Morrisons has pledged to have net zero meat, eggs, fruit and veg on its shelves in the next few years as it drives a green revolution on British farms.
The retailer, which is British farming’s biggest supermarket customer, has announced plans to be completely supplied by net zero carbon UK farms by 2030, so that farming activities have no overall impact on the climate.
It will work with its 3,000 British farmers and growers over the next nine years to help them grow and rear net zero produce, looking at the entire lifecycle of food from seed germination to leaving the farm gate for its stores.
Eggs are expected to be the first net zero carbon products, on shelves as early as next year, with beef, pork, lamb and vegetables potentially available for customers to buy by 2025.
Greenhouse gas emissions will be cut by steps such as rearing different animal breeds, using less environmentally-damaging animal feed, using renewable energy and reducing fertiliser use.
Measures to restore hedgerows and peatland, plant trees and planting grasslands and clover will also be looked at to capture carbon.
The move has been welcomed by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), which has set a target for the farming sector – which currently contributes 10% of the UK’s emissions – to be net zero by 2040.
Morrisons said the pledge would make it the first supermarket to be completely supplied from net zero British farms, and at least five years ahead of the market.
Reaching net zero, or carbon neutrality, on farms means reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by as much as possible and offsetting any remaining pollution with measures that absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
The retailer will start working with a selection of meat and produce farmers this month to create net zero farm models.
Once working models have been established, they will be shared with all Morrisons farmers so they can produce food in this way.
David Potts, chief executive of Morrisons, said: “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges for our generation and growing food is a key contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
“As British farming’s biggest supermarket customer, we’re in a unique position to guide our farms and help lead changes in environmental practices.”
He added it was “an ambitious target – but it’s our duty to do it”.
Morrisons said it would also work with universities, farming and countryside organisations, use industry experts to measure and evaluate data and set up the world’s first school of sustainable farming at Harper Adams Agricultural University to offer farming training.
Beef has an outsize greenhouse gas footprint, nearly half of which is down to methane production, so plans include using smaller breeds and looking at supplements such as seaweed which can cut methane.
Carbon-cutting efforts for pork and eggs will include removing and reducing soya from feeds and using renewable energy, while the lamb model will focus on measures such as the best feeds, woodland planting and restoring peat.
For fruit and veg farmers the net zero model will look at crop yields and rotation, different varieties, using renewable and battery technology, reducing fertiliser and helping soils store carbon.
Minette Batters, president of the NFU said: “Our members are already playing their part to help achieve the NFU’s ambition of reaching net zero agriculture by 2040 and want to do more.
“I applaud Morrisons on its commitment and look forward to continuing our good working relationship.”
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “It is encouraging to see Morrisons commit to being supplied by net zero carbon British farms on such an ambitious timescale, helping to protect the environment for future generations.”
The UK has an overall legal target to reach net zero emissions by 2050.