I ate a steak last night. It was very good too. A thick, beautifully marbled slice of prime rib, beautifully seasoned and cooked, blushing pink. It came from Martin Player, a real butcher from Cardiff, who takes his meat, as well as the welfare of the animal, very seriously. Just like any other decent butcher.
Fed with grass, fully traceable and well hung, it was not only a fine taste, but also a first-class agricultural practice. Sensible, sustainable agriculture, where animal welfare is just as important as the impact on the environment.
Yet this beautiful piece of beef is no longer just dinner. Instead, it has become a pawn in the collective war against meat: a hysterical, ill-informed, one-size-fits-all attack that demonizes farmers, butchers and consumers alike. A weapon, if you want, of grass destruction.
Take the decision of the Cambridge University catering service to remove beef and lamb from its menus to reduce food-related carbon emissions. The head of the service, Nick White, claimed that this was because & # 39; sustainability is extremely important for our students and staff & # 39; and scientists have claimed that beef and lamb produce the most greenhouse gases.
This beautiful piece of beef is no longer just dinner. Instead, it has become a pawn in the collective war against meat
A few weeks ago, beef was also banned from Goldsmiths College cafeteria in London for the same reason, to "dramatically" reduce its carbon footprint.
But it's not just about the environment. I have little time for mindless attacks on vegans or vegetarians, but there is undoubtedly a creeping spread of anti-meat militancy. This week, the RSPCA vice-president – a vegan and co-founder of Animal Rebellion, an outgrowth of the environmental movement Extinction Rebellion – came forward after he called on animal rights activists to close Smithfield meat market in London .
Jane Tredgett, 52, was in charge of training activists in "non-violent direct action," while the group compared its efforts to the battle of Martin Luther King and the Suffragettes. Serious.
Every week seems to bring a new threat or outrage, where meat eaters are turned into social pariahs. Michael Mansfield, QC, a man who should know better, suggested last week that eating meat should be made illegal, thrown into prison with perpetrators. And he is not alone in his extreme (and in search of publicity) views.
Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, stated that meat eaters should be treated as smokers and placed outside of restaurants. Because meat is "bad for the planet and our health."
What now? Could meat become illegal, butchers forced to sell black pudding and chipolatas in back alleys and pubs? Custodial sentences for eating pork chops? Living for a leg of lamb? Do we have to eat meat at all?
The arguments against meat are so widespread, it's no wonder they seem overwhelming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that we must drastically reduce our meat consumption to save the planet. We must shift to & # 39; healthy and sustainable & # 39; food & # 39; based on coarse grains, legumes and vegetables, and nuts and seeds & # 39 ;. The EAT-Lancet Commission, set up to see how the world's growing population can eat healthy, sustainable food, goes even further. For three years, 37 scientists devised the ultimate "plant-focused" diet "for planetary health." They claim that this diet, which contains almost no meat, would & # 39; transform the future of the planet & # 39 ;. Below that we are not allowed more than one portion of red meat, a few portions of fish and a few eggs. Weekly.
It is an argument that meat is bad, plants are good. But not everything is so black and white. Far from.
Grassland absorbs carbon dioxide, but if we reduce the demand for these animals in the food chain, then this delicate balance will certainly change.
Many of the militants' reasons for dumping meat are in fact completely misleading. Because well-bred meat is not only fully sustainable, but also good for the environment and the economy. We should celebrate good agricultural practices, not condemn. There is no doubt that there are completely legitimate concerns about food production. For example, not all chickens are raised at the same time. On the one hand you have an old-fashioned free-range chicken, which is allowed to scratch and peck outside. Slow-growing, traditional varieties, bred for taste. On the other hand, the miserable, intensively bred bird, crammed into huge, smelly barns, with no more room than an A4 sheet of paper. Profit, not well-being, is the sole concern of the producer.
The same applies to intensively farmed pigs raised in cruelly restricted esophagus. We should save our fire and ammunition against the trail in this factory farming. The long-term costs of intensively farmed meat are enormously expensive, both for our health and for the environment. It follows that the best quality meat will always be more expensive than the cheap, imported stuff. British agricultural standards are among the highest in the world, another reason to buy British meat.
And it is important to acknowledge that, despite all the squabbling over carbon emissions, livestock farming can actually be good for the environment.
Grassland absorbs carbon dioxide, reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. Two thirds of the United Kingdom still consists of grassland and it is essential that it remains that way to retain the carbon in the soil. Currently, traditional grass-fed cattle and sheep, kept in low density, help maintain that status quo. But if we reduce the demand for these animals in the food chain, then this delicate balance will certainly change.
We are also often reminded of all the methane produced by cows and other ruminants. So isn't that harmful to the environment? There is a huge difference between the emissions of grain-fed cattle in American super lots and sustainably grown, grass-fed British cattle. Patrick Holden, CEO of The Sustainable Food Trust, explains: "The methane emissions from those ruminants are offset by the carbon gains in the soil."
He also points out that, in order to be useful for agriculture, arable land must go through a "fertility building phase" lasting three or four years, in which it is – necessarily – grazed with animals such as cows and sheep. The message is to lose those animals, and we are losing that ability to keep our agricultural land versatile and healthy.
Does this also mean – and more controversially – that you have to eat MORE beef to save the planet?
& # 39; Yes! & # 39; This is the emphatic response from Holden. "Traditional grass-fed beef and lamb can help maintain the bottom carbon bank."
I believe for years that the mantra eat less meat but eat better. It is certainly a good starting point. In the past 100 years there have been major changes in our diet. At the start of the 20th century, Holden notes, 80 percent of our dietary fats came from animal sources and only 20 percent from plants. Today it's the other way around.
What about intensively bred pigs raised in a cruelly enclosed squalor? We should save our fire and ammunition against the trail in this factory farming.
The surprising – and often overlooked – fact is this: the production of many of those vegetable fats can be just as environmentally unfriendly as those huge American intensive farms. According to Frédéric Leroy, professor of food sciences and biotechnology at the VUB in Brussels, a shift from animal products to "plant-based" scenarios can make things worse.
They can have huge implications that cause their own serious problem, including limiting the country's ability to grow more than one crop, depleting the top soil, using more fertilizers, the potential for nutritional deficiencies and the disruption of ecosystems, & # 39; argues Professor Leroy.
With regard to methane emissions, he continues, they are real, but must be put in perspective. "If a Westerner turns vegetarian or vegan, it leads to a reduction of just two to six percent of their carbon footprint, which is far from being the best thing one can do for the planet."
There are other, much more effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions – for example, by being less dependent on air travel.
Farmer and butcher Peter Hannan agrees. "Compared to our hunger for air travel alone, my cattle farm pales in insignificance."
What about the rest of us then? the responsible meat lovers, caught in the scientific and moral crossfire? Is it really necessary for vegan activists to spray fake blood around McDonald's? Or harangue and harassment butchers and farmers – even Waitrose – in real life and on social media?
Of course not. What happened to decency, common sense and the ability to listen to both sides of a debate? It is possible to eat meat and have the greatest respect for vegans and vegetarians. In fact, a few meat-free days a week is a good idea. So buy British and the best that you can afford. Trust your butcher. And also experiment with more unusual cuts. Eat good meat and save the planet. That is really a radical idea.
. (TagsToTranslate) Dailymail (t) debate