An ingrained prejudice against grazing livestock at the highest levels of climate policy making now stands in the way of a return to mixed farming systems that could play a vital role in cutting atmospheric carbon.
Holden, who attended the first week of the COP26, told the Food Programme’s Dan Saladino that he left Glasgow frustrated at how little attention was being given to food at the conference, and how simplistic the debate on meat and dairy in climate circles has become.
Holden believes that a switch from the dominant monocultural chemical farming system to traditional mixed farming – involving a cropping rotation and fertility building phase with clover and grass, followed by a cropping sequence – would create potential for the soil to become a major carbon ‘bank’.
But realising this potential would require a fundamental change in our farming systems, to which there is significant resistance – and not just from agrochemical interests. Holden said: “I suspect that one of the key reasons the Climate Change Committee have not embraced a strategy of return to mixed farming systems is because of their prejudice against grazing livestock. I’m talking here about cattle and sheep, ruminant animals, which emit methane and have been demonised for many years now for being part of the problem in terms of climate climate change.
“it’s not the cow, but the how. And we all need to become a lot more expert in the difference between the animal systems that are part of the problem and those that are part of the solution”
“But what they don’t realise is that the emissions from these animals which are part of an ancient carbon cycle can be offset – and more than offset – with the correct management systems, through carbon sequestration in the soil. So, it’s not the cow, but the how. And we all need to become a lot more expert in the difference between the animal systems that are part of the problem and those that are part of the solution.”
Minette Batters, president of the (UK) National Farmers Union was also at COP26, and also came away frustrated. She told the Food Programme: “I think this debate has been hijacked and is fundamentally flawed because whatever you are growing, you need to be able to grow in soils that are fertilised. So, do you want to use organic menus – effectively – to build your soil health, or do you want to use nitrogen fertilisers that do it via the chemical route? You can’t grow plant-based without investing in your soil, and if you have less livestock you literally transfer from that approach to to a chemical route – and that is disastrous. But that debate is just not happening”.