Many of us would like to shop ethically and in line with our values when it comes to buying meat. But while this might sound like a simple thing to do, in practice it can be a complicated web of labels, terminology and increasing confusion.
I had high expectations on the report Grazed and confused, developed under the lead of Tara Garnett from the Food Climate Research Network. I have been impressed by her previous research on many aspects of the food system and her capacity to go further than using lifecycle analyses to provide the Truth. Unfortunately this report doesn’t live up to my expectations. At all.
For each person on the planet, about 1500 kcal of plants is used daily to feed animals. In return we get just some 500 kcal per capita per day in the form of animal foodstuffs. The 1000 kcal that is “lost” in this transformation would be enough to feed another 3 billion people. Isn’t it a no-brainer that we rather should eat plants than animals? One could think so. But the reality is a bit more complicated than that.
Few animals get as bad a rap these days as cattle do. They are blamed for soil erosion, water depletion, overgrazed rangelands, greenhouse gas emissions, and, when eaten, human heart disease. Often missing from such indictments of the mooing, tail-wagging, and, yes, methane-emitting bovine, however, is our role. How we choose to manage cattle determines their environmental impact, not the animals themselves.
The only practical way to produce human-edible food from grassland without releasing large amounts of carbon to the atmosphere is to graze it with ruminants, and with the increasing global population it would be highly irresponsible to stop producing meat, milk and animal fats from grassland, since this would cause even more rainforest to be destroyed to produce soyabean oil and meal, as well as palm oil.
George has been almost a lone voice in the mainstream British media putting the case thoughtfully and iconoclastically for radical, egalitarian and environmental alternatives to a status quo that’s so fawningly celebrated by the majority of his journalistic colleagues. But when it comes to his recent article enthusing about the advent of artificial meat as the welcome death knell for livestock farming…George, you’re scaring me, man.
But how did we get from the Palaeolithic foraging of my last post to the very apogee of mixed agrarianism shown in the picture? I’m glad you asked. To answer it, I need to go to way back when and return to my main historical thread by looking at some of the tensions within…
The Weirauchs got their first two dairy sheep as a wedding gift fourteen years ago. The operation began as a hobby, but grew in scope (as hobbies involving living things that multiply tend to do), and after eight years of figuring things out, the Weirauchs have been in business for seven years as a licensed sheep dairy.
If we are to move to a genuinely sustainable food system, then I think we all need to become much better informed about the sustainability or otherwise of different food systems.
And so I come to my final blog post of 2016, and what a year it’s been. I’ve been asked by Dark Mountain to write a retrospective of it, which I hope will be up on their website soon. I’ll be offering some thoughts on the larger events of the world in that post, so here I’m mostly just going to offer a few nuggets focused on my specific theme of small-scale farming, and its future.
Do livestock hold the key to a healthy planet and population? In Bristol on the 23rd November, we held an event to discuss this question.
A loose confederation of animal welfare activists, human health activists and environmentalists have popularised the view that globally we need to produce less meat and livestock, and it’s not a view I’ll quarrel with for the most part.