Livestock farming has come under severe scrutiny and criticism with its direct links and attribution to climate change. At Elite Meat Co. our core values hope to drive impactful change away from industrial and unsustainable food production. Offering customers a product that is as environmentally considerate and responsible. We look to document and provide some insight into livestock farming in the UK, a country with some of the highest and most stringent farming regulations in the world, and how this product differs significantly from intensively reared beef.
The below article from a British beef farmer Joe Stanley featured in the Guardian, and offers an insight into how British practices differ from factory and intensive practices in other parts of the world.
British farmers are not the enemy in the battle against the climate crisis:
"As a cattle farmer I come under constant criticism, but UK livestock production is among the most sustainable in the world"
When it comes to our food, we all appreciate that we live in a world of finite resources, within a warming atmosphere, and that a sustainable approach to our food production is, in the long run, the only responsible approach.
Where our understandings may diverge, however, is in the reality of what sustainable food production really means for your shopping basket, your diet and for food policy in this country. Red meat is currently the bête noire of the environmentalist movement. As a farmer, it’s impossible to go a day without being assailed by criticism of this oldest of farming practices. But it isn’t out of personal or professional pride that I take exception to the false, binary narrative that switching to a “plant-based diet” is necessary to avert climate disaster. It’s frankly a facile misrepresentation of the evidence.
Take the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on land use and climate change. Meat consumption was only one element of a balanced look at global agriculture, but it has become a clarion call to western veganism – despite the IPCC promoting the “opportunities and benefits of resilient, sustainable and low greenhouse gas-emission (GHG) animal-sourced food”. As the report says, there are vast global variations in the sustainability of food production. In the UK, we happen to be world-class. Ruminants such as cattle emit methane; they are a source of GHGs. But permanent pasture – accounting for 70% of farmland in the UK, on which nothing else can be grown – is also a GHG sink. Grassland absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere as the grass grows, and sequesters it in the soil as organic matter; the more it’s grazed and trampled by livestock, the more it absorbs. In the UK, 10 million hectares of grassland hold 600 million tonnes of CO2 and sequester another 2.4m tonnes per year. UK agriculture as a whole contributes some 10% of the UK’s GHG emissions – but this takes no account of our ability to also act as a sink. This dichotomy makes farming unique in the economy.
British livestock production is among the most sustainable in the world; 85% of the water consumed by our sheep and cattle falls as rain on our abundant grass – which our temperate climate is perfectly suited to growing. This grass constitutes 90% of the feed consumed by our cattle and sheep. Our carbon footprint is 2.5 times lower than the global average, and our methane emissions have dropped by 10% in the past 30 years. Is British production perfect? No, and we look to improve it in the coming years: Minette Batters, the president of the National Farmers Union, recently committed to the ambition of a net-zero target for agriculture by 2040, 10 years earlier than the government’s own aim.
Contrast this with livestock produced elsewhere, for example in the Amazon basin. Is it sustainable to consume cattle bred on land recently cleared of rainforest, or fed grain that is grown on that same land? Of course not. Yet in July, more than 1,400 sq km of rainforest – an area larger than Greater London – were cleared in Brazil alone. This is environmental nihilism on a grand scale. By the same token, it makes no sense to shun sustainably produced British meat in favour of a “plant-based diet” of avocados or almonds grown in some of the driest places on Earth using blue water sucked from rivers, lakes or aquifers.
In the UK, despite alarmist headlines about the mass extinction of wildlife as a result of modern “intensive” farming, the truth is more nuanced. As the State of Nature 2019 report made clear, climate change, urbanisation, pollution, invasive species, predation – all are contributory factors to biodiversity loss. Any loss resulting from agriculture can be traced back decades – even centuries – to very different times. British farmers have never been more environmentally proactive, in recent years planting 10,000 hectares of wildflowers and planting or restoring 30,000km of farmland hedges. Can British farmers do more to reverse declines? Of course. But can the same be said of food producers currently clearing untouched spaces around the world?
We must do better than this. Sustainably produced, quality, high-welfare British food must be a choice for all. But to achieve this, farmers, consumers and government must make climate-friendly food a priority. Our future depends on it.
Similar to us at EMCo. Joe Stanley is a farmer and conservationist.
The notion that cutting out beef consumption will save the planet is highly inaccurate. Eating less and eating better meat is the solution.
We want to dispel some of the current misconceptions and inform people of the environmental benefits of sustainable and environmentally responsible British farming practice over production in other less stringent countries. We strive to help consumers make better choices with their meat eating habits and preferences and in turn reduce our harmful ecological footprints.