The government's desire to extend the polluter pays principle to every sector of the economy took a bizarre new twist yesterday as UK farmers were urged to stop their flatulent livestock releasing methane into the atmosphere.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, environment secretary David Miliband warned that agriculture contributes seven percent of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions and a third of its methane – one of the most damaging climate change gases. As a result, he said, the polluter pays principle would soon be applied to farming in the way it is already being introduced to other industries.
"That means greenhouse gases generated in producing food or in food miles carrying a price need to be recognised in the same way as greenhouse gases generated in other industries," he explained.
And in a veiled warning that legislation was on the agenda he confirmed the government "will look closely at how incentives within the food, energy and land markets can reflect environmental impact more closely".
While it is unlikely that this will result in a "fart-tax" with civil servants chasing cows round with breathalyzer style methane measurers, Miliband did argue that farmers should act to reduce methane emissions by feeding cattle different food, breeding them to live longer, altering the handling of manure and getting farms to generate "biogas" or "biofertiliser" from animal waste.
Extending the polluter pays principle to farming would likely lead to higher food prices, but Miliband insisted that climate change could provide an opportunity for farmers, as it has done in other sectors.
He added that diversifying into developing crops for biofuels and differentiating UK produce as a green alternative could help farmers prosper while still becoming leaders in green agriculture.
To assist this transition Defra yesterday announced that as well as investigating new environmental incentives it is to fund a new education initative called Communicating Climate Change to Farmers.
The project unites environmental charity Forum for the Future, the National Farmers' Union, the Country Land and Business Association and the Applied Research Forum, in an effort to promote best practice to farmers committed to reducing their carbon footprint.
Meanwhile, speaking at the same event Conservative leader David Cameron urged consumers, and in particular purchasers at large organisations such as schools and the military, to embrace "food patriotism" and buy British goods that have not contributed to carbon emissions by being shipped round the world.
His comments further highlight the growing pressure on procurement managers to consider a wide range of environmental factors when making purchasing decisions, particularly when it comes to food.
In related news, environmental lobby group Sustain attacked government departments for their practice of serving bottled water at meetings. Their report found that only DEFRA, the Food Standards Agency and Department of Transport served tap water, with all other government agencies serving bottled water which is more expensive, contributes to landfill and results in carbon emissions when transported.
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