The food and farming sector is a big contributor to carbon emissions in the UK and will need to be at the forefront of new efforts to tackle global warming, UK environment minister David Miliband told the BBC's Newsnight programme Monday.
His comments came following a UK government report claiming the cost of inaction on climate change could be up to five per cent of global GDP, possibly causing an economic disaster worse than the Wall Street Crash in 1929.
The cost of global action now to reduce emissions is expected to cost one per cent of world GDP, the report's author, Sir Nicholas Stern, said.
The food processing industry is a major energy consumer and discharger of greenhouse gas through its reliance on cooking, refrigeration, freezing and air compressor systems. In the UK, the food and drink sector is expected to account for around 3.1 per cent of carbon emissions by 2012.
The UK government on Monday pledged to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent before 2050, and will propose new legislation and establish a Carbon Committee to help achieve this.
One option already put forward by the UK is an expansion of the current carbon trading scheme. It is also considering launching a 'green tax', which may hit both the public and businesses.
The country, through the EU, is already committed to the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce carbon emissions to eight per cent below 1990 levels by the end of 2012.
Reaction from industry, including food, to the Stern report has been largely supportive so far.
"Provided we act with sufficient speed, we will not have to make a choice between averting climate change and promoting growth and investment," said Richard Lambert, director general of the Confederation of British Industry.
The UK National Farmers' Union said it was 100 per cent behind UK government proposals to up the fight against climate change by reducing emissions. President Peter Kendall urged the government to seriously consider biofuels.
"Even after allowing for the cost of harvesting, processing and transportation, biofuels still yield net savings of 70 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions compared with fossil fuels."
There was a muted reaction from other industrialised nations to the UK Stern report. US officials, in particular, emphasised the importance of developing new technologies that would allow carbon emissions to be reduced.