Should we eat meat?

Andy Bragg of West Town Farm argues that his way of farming can be part of the solution to climate change

Should we eat meat at all if we want to do the best for the planet? I am a Devon farmer and I believe we should. I think that some meat in our diet is healthy. If farmed traditionally or as prescribed by the Pasture for Life group of farmers carbon sequestration can take place and therefore the harmful effects of livestock can be mitigated and more. I think the way that we farm here at West Town Farm can be part of the solution to global warming, not part of the problem.

One of the problems with the argument against meat eating is the assumption that all meat production is the same – all bad.

I agree that there are huge environmental problems caused by feeding grain to livestock, whether on Argentinian / US feed-lots or closer to home in the UK. But here in Devon we do things differently, and some of us do them very differently.

My fields are situated just west of Ide, Exeter. Much of the land is hilly, those rolling Devon hills. Yup. There is little else that I can do with this land other than grow pasture, which means the most efficient way of turning pasture into a living is by keeping livestock, in my case organic beef and lamb.

My Dad grew a crop of swedes once on some of the lovely steep red land, about 50 years ago. It produced amazing swedes but on this ground it is not sustainable to plough many times because one heavy shower of rain and about 100 tons of soil ends up in the valley bottom. The pasture needs to be there to hold the soil together. The same goes for much of the moorlands of the SW. My Dad injured himself turning a tractor over on the steep ground, illustrating vividly how unsuitable this land is for arable farming and all the machinery it uses.

West Town Farm is a member of the Pasture Fed Livestock Association( PFLA).–see website.

We are a group of 358 farmers throughout the UK. We produce beef, lamb and dairy products from animals that are reared throughout their lives on a diet that is 100% pasture. Pasture means a mixture of grasses, herbs and wild flowers. There are approximately 60 of those farms that have been certified to sell pasture fed products, West Town Farm being one of them. I think that I should give the animals the best life possible whilst they are on the farm. That’s why we are organic and why they only ever eat grass, herbs and wild flowers form our pastures.

We have about 40 mother cows on the farm, they are Hereford cross. The calves stay with their Mums for about 9 months and then they are weaned off. The Hereford breed of cattle are a traditional breed. They have been around for centuries. They are particularly adapted to the way that we farm here. They can flourish on our pastures. They convert pasture into meat very efficiently and, unlike some other breeds, don’t need grains to supplement their diet which means the “supply chain” of our meat is extremely local and sustainable.

The UK does already produce much of its dairy, beef and lamb from grassland. Our geography is such that in the western part of the UK much of the agricultural land is grassland. Dartmoor, Exmoor, and most of our lowlands in the west are grasslands. Of the UK’s 43 million acres of agricultural land 16 million is arable and 27 million is grassland. It would be irresponsible to plough even more of our grasslands into crops. Ploughing the soil is not good for it, harming the millions of living organisms inside each square inch of soil: bacteria, earthworms, nematodes, insects, fungi… Imagine all that life being completely upset and turned upside down every year. It would take months to recover from the turmoil plus carbon is released into the atmosphere. MASSIVE!!

What we do need to do is stop growing grains to feed to animals. The chicken industry is a classic example of how it’s gone so wrong both for the chickens and the planet. To be able to produce chicken from a live animal in 42 days is not normal; a chicken that is grown inside a shed where it never sees daylight, scrabbles around in its own faeces, has legs hardly strong enough to hold its own weight, because we humans have bred chicken only as efficient food converters; The food that they eat is made from grains e.g soya transported from half way across the planet and grown with pesticides, diesel and fertilisers that pollute the soils and air that we breathe – also grains grown in this country from conventional systems using again vast amounts of diesel. Our transport systems subsidise this system. Our farming systems subsidise these practices. They are not sustainable – for more on this see Professor Dieter Helm’s work on natural capital.

Traditionally chickens have always been fed on kitchen waste, less “efficient” in terms of fast growth, but far more sustainable.

The PFLA are embarking on a study to try and prove the benefits of pasture farming, in conjunction with many organisations including Natural England and the University of Lancaster (see SEEGSLIP).

To understand more about veganism versus meat eating see here

When you buy a mass produced burger in one of the supermarkets or burger chains of Exeter you have no idea where that meat comes from.

But if you buy from a locally supplied butcher, or direct from the farmer, we can tell you how that meat is produced. What you choose to buy can make a difference.

To learn more about what we do at the farm go to link below.

West Town Farm