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NatWest angers farmers by urging customers to buy less red meat


NatWest has angered British farmers by urging its customers to buy less red meat and to replace dairy products with plant-based alternatives.

A 'carbon footprint tracker' on the bank's mobile app uses transaction data to advise customers on how to reduce their carbon footprint based on their spending habits.

The app recommends 'veggie Mondays' and 'choosing (mostly) plant-based' diets to customers as a way to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

It also suggests buying 'more second-hand clothes' and taking 'fewer flights' — and has thousands of users who can 'opt in' to receive a monthly carbon score.

But the National Farmer's Union (NFU) has criticised NatWest for promoting 'oversimplified' messages that 'miss the nuance of the path to a sustainable food system'.

The bank's app asks its users to try adding tofu and lentils to their diets as substitutes for eating meat. It also suggests they switch off tumble dryers, share car journeys and wash their clothes in cold water.

David Barton, chair of the NFU Livestock Board said: 'We have been working closely with NatWest about messaging on its 'carbon tracker' in its customer app. Some changes have been made that we are pleased about, including the buy British line.

'What we eat is a personal choice and should be made in an informed way. We are continuing our conversations with the bank about the nutritional and biodiversity benefits eating meat provides as currently the app's tracker only focuses primarily on greenhouse gas emissions.'

He added: 'We understand that the NatWest app is primarily focusing on [greenhouse gas] emissions, but the reality is that when making diet related recommendations, other factors such as nutrition, environment, and biodiversity must be presented.'

By 'swapping out beef', the app estimates an individual could reduce their footprint by 12kg, while eating 'vegetarian at home' could reduce your footprint by 40kg.

Following months of back-and-forth, the bank agreed to change the wording on its app, but the NFU believes this change is not significant enough.

Customers are no longer being advised to 'swap out beef' and to 'swap to plant-based milk', while a recommendation to buy local, British produce has been added.

But the app continues to recommend 'choosing vegetarian at home' and similar phrases, which has left the NFU 'disappointed'.

Mr Barton added: 'Despite this disappointment, I am pleased to see some changes being made to the 'carbon tracker' on its personal banking app, following NFU engagement with NatWest at a senior level over several months.

'I am also pleased that conversations are still ongoing between the NFU and NatWest on how best to communicate the benefits of meat to the bank's customers.'

The NFU says the British meat and dairy industry are among the most sustainable in the world, with UK beef emissions less than half the global average.

NFU President Tom Bradshaw said: 'It is positive to see NatWest's willingness to learn, and we are committed to continuing to work with the banking sector to ensure they fully understand and work alongside the agriculture sector when it comes to reducing emissions and supporting resilient, sustainable businesses.'

A NatWest spokesman said: 'At NatWest, we have championed farming for nearly 300 years and we are one of the largest lenders to the sector, committing £6.7bn of funding to support farmers to fund climate and sustainability related projects.

'The transition to a low carbon economy is a topic of interest to many customers and sectors, including farming and agriculture.

'We will continue to support our customers in their sustainability journeys. The carbon tracker is an optional feature that customers have told us is valuable, but we always listen to stakeholder feedback and continue to look for ways to improve.'