Row in the UK over whether lamb stew environmentally unfriendly

Francesca Marshall

Sheep farmers have butted heads with a national wildlife foundation after it published a report labelling lamb stew as one of the most environmentally unfriendly meals in the UK.

Farmers’ Unions have been left “astonished” and “disappointed” by a report published by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) which labelled Welsh lamb cawl as the “most polluting” classic British meal.

The report, published to highlight how some of Britain’s favourite dishes could change as a result of climate change, said a bowl of lamb cawl produced as much pollution as boiling a kettle 258 times because of methane from sheep.

But sheep farmers have hit back at the report saying it “failed to include the important environmental benefits of sheep farming.”

The National Sheep Association and National Farmers Union Cymru argued that the findings had failed to highlight the advantages of Welsh lamb stew; both environmentally and from a nutritional perspective.

Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, said: “From our perspective it’s a pretty shoddy piece of work that hasn’t looked at the wider benefits of sheep farming at all.

“It has taken a very narrow view of the impacts of lamb cawl and is it really quite astonishing. Lamb cawl is the exact kind of dish that we should be promoting, it is highly nutritious and a good source of protein.”

He added: “The summary looks through a very narrow lens and we fundamentally disagree with the argument that has been made as it has failed to include the important environmental benefits of sheep farming which is very disappointing.”

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According to the report, producing a dish of lamb cawl is the the equivalent of having an LED light bulb switched on for 65 days, driving a car 31 miles or charging a smartphone 722 times.

The report also looked at the impact of chicken tikka masala, fish and chips and cheese ploughman’s.

The cheese ploughman’s was revealed to contribute more to climate change than the fish and chips or chicken tikka masala.

The cheese, pickle and bread dish created the equivalent of 2.6kg of carbon dioxide, the same output as charging a smartphone 316 times, boiling a kettle 113 times or keeping an LED light bulb switched on for 28 whole days.

Hedd Pugh, National Farmers Union Cymru rural affairs board chairman, said: “We are astonished at the nature of this report that draws comparisons between lamb production and the action of turning a kettle on. The authors have focused solely on greenhouse gas emissions rather than taking a broader view and assessing the overall contribution of our lamb production systems.

“The report does not acknowledge the many benefits to biodiversity of grazed livestock, nor does it note the possible benefits of the carbon stored in our grasslands, hedges and farm woodlands. There are also a variety of cultural and social benefits that have not been taken into account, seemingly because the facts don’t fit the agenda of this report.

Mr Pugh stressed that Welsh farmers “take their environmental responsibilities extremely seriously”, adding: “This report shows a total disregard and ignorance for the good work that is taking place on farms across Wales to address the issues that are impacting on our environment.”

The report also warned climate change could risk the future of Britain’s favourite dishes.

It concluded that the dishes may taste difference due to the need for substitute ingredients as climate change threatens “the supply of the key ingredients required to make up these dishes.”

It stated that warmer seas could see populations of cod dwindle and see the fish replaced with cheaper options such as anchovies.

In response to the criticisms aimed at the report a WWF spokesperson said: “Climate change is a major threat to our world and its precious wildlife and landscapes. 

“Food consumption is one of the biggest drivers of carbon emissions which is why our report showed the impact of climate change on Britain’s most iconic dishes, including Welsh cawl.”

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