In 2019 we witnessed numerous attacks on livestock farming. 2020 looks set to follow suit. The future of our beautiful countryside and the well-being of those that live & work in it depends on a fightback.
At the end of last year, the University of East Anglia attempted to ban beef on campus. During a vote held of the Students’ Union council, a small number of students voted to have it scrapped from the menu. The resistance from concerned students and local farmers was immediate & robust. Thankfully, a larger number of students banded together to vote for it to be reinstated. The vote passed.
We saw Cambridge University attempt to argue that banning red meat from its campus was the best way to cut down on carbon emissions. After submitting an FOI request to inquire about how many flights its staff had been on over 3.5 years, it became clear this was not the case. The FOI found that any savings made in CO2 emissions in relation to cutting red meat, were massively dwarfed by excessive flights annually to numerous far flung destinations. Evidently, the University has left itself open to accusations of hypocrisy.
Tomorrow, Monday 9th February, we will learn whether students at the University of Edinburgh have voted to ban beef. Students there have said the University purchase mainly local, pasture-fed beef, making the case to ban it on environmental grounds even more baffling.
Perhaps most troubling of all for UK farmers was a heavily anti-meat BBC One documentary entitled ‘Meat: A Threat To Our Planet?’ in December. The 60-minute programme on meat production focused entirely on the impact of farming systems in North and South America, without any consideration for the entirely different systems used for British meat production. It made no differentiation between the industrial farming systems in the US and Brazil, which it visited, and the mainly grass-fed systems here in Britain, which it did not. It was only revealed after its airing, that the documentary makers had cut a vital section in which the benefits of British grazing systems were explained.
Farmers banded together to do all they could to point out the stark differences between the British system and the ones focused on in the production, via social media. However, with the election dominating the news headlines at the time, the documentary didn’t receive the full scrutiny and criticism it deserved.
Recent reports in the media have, however, started to highlight genuine concerns from scientists on the effects of full plant-based diets.
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics have raised concern over consumers overlooking the health implications of meat-free/ fake meat alternatives; many of which have incredibly high salt content. Clever marketing behind the product which alludes to ‘clean’, green’ and slaughter free’, means people could assume it is somehow healthier than the real deal.
The choice to go full plant-based is a personal one and not something I would wish to criticise. I do, however, see it as a duty to defend UK livestock farmers, who work round the clock to produce sustainable, quality and ethical produce from attacks.
Now that we have left the European Union, we need to making the case for buying British produce, with a big emphasis on red meat. The Countryside Alliance has called on the government to adopt much bolder labeling schemes; backing UK farmers and helping consumers understand exactly where their food has been reared and slaughtered.
As we embrace 2020, we must all continue to be vigilant and push the case for supporting sustainable, grass-fed red meat, by highlighting the very commendable work by UK farmers and the National Farmers Union (NFU) to achieve net zero by 2040.
UK farmers are a solution to environmental problems, not the cause.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher is a political commentator and a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance.