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Taking a lead on the environment
  1. Adele Waters

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Later this year the UK will host the United Nations’ 26th world climate summit.

The so-called COP26 will take place in Glasgow in November and is expected to be the biggest and most significant since the Paris summit in 2015.

Not only can we expect to see the renewal of international pledges to reduce CO2 emissions, but we may see a greater shared understanding between countries about the scale of the climate challenge and perhaps more unity in terms of urgent measures to address it.

The climate emergency has shot up the global political agenda. Here in the UK, our last prime minister, Theresa May, committed us to achieving net zero greenhouse gases by 2050.

Now many experts and climate activists alike, agree this target date is too late; they say the scale of the problem means it should be brought forward to 2030.

At last week’s Oxford Farming Conference, Craig Bennett, chief executive of Friends of the Earth, warned that action to reverse the climate emergency must happen within the lifetime of this government. Indeed, this subject dominated conference discussions.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said UK farmers were already working – and ready to do more – to tackle climate change. The NFU has even set a net zero for agriculture by 2040.

But, the agricultural sector needs structural support in key areas, she argued, for example it needs improved water provision and water-sparing infrastructure (too much water is being wasted).

Crucial, however, is the creation of a council or commission on food standards to scrutinise trade deals, she said. This would ensure the UK does not end up with a two-tier food system where food that would be illegal for UK farmers to produce is imported from third countries.

While a verbal commitment not to sell out British farmers was great to hear, this must be backed by legislation, she warned (see news story p 42).

There is work to do for the government to convince farmers it has their back

There is work to do for the government to convince farmers it has their back. Asked how sure they were that it would protect their interests in future trade deals with, for example, the USA, not one farmer raised their hand – in a conference with more than 750 attendees.

So what can you expect in the agricultural pipeline in terms of government strategy?

The government will introduce an updated Agriculture Bill later this month, bringing with it the prospect of rewarding farmers with public money for ‘public goods’ – such as enhancing biodiversity, tackling climate change and raising standards of animal welfare. All areas that vets should be involved in.

You can also expect to see the publication of a wide-ranging food strategy this year. This will set out how the UK can create a food system that provides good and affordable food for everyone while restoring the environment.

So where do you fit in? The BVA expects the profession to have a central role in ensuring that high animal health and welfare standards are maintained. Vets are integral to the agricultural sector and therefore well placed to advise on sustainable animal husbandry and environmentally friendly production, it says.

Generally, there is a growing interest in sustainability issues among members of the veterinary profession; their potential to lead in this space was set out as an ambition five years ago in the Vet Futures report, ‘Taking Charge of Our Future’.

The BVA has created a guide for vets on how they can contribute to – and lead – moves towards sustainable animal agriculture ( You may also wish to join Vet Sustain (, a collective of veterinary professionals supporting environmental initiatives in veterinary practice.

  • • See the case for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture (debate piece) on p 71, and learn how one vet, Ellie West, is increasing sustainability at work on p 72.

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