel. So we are working closely with our EU and international partners, particularly Brazil, to tackle the drivers of deforestation rather than soya farming per se. And to tackle illegal logging, which destroys forests and biodiversity, contributes to carbon dioxide emissions, and costs billions of pounds in lost revenue, with the biggest impact being on the poorest communities in the poorest countries.

We made progress at the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya recently, not only in agreeing targets for reducing the loss of habitats, including forests, and tackling forest degradation, but also on the linkages between climate change and biodiversity, and we need to build on this progress at Cancun.

The Government announced as part of the Spending Review that we will provide £2.9 billion towards tackling international climate change and a significant proportion of this will be used for addressing forestry issues. This meets, and goes beyond, the commitments the UK made at Copenhagen.

All of which activity, and the significant resource that the Government are making available, points to the importance we attach to the sustainability of UK food and farming. The complex matrix of issues that define livestock farming’s contribution to our economy, biodiversity, landscapes, food security, and the viability of rural communities, will be shaped by the investments in research today that will underpin livestock farming’s sustainability in the future.