Tag Archives: environmental issues

Guy’s Newsletter: ruminating on protein

“Dad, how can you call yourself an environmentalist, and still sell meat?”. First one daughter, then the other, then even my previously carnivorous sons joined in. Their epiphany was brought on by the documentary Cowspiracy; it is smug, irritating and outrageously one-sided in its selection of evidence and ends with an unjustified and ill-considered swipe at Greenpeace. However, despite my irritation, I would agree (uncomfortably for someone selling meat) that no thinking person can reasonably claim to be an environmentalist, or even a humanist, while continuing to eat more than very small amounts of animal protein; most forms of animal agriculture are simply wrecking our planet.

Climate change-wise the arguments are complex, involving ruminant methane emissions, deforestation for grazing and soya production, methane and nitrous oxide emitting manure heaps and soil, intensive versus extensive farming methods and more. As our planet is so diverse in soils, topography, ecology, diet and agricultural methods, it’s unwise to be dogmatic anyway. However, after weeks scouring scientific papers, we have reached the following initial conclusions:

  • Livestock agriculture contributes 10-12% of manmade climate change; arguably as much as every car, plane, truck and ship on the planet.
  • Livestock agriculture is grossly inefficient and requires 5-10 times more land to feed ourselves than a vegan diet; there just isn’t enough land to go round. OK it’s not that simple; there may well be a credible argument for animals grazing permanent pastures on land unsuited for growing crops for humans, to produce high quality, high welfare meat and dairy, as with most organic farming, but we will have to eat much less of it.

Alongside this are all the health, animal welfare, pollution and antibiotic resistance arguments against eating meat; hard to quantify, but very real. There will be exceptions, but the general conclusion is inescapable; for the good of us and our planet, we must collectively eat much less animal protein. Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring the issue and suggesting ways to nudge any committed carnivores away from some of their meat. I hope you’ll feel compelled to join us.

Guy Watson

Visit www.riverford.co.uk/how-much-meat to join the debate, take our ‘drop a day’ pledge, browse meat-minimising recipes and do our survey.

Rules, slogans, emotional engagement + philosophy

There is no denying it; the organic market is on the slide. The rate of decline may have slowed from about 15% last year to perhaps 8% (depends on what you are measuring) but it is still slipping. The reason for organic’s fall from favour, according to marketing pundits quoted in last week’s Grocer magazine, is that we have failed to communicate a simple, emotionally engaging message.

Another way of putting it is that we have been too honest and perhaps too ambitious in wanting to solve all the world’s problems. Environmental and ethical issues are never simple. Organic farming embraces more than can be squeezed into a soundbite: the balance of wildlife and biodiversity benefits, animal welfare, absence of pesticide residues in our food, reduced CO2 emissions, severe restrictions on additives and arguably flavour and nutritional quality is just too much to convey in one snappy slogan.

Single issue products, whether fair trade, free range, “pesticide-free” or local, have proved easier to sell, despite their silence on other issues. For example a “free range” chicken may spend next to no time outside, be kept in a shed the size of an aircraft hangar, in a sea of mud with tens of thousands of others at a stocking density double that allowed by the Soil Association, be routinely de-beaked and fed antibiotics. Its rations will be produced with the aid of pesticides and fertilisers but none of this is a barrier to conveying a simple emotionally engaging message. In marketing terms, it takes too many words to explain that organic poultry offers so much more.

I would never claim that organic farming is the only answer, but after twenty five years of unceasingly questioning what we do, I am convinced that it comes closer than anything else. Organic is better regulated and has stood the test of time (since 1946), whilst other wannabe brands and claims have come and gone. Our complex proposition may be hard to convey, but that is because it has so much more to offer. We have our book of rules but behind them is a philosophical commitment, shared by farmers and customers, to finding a better way to happily coexist with 7 billion others without destroying the planet we share; probably too much for a simple marketing slogan but ultimately more durable.

Guy Watson from Riverford in Devon