Meg’s Musings – Why I have a beef with the EAT-Lancet Commission

Cattle in field in summer

Cattle in field

The EAT-Lancet commission report was released this week, grandly entitled “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.”

This commission’s report promises to save the planet by transforming the food and agriculture sector by radically changing our diets. Globally. For everyone, wherever and whoever they may be.

Eye roll time. Here we go again. As a livestock farmer I am getting all too accustomed to being told that rearing animals, particularly cows is the reason our climate and environment is in jeopardy.

Apparently, cows do more harm to the planet than the oil and energy sector, industry, aviation and transport.

Bulls**t.

Because the sponsors of the report completely believe this narrative, this is the general feel of the paper. Meat bad. Plants good.

A deficient diet is healthy apparently

So, the EAT-lancet report has formulated a diet that has abolished red meat, or at least limited it to 7g per day, eggs to ¼ per day, chicken or fish to 28g per day.

Instead it suggests we must eat more vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, plant oils and many more grains. By doing so we’ll save vast tracts or land, nitrogen fertiliser, reduce methane production and save reservoirs full of water.

We will be healthier, our rates of mortality will drop by the millions and cancer rates will plummet.

Too good to be true?

Well of course it is. It’s the stuff of pipe dreams and unicorn tears. The vast majority of this report (47 pages) is made up of estimates, assumptions and predictions based on epidemiology studies. In short, they have tested a disease hypothesis in a lab to see how many people fit their predictions, not actual people in real life.

When they do cross reference studies that have tested actual living, breathing people in real life scenarios it inconveniently turns out that red meat is rather good for you, but these papers are dismissed, glossed over or barely mentioned.

Their reasons? Some of the studies have taken place in parts of the world that are significantly malnourished to start with, and the addition of red meat to those diets has improved health and mortality immeasurably, so they don’t count.

Ironically those malnourished people in the studies were consuming a diet similar to the one EAT-Lancet commission has just advised we all embrace….

But I am not a nutritionist, and despite the paper’s dietary recommendations alarming me, I’ll leave the nitty-gritty to the experts. As predicted, every response I have seen so far have been scathing at best and genuinely concerned for human health at worst. Thisarticle is the clearest cut and easiest to digest so far.

It’s the how not the cow

The section of this report that concerns me the most, (and others like it) is the vilification of the cow.

When did this noble beast become the scape goat (cow?) of human failings in creating climate change and the escalation of non-communicable diseases?

We are consuming less beef than we ever have but metabolic diseases and environmental degradation is escalating, so why are bovines to blame?

I can only assume that the large and obvious nature of a cow are inflammatory to those of a ‘plant-based’ bent. The vegan propaganda films, ‘Cowspiracy’, ‘Earthlings’ etc to name a few have skewed the debate, and the intensification and scaling up of beef farms in the USA have alarmed animal rights activists and environmentalists alike.

And they’re right to a certain degree.

Putting thousands, if not tens of thousands of cattle in a pen and pumping them full of corn is an abhorrent way to farm. Fed hormones, antibiotics and starchy grain to maximise growth rates and shorten time to killing weight is an environmental and animal welfare car crash. Cutting this sort of red meat out of people’s diets makes total sense. It is no good for anyone or anything.

But this isn’t the only way of rearing cows. In fact, despite the numbers in these horrible feedlots, it isn’t the normal way either.

The grass IS greener

In the UK, as is the case in many nations across the globe, the vast majority of cattle are reared on grass, even if they receive supplementary feeding these ‘concentrates’ tend to be waste products of the human food and oil seed industries- the pulp left from making beer, extracting vegetable oil, making plant ‘milks’. Feed that is not edible unless you have a rumen- a sophisticated digestive system evolved perfectly to utilise complex long-chain carbohydrates like cellulose and convert it into high quality, easily digestible protein. Packed full of iron, vitamin B12, omega 3, CLA etc etc.

But it is their utilisation of grass that is their true superpower (and that of sheep, deer and goats).

Roughly 40% of land use in the UK is grassland or semi-natural grassland. Grassland also makes up an important part of crop rotations, fertility building in-between cereal crops.

This use of grass is no accident, in a temperate climate grass grows at altitude, almost irrespective of topography. It tolerates drought and flood, protects and holds onto the soil, sequesters carbon and grows at a huge range of temperatures.

The most important part is that it grows from the base of the plant. It has coevolved with grazing animals to be eaten.

If recommendations were followed in the EAT-Lancet report and red meat was all but abolished, more land and resources for human food would not be suddenly made available as the report has wildly claimed.

Grass grows where cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruit and nuts cannot. Without utilising cattle and sheep to graze these areas and subsequently enter the food chain, we become more nutrient deficient, unable to produce enough complete protein from plants to feed our population.

As Sustainable Dish eloquently point out, ‘cattle upcycle nutrients’ taking inedible cellulose and converting it into food we have evolved to eat.

But cattle play another role.

Holistic land managers

Their grazing, if managed correctly and holistically and where artificial fertilisers aren’t used, stimulates the plants they eat to regenerate, increasing root mass, growing more leaves and locking up carbon. Their hoof prints break the sward, allowing wildflowers to germinate in the pockets of exposed soil. Their manure completes their nutrient cycle, returning vital minerals and elements to the soil to stimulate plant growth, and attracting insects, and consequently birds and mammals to their pasture to exploit the feeding grounds.

Cows are creators of biodiversity, generators of fertiliser, a fundamental component of the carbon cycle and crucial to the health of pastures and grasslands, marshes and moors, as well as an important way for increasing soil fertility in-between cereal crops.

The commission’s report does identify that the production of artificial fertilisers is hugely polluting and energy hungry, and its overuse is causing eutrophication, ozone production, soil degradation and the decrease in plant nutrient carrying capabilities, but does not see that the use of organic farming practices like crop rotation, composting, agroforestry and other agroecological techniques and above all else, LIVESTOCK- particularly cows all have the power to abolish or hugely reduce its use.

Plant-based is not planet-friendly

Unfortunately this does not fit with the ‘plant-based’ utopia they are trying to promote, so instead it recommends more precision farming in the developed world to reduce fertiliser use to allow the developing world to use more…. This is one of the many bizarre suggestions in the report loosely disguised as ‘sustainable intensification’.

The promotion of seeds, nuts and vegetables would unfortunately increase both chemical and water use. Thirsty vegetables and salad crops have been responsible for ground water depletion in countries that have the climate to grow them more consistently than the UK can.

Almeria in Spain is predominantly under glass and plastic to satiate Europe’s desire for out of season fruit and vegetables. If this demand were to increase as people look to plants to provide protein in place of meat, these alien and chemical laden areas would expand, and the environment, biodiversity and the climate would suffer.

The volume of plants that must be consumed to plug the gap left by red meat is frankly frightening and unobtainable.

Cows Vs chickens

The strangest thing of all is the assumption by the report that cows eat human food. 90% of everything cows eat are inedible for humans.

They are NOT stealing our food.

In place of beef and lamb people are turning to pork, fish and chicken in particular. These animals seem to elicit less planetary guilt than cows and sheep do.

But pig and chickens are monogastrics. They have similar needs to us in terms of dietary input. The grain and soy imported from all over the world for animal feed goes to feed pigs and chickens predominantly. That is a crisis. But chicken gets the green light as a sustainable protein source with a small environmental footprint.

Pardon?

Billions of chickens raised every year eating millions of tonnes of human food is seen as sustainable?

This madness is echoed throughout the report.

I know what many holistic, organic, regenerative, compassionate farmers know: Cows are part of the solution for the future of food, not the problem….

Vested interests

Unless of course you’re in the business of growing, fertilising, distributing and utilising cereal.

In which case a global diet that recommends an increased consumption of grains, palm oil, soy and monocrops is good news.

Not that I’m a cynical farmer but the Eat-Lancet commission report is bank-rolled by a multi-millionaire vegan animal rights activist who spends her life jetting around the globe to amazing destinations in her own plane and telling the rest of us mere mortals to follow a ‘plant-based diet’ to save the planet.

The EAT movement is part of the FReSH network, a group of multinational companies that all have fingers in the ‘sustainable development’ pie and are well placed to exploit the ‘plant-based’ trend. Among its members are Unilever (just launched 700 vegan product lines), Syngenta (seeds, pesticides, ‘big Ag’), Barilla (pasta), Kelloggs (cereals), Danone (processed foods) and PepsiCo (processed food) to name but a few.

What we’re witnessing here is a global, industry led push to abolish the ultimate sustainable food source: livestock, in order to push hyper processed, cheap, environmentally damaging, mass produced ‘food’ on the masses in the name of ‘planetary boundaries’ and ‘healthy diets’.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing

Not an analogy they would appreciate, but the vegan movement and propaganda is the front man for control of the food chain by the globe’s largest corporations.

The cow is their chosen fall guy but I for one will not stand by quietly while this ludicrous movement gains traction.

I strongly believe, no – I KNOW that livestock reared ethically and sensitively within their natural habitats are the future of our healthy planet.

I shall have my beef and eat it. I suggest you do too.

About the author: I’m Meg, an opinionated farmer’s wife, who is passionate about animal welfare, the environment and wholesome food.

Meg

Gove continues to lack clarity on Agriculture Bill

ORFC 2019 Gove

While the organisers of the Oxford Real Farming Conference welcome the Rt. Honorable Michael Gove MP and thank him for his forthright session at ORFC 2019, there is some frustration on the continued lack of clarity on the role of agroecology (including organic) within the Agriculture Bill.

The session – entitled “The future of farming: Brexit and Beyond” was held on Thursday 3 January, and chaired by Kerry McCarthy MP for Bristol East and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology – saw frank questioning from the attendees and upfront responses from the Defra Secretary.

Colin Tudge, ORFC co-founder said: “While Mr Gove says all the right things and is enthusiastically knowledgeable on a wide variety of issues that are important to the ORFC, he remains difficult to pin down on vital details, such as why agroecology and organic farming continue to be omitted from the Agriculture Bill, despite widespread support for its inclusion and his personal support for the environmental protections whole-farm systems bring.”

During the session, Kerry McCarthy MP asked the question on everyone’s minds: What assurances do farmers have that Mr Gove’s commitments to sustainable farming will be upheld if there are no references within the Bill?

The Environment Secretary responded: “One of the ways we think it’s possible to get the Bill on the statute book relatively rapidly is by making it clear we are not attempting – in this government – to dictate what every future government should do in terms of agricultural support.”

There was a recent amendment tabled in November 2018 which, among other linked issues, called for an overt reference to agroecology, particularly with regards to the idea of whole farm agroecological systems.

For conference participants, the question remains – does Defra see the mere mention of agroecology or organic farming as a barrier to passing the Agriculture Bill quickly?

Agroecology and organic farming provides the type of sustainability and resilience vital for a safer future. Mr. Gove offered assurances that initiatives such as the 25 Year Environment Plan and the Climate Change Act will champion these practices. However, participants do not believe these assurances offer enough clarity on the incentives, support and enforcement required.

Originally published by ORFC. For further information……click on full article link. 

For further information……click on full article link. 

Credit: Oxford Real Farming Conference. (Image: Hugh Warwick)

Full article: http://orfc.org.uk/gove-continues-to-lack-clarity-on-agriculture-bill/

Meg’s Musings – Lifting the Fog at Organic Congress

Recently I swapped wellies and waterproofs for something a little smarter and set off at some ungodly hour into the Midlands to Dunchurch Park Hotel, which was hosting Organic Congress 2018.

It was great to see so many old and new faces, all eager to get stuck in to the varied programme which was a two-day feast for a mostly redundant brain like mine; the poor old thing being mainly fogged up by toddler life and cattle these days.

I was there with two hats on: the first as an organic livestock farmer – keen to learn more about advances made in health, welfare and forage utilisation; and the second as part of the exciting new venture – Whole Health Agriculture (WHAg).

The conference was the official launch of WHAg, and as a guest blogger for them, it was great to hear the team put into words what ‘whole health’ concepts and practices in farming really mean. Chairman Lawrence Woodward set the tone, putting the WHAg vision into words at a drinks reception on day one. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that the promise of wine and nibbles lured the crowds in initially but once he was waxing lyrically about the true meaning of ‘whole health’, the room was captivated and stayed put through some lively discussion!

The underlying concept of organic farming is that the health of the soil, plants, animals and man is one and invisible- and I think this concept gets lost in the melee sometimes, focusing on maybe a few aspects that really matter to farmers and the public within that moment.

I really feel that WHAg has evolved to get back to the roots of organic farming- putting ‘health’ back at the heart of the conversation. That health is not a ‘state’, it is a dynamic process that has many influences, but perhaps vitality, an unmeasurable concept, from holistic farming practices is really what defines it. It’s a slightly abstract thought, and one that got under my skin over the course of the conference.

By listening to the guest farmers from a variety of farm types, there was a recurrent theme; observation and gut instinct are worth more to a farmer practicing holistic/organic/biodynamic farming or gardening than any metric.

This is so refreshing to hear, and a relief to know that there are others out there that feel the same as we do.

I saw as many sessions as I could, spoke and listened to academics, gardeners, farmers, politicians and marketers- all passionate about their field of expertise and their enthusiasm catching.

Agricology kindly recorded all of the sessions, so I was able to tap into the ones I’d missed once I got home, becoming enthused all over again about Silvopasture, herbal lets, homeopathy and soil health.

I got back to our farm and at first light headed out to look at our cattle still out under winter skies amongst the trees of the parkland; I’m pretty sure our cattle have vitality – but there is always room for improvement.

I think I’ve got the Whole Health Ag bug now. Thanks for a great congress – I can safely say the grey matter is emerging from the toddler fog!

About the author: I’m Meg, an opinionated farmer’s wife, who is passionate about animal welfare, the environment and wholesome food.

Meg

Meg’s Musings – Is This Farming as it Should Be?

meg with her dog and child

Hi, I’m Meg, an opinionated farmer’s wife, who is passionate about animal welfare, the environment and wholesome food. Also mum to an adventurous toddler, Oscar – I juggle keeping him alive and entertained alongside working and helping out on the farm – (which you can read to mean interfering!)

My husband, Dale, and I, – and no doubt countless others, – are farming to a standard far in excess of any available certification and yet we have no way of communicating that to consumers, nor we do we get recognition for it – and that’s a scary thought. Enter stage left Whole Health Agriculture with a definition of holistic farming as it should be. They got my attention, and  –  happily – I got theirs, so you will be hearing from me regularly via blogs, articles and videos etc.

A Bit About Me

We moved here to the Peak District while I was still on maternity leave from my much loved job as Conservation and Education officer at Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire. There I ran school and educational visits, teaching about organic and holistic farming, food provenance, and the importance of working hand in hand with nature to create wholesome food. For two years prior to this I worked for the Sheepdrove Trust on campaign projects about genetic modification, which also taught me a lot about food chains, provenance and trust (or lack of) in the food industry.

While our move up to the Peaks was brilliant for my hubby, – a career move from farm foreman to farm manager, – for me, leaving behind friends, an area and a job I loved, and now stuck at home with a baby, staring out of the window at the driving rain (it does that a lot here!) – it was a wake-up call. The job opportunities for a woman coming off maternity leave with a background in holistic farm education and conservation are like rocking horse poo – rare at best!

And so, when I was invited to join the Whole Health Agriculture community, it was a no-brainer on many levels.

Hand Knitted Yoghurts

We weren’t always ‘hand-knitted yogurts’ as my mother calls us! My husband came late to the farming party; although I have farmers in my family, Dale has an urban background, qualifying in motor mechanics before going on to run catering establishments. Not exactly a rural grounding.

But when we got together we decided that we wanted a change, so Dale scraped together bits of dairy experience, using my farming friends to get a foot in the door and after what seemed like 1000 job applications, a contact of a friend (always the way) agreed to take him on as an apprentice- and the rest is history.

Dale’s path was probably set by the three elderly brothers who took him on. Each brother had a different approach, but the eldest was the most influential, using cues from nature to determine when to apply slurry, how to judge what and how much food each cow needed, and avoiding metabolic, hormonal and lameness problems by basically letting cows be cows.

For us, it was a natural progression into organic farming, but the farm we ended up on next was only into organics for the economic safety net it gave the business. They flouted rules and bent the standards to fit their conventional model and we only stuck it out for 8 months. I had a theory that their repeated TB breakdowns were linked to their poor way of treating the land and the animals in their ‘care’.

We’d got the holistic/organic bug by now, though, and our next move, to one of the biggest organic mixed farms in the country, Sheepdrove, was a no brainer. This was much closer to how we imagined organic farming to be – high welfare, wildlife and habitat focused, zero input and we loved it. It still had its issues but we felt we were on the right path. My job of Conservation and Education Officer dovetailed brilliantly with Dale’s role as farm foreman. Conservation measures were upheld and improved, probably because I became a banshee if I thought my bumblebee transects or pockets of Devil’s Bit Scabious were about to be jeopardised by marauding cows or over-enthusiastic hay making!

With charitable funding I also managed to get on-farm surveys and research carried out by some of the country’s leading experts in insects, barn owls, harvest mice, bees, fungi, worms and birds, and their findings cemented my belief that farming both holistically and profitably IS possible.

The Challenges of Whole Health Farming

After five years at Sheepdrove, and with a new baby, our little family left for a soggy organic beef farm in the Peak District; in sole charge of it this time and determined to do things the way we feel they should be done.

However, we are still being hampered by restrictive rules and a lack of cohesive and common-sense approaches to regulating farms and/or supporting them. This farm has been organic for over 30 years and fully under Higher Level Stewardship for the last ten. There is little cohesion between the two policies. Being organic and under HLS should be the holy grail for how farms should be managed and funded but there are holes in the regulation, or the rules for HLS are so restrictive that, actually, biodiversity and welfare suffers.

My husband and I have simple objectives, honed from our varied experience on very different farms. Firstly, the importance of welfare and behaviour; the two are inextricably linked. If your approach to farming livestock is guided by the behaviour of the very animals in your care, their welfare should be taken care of. An understanding of herd interactions and the power of observation should not be underestimated.

Secondly, improving biodiversity and pasture health. We don’t use any external inputs and are keen to learn as much as we can about the diversity of grasses and herbs and the benefits they can bring to soil and livestock health.

The biggest change we have made to the plant and pasture health of the farm, and consequently the cattle health has been the use of rotational grazing. (More on this later!) Our biodiversity is improving slowly- but more to be done.

The biggest reason for sticking with organic farming for us is the avoidance of chemicals and routine drug use. We still use far more than I would like (for treating blowfly on the sheep and fluke in the cattle) and we’re looking for ways to avoid/limit this in the future. We have already cut down flukicide hugely just by managing pasture and water cleanliness but the aim is to abolish completely.

I’m a strong believer that the health of your environment directly influences your own health and the health of the animals in your care. You are what you eat. It should, therefore, be obvious that you are also what your food eats . . shouldn’t it? And that, if you are organic, this goes without saying . . .

It’s Organic, Jim, but Not as We Know it!

When we first arrived here I was massively frustrated by the lack of organic farms in this area – there are a few but they are not abundant and are mostly dairy and, even ours had, for years, been managed by people who believed farming organically was just a way to make more money but with irritating hurdles. There was a mind-set of ‘but we’ve always done it like this’ and suspicion of anything new. The conservation measures put in place by the farm owner were seen by the farm staff as ‘anti-farming’; something to be attempted half-heartedly to tick boxes.

And then there was the attitude of the farm vets. We’d only been here two weeks when one of the vet partners came to introduce herself, and spent an hour boasting about how she’d got the measure of the Soil Association, and could get a derogation for anything, any drug that we wanted. I was shocked at first and then furious.

This is obviously a much larger problem. It stems from a complete arrogance and lack of understanding from the vets and a total reluctance and/or ignorance of holistic farming methods from farmers/stockmen.

Why isn’t this being picked up on?

It seems being Organic is not as Organic as should be.

And if I have questions about the way food is produced- what hope does the general public have?

I intend to find out . . . .  watch this space!

About the author: I’m Meg, an opinionated farmer’s wife, who is passionate about animal welfare, the environment and wholesome food.

Meg