Mark it in your diary: October could be the month everything changes in Britain in terms of curbing meat and dairy consumption – and in many other areas of climate change policy.
That’s because of a significant, last-chance win at the Court of Appeal for Feedback, an environmental campaign group working to improve food systems, which has established the government may have broken the law in terms of its climate commitments. There will now be a judicial review in four months’ time, when a judge will rule on the lawfulness of the authorities’ actions – or lack thereof.
Feedback’s lawyers argued that the government’s failure to adopt measures published in its National Food Strategy last year to reduce meat and dairy production and consumption was illegal. The government had argued that only the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero was bound by its obligations under the Climate Change Act 2008, rather than the department behind the food strategy, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
Feedback launched legal proceedings after the sparse document contained no mention of the specific and essential actions the UK must take to reduce our appetite for meat and dairy, as set out by the government’s own advisory body, the Climate Change Committee. Without taking those steps, there will be no way to get to net zero.
Henry Dimbleby, the government’s food tsar and author of a comprehensive and well-received independent review of our food systems, wrote that meat and dairy consumption should be cut by 30 per cent to protect the environment and improve the health of the nation, adding: “Our current appetite for meat is unsustainable.” In March, he resigned in disgust at how little of his recommendations the government chose to adopt, calling its final publication, which ran to just 27 pages, “a piecemeal list of policies rather than a strategy”.
Explaining the three appeal court judges’ decision to overturn two previous rulings and allow Feedback to apply for a judicial review, the lead judge, Lord Justice Lindblom, said: “The issue of climate change itself and the steps to be taken to achieve net zero are in themselves matters of public interest.”
Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, a “delighted” Carina Millstone, Feedback’s executive director, said the case was about “the extent to which the government can keep on putting policies out there that completely disregard the advice of their own climate change advisers. Why have a Climate Change Committee if you’re going to ignore their recommendations?
“Now the Climate Change Committee has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the climate impacts of livestock and the nature and deforestation impacts of livestock. All their scenarios to net zero … include a substantial reduction in meat and dairy, ranging from 20 to 50 per cent by 2050. That is to say, there is no way to meet the net zero targets without addressing meat and dairy.
“They recently said that an accelerated shift away from meat and dairy is a particularly important measure to tackle climate change, and yet the government produced a food strategy last year that was completely useless. It had no mention of this meat and dairy question; it had no mention of how the government may help us in shifting towards healthier and more sustainable diets. It ignored this question altogether.”
As well as the government’s food strategy being “useless”, Millstone said the judges had agreed with Feedback’s lawyers that it may also be illegal – something that will now be assessed in a longer court hearing in October.
If the judicial review finds in the group’s favour, the government would be obliged to rewrite its food strategy to take account of its obligations under the Climate Change Act. But the knock-on effects of that ruling would be huge, making it clear that it would be illegal for other government departments not to follow suit, from transport and education to housing and levelling-up.
So, as Millstone added: “Watch this space” … and cross your fingers.