Environmental campaigners have launched a legal challenge against the government’s food strategy for England, arguing its lack of plans to cut meat and dairy consumption breaks laws including the Climate Change Act.
Lawyers at Leigh Day, acting on behalf of the campaign group Feedback, on Tuesday filed a claim for judicial review at the High Court. They said the government had failed to take into account environmental advice from its own climate change committee and its adviser Henry Dimbleby in formulating the strategy for England, which was released in June.
Dimbleby and the committee have both pushed for significant cuts in the country’s reliance on meat and dairy, but such a policy would be politically contentious.
Polling by YouGov last month found that only a third of people surveyed were willing to cut down on meat and dairy to help fight climate change, while farmers have pushed back strongly against the idea.
Rowan Smith, a solicitor at Leigh Day, said: “Our client believes that there is something inherently wrong with the government promising to address carbon emissions as part of its food strategy, but then omitting any action on one of the biggest contributors to the problem, namely meat and dairy.
“The legal case focuses on the government’s failure to take into account expert and independent advice. What is the value in having that advice, if the government can effectively ignore it? Our client hopes to test these arguments in court.”
England’s food strategy includes pledges to investigate technologies such as alternative proteins, which include plant-based products, but it says these foods “complement . . . traditional livestock sectors”.
One argument in the case is that environment secretary George Eustice breached the Climate Change Act by failing to ensure the food strategy heeded advice from the climate change committee, which was aimed at enabling it to meet carbon reduction targets.
The committee has repeatedly called for the UK to reduce meat and dairy consumption by a fifth by 2030 and for meat consumption to be cut by 35 per cent by 2050. It described the June food strategy as a “missed opportunity” for the climate.
The case follows another successful judicial review application, also spearheaded by Leigh Day, in which a judge ruled in July that the government’s plan to reach net zero emissions was unlawful because it provided insufficient detail for how the target would be met.
That challenge was brought by campaign groups including Friends of the Earth and the Good Law Project and environmental activist Jo Wheatley.
Feedback’s executive director Carina Millstone said: “Rather than outlining plans to support the public and farmers in making the shift to low-carbon foods as promised, the food strategy blithely ignored the meat and dairy question altogether.”
The government has three weeks to submit a summary of its response to the judicial review claim.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs declined to comment.
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