Meat or no meat? That is not the question. 13/01/2020, Health & Lifestyle
Vegans should be applauded for their efforts but extremist scaremongering and binary debate isn’t helping. We need clear communication about the realities of food and farming to address our climate and biodiversity crisis.
Disclaimers: I am not a subject expert. The science is complicated and insufficiently robust therefore conclusions are frequently not clear cut. I am an omnivore living in a household of pescetarians, vegetarians, and vegans. All that said, I feel compelled to share my opinion on this!
You may have noticed there’s a “meat versus no meat” debate going on.
If you are eating intensively reared grain fed meat and dairy then going vegan is undoubtedly going to reduce your personal carbon footprint. I don’t think anyone would argue with that. A vegan diet can be nutritionally strong and environmentally friendly. However, being Vegan certainly does not guarantee nutritional balance for optimal health and an environmentally sustainable footprint - there’s plenty wrong with ultra-processed foods and intensive arable farming for example. But, the elimination of catastrophically destructive grain-fed, intensively-reared, meat and dairy products is undoubtedly an important contribution. The thing is, it isn’t a case of ‘you’re either a vegan or you’re an environmental disaster zone’.
We at fresh-range plan to tackle this head on this year. We’re planning a campaign to highlight that livestock farming done right is an important contributor to resolve our planetary climate and biodiversity crisis. Yes, globally, the rearing of intensive grain-fed livestock must stop and to this end everybody should stop eating meat and dairy that has been raised intensively and fed grain derived from land that stored loads of carbon in the soil beneath rain forests. But, eating the right meat (100% grass fed, organic and/or wildlife friendly) remains an important nutritional and environmentally-responsible part of our diets.
Whilst I agree with much of what the two recent TV documentaries (BBC1’s Meat: A threat to our planet and Channel 4’s Apocalypse Cow) covered, they tended to present extremes rather than a complete set of information. For instance, the BBC featured intensive cattle farms in America. No debate there, these “farms” are terrible for the animals, the planet and less healthy for us to eat than extensively reared sustainable meat. Channel 4 showed The Lake District grass lands being savaged by sheep. Again, no debate there, if you allow sheep to over graze it is detrimental to biodiversity. But where’s the balance in this programme? You can’t say because some of the farming approaches are bad we should just cull all livestock globally (pretty much what George Monbiot's Channel 4 documentary called for).
What about the farms that are rearing cattle and sheep sustainably (like mob grazing for example) – avoiding the use of any grain or soya (a cause of deforestation) – and sequestering more carbon into the soils. What about the 2/3 of UK farmland that is pasture unsuitable for any other crops? Pasture, that if used sustainably can be converted into a nutritionally rich source of protein and a wide range of nutrients that cannot be easily sourced from other foods. What about the farms (like Farm Wilder farmers) that are actively taking steps to plant trees on their land each year and take specific measures to preserve and restore endangered native species to their farms? What about the Oxford University research that reframes the perceived role of ruminant methane emissions and global warming? Why are the perspectives of The Soil Association, The Sustainable Food Trust, and Sustain (three pre-eminent charities dedicated to food and farming sustainability in the UK) not featured in these documentaries?
We’re in an urgent situation that needs focused effort. Binary “meat or no meat?” debates are not helping. Look out for our campaign in Spring promoting the Eat less but better meat message. I hope you’ll support us.