IMPOSING a meat tax to help reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions would ‘rapidly spell the end of livestock farming’, the country’s top butcher has warned.

Malcolm Pyne, who runs Pyne’s of Somerset in North Petherton, said the idea could only have been proposed by people with ‘absolutely no knowledge’ of how the meat market works.

The notion of a tax as a way of reducing sales and therefore the impact of methane-producing cattle on the environment has come from the Government’s Committee on Climate Change in a report on the way land use will have to alter if the country is to meet its net-zero emissions target by 2050.

It suggests, among other things, forcing airlines and oil companies to fund a gigantic tree-planting scheme and using more farmland to store carbon with the aim of reducing consumption of beef, lamb and dairy food by 20 per cent.

Changes in the way land is managed and breeding cows which produce less methane are also on the agenda.

But Mr Pyne – named the best butcher in Britain by the Meat Trades Journal – said researchers’ further suggestion of a meat tax as a disincentive should be struck off the list.

“If the Government really wants to see the end of the livestock industry this is the way to do it,” he said.

“The tax would fall hardest on independent butchers who would have no option but to pass it on.

“Supermarkets would be able to cover it by adding a penny onto soap powder or potatoes leaving the independent sector fatally exposed to cheap competition.

“Then once all the independents had closed farmers would be left entirely at the mercy of the supermarkets which would use all the old tricks, like cheap imports, to force prices down.

“One of the main outcomes would be a collapse in production with a need then to bring in even more imports in highly-polluting lorries.”

Mr Pyne said scientists were constantly over-stating the polluting effects of livestock farming because it was ‘an easier target’ than oil companies or large industries.

“There is no need to talk about breeding cows to produce less methane. We are already reducing cows’ methane emissions through dietary changes and it’s working well,” he said.

“Putting a tax on meat to discourage consumption is a very blunt instrument indeed. There is evidence to show that meat consumption generally is falling – red meat sales dropped by £185 million last year -and most people are moving naturally towards eating less meat while continuing to include it in a balanced diet.

“Politicians should be content with the market adjusting naturally and in all probability permanently without needing to resort to a measure which would do far more harm than good.”