The Veganism Question
We recently travelled westwards to attend the inaugural Wales Real Food & Farming Conference in Aberystwyth. The conference was born out of the Oxford Real Farming Conference, itself a product of the Campaign for Real Farming and the Slow Food Movement. It was a gathering of innovators and forward thinking players from the organic and sustainable farming movement, so we were excited to be representing Three Pools at such an occasion. The focus of discussion and enquiry centred on how we can transition to a truly sustainable farming system that improves public and environmental health whilst increasing the quality of food produced.
The most significant message for me which I took home was a deeper understanding of the vegan issue. It’s great that people are waking up to the connection between sustainability and the food they eat. Livestock management is, in many cases, irrevocably linked with this. Slurry management, antibiotic use and the ethics of intensive livestock systems need scrutiny. BUT, in the UK context, veganism - or anti red meat movement - can be something of a misdirection.
Food sovereignty and food security, in a Welsh (and UK) context has small scale family farmers at its heart. Meat grown on grass is a very sustainable way of producing meat, and produces healthy meat, often on ground which is largely unsuitable (quality or slope) for plant based food systems. The focus of healthy diets should be on fresh, unprocessed and biodiverse food.
The age of processed, substitute faux-meats is a dream come true for big food companies. They are neither healthy nor sustainable. They are symptomatic of corporate America taking control of yet another aspect of people’s lives. They have hijacked the sustainability and farming issue and found a way to monetise it for themselves. The issue that needs to be discussed is sustainable production methods vs unsustainable production methods; NOT meat vs vegan.
Grain fed meat, such as intensively reared chicken, has lower associated carbon emissions and water consumption per animal than pasture reared red meat. This is a very narrow measure of sustainability. In reality, intensive, grain fed meat is less sustainable than pasture raised equivalents (chemicals and land area in grain production, faeces management of intensive sheds, antibiotic use in intensive conditions etc...). It seems however that making the public sufficiently informed about this complex argument is a struggle in the face reductive, emotive blame-gaming.
In arable farming, if it’s done using organic principles, then animals are fundamental in terms of managing fertility. It’s widely recognised that pesticide and herbicide use is driving the destruction of biodiversity and natural systems. Insect numbers have collapsed in rural areas and with that (alongside other management issues) farmland birds have declined hugely. Artificial fertiliser is a significant contributor to air pollution (ammonia), carbon emissions and water pollution. As an alternative older seed varieties, which aren’t as specialised as to require chemical inputs, can be used in collaboration with livestock to form part of a much more sustainable, environmental, healthy, food producing system.
Here at Three Pools we are able to approach the question on veganism from a pragmatic standpoint. As farmers in the 21st century, our environmental responsibilities have never been more important, given how much we know about the relationship between human behaviour and climate change. We believe that livestock management is key to a truly sustainable and diverse farming system, whilst recognising and condemning the perils of intensively farmed meat and its resultant effects of the environment.