The very title of this talk, given by Hugh Warmington on 15 July 2022, was challenging and was, as expected, challenged by several climate change supporters.
In actual fact it was a thought-stimulating, action-provoking talk, and ranks among the best QE has put on. It laid a balanced, well explained and illustrated road map to do exactly what it says – eat meat and save the Planet.
Hugh’s premise was that industrial agriculture was one of the most destructive industries we have, even more so than coal mining; and as such, was certainly not good for the Planet. He advocated regenerative agriculture as being the best solution for both the climate change crisis and human health.
He explained that low intensity, organic regenerative agriculture pays great rewards because it involves minimum soil disturbance, conserves living root systems, and fosters their symbiosis with the rich mycorrhiza beneath the surface.
Regenerative agriculture plays a most important part in the rearing of cattle as it recycles nutrients, provides just enough soil disturbance to enrich the soil, and helps the photosynthetic process produce sustainable green pastures. This increases carbon in the soil, and that contributes to addressing climate change. It is, he maintained, the only method that can sustain a community, economy or nation.
It contrasts starkly with recent methods of ploughing land to grow grain which is then used as animal feed. Such feed not only has long supply chains, often extending to the Amazon; but also leads to the muddy water running down your lane and into our rivers. Evidence of how industrial farming causes nutrient rich soil to be washed away, only to be replaced by artificial fertilizers. No plough avoids such high-cost inputs and reduces carbon emissions.
Producing beef from cattle reared on regenerated pastures works in harmony with Nature. It is a process that has been used on the Planet’s grasslands, prairies and steppes for millennia – think bison, wildebeest.
It is a natural, cyclical process by which herds perform high intensity, mob grazing in one area; deposit natural fertiliser while doing so; and move on to new areas as grazed areas regenerate, ready for their return some time in the future. As the herd feeds and moves around it tramples decaying matter into the soil, fertilising it and helping store CO2 in the ground. The herd acts not only as mower, but also as fertiliser, trampler, decompactor, and inoculator for its offspring.
This age-old method results in a superb carbon sink, more fertile pastures and healthier animals; and that in turn explains why beef derived from such animals has been proven to be more nutritious than grain-fed beef.
A kilo of grass-fed beef has three times more Omega-3 and conjugated linoleic acid than a kilo of lot-fed beef. It is also richer in vitamins A and E. It will, in a balanced diet, help lower blood pressure; reduce the risk of heart disease, depression, and cancer. Grain-fed beef is on the other hand, is higher in overall fat and in artery-clogging saturated fat. (Editor – and, it doesn’t taste as good!).
Hugh’s conclusion was “It’s not the cow, but the how!”. He encouraged us to eat meat, but less of it; and to buy meat that is produced locally using organic, regenerative methods. He recognised that to move away from industrialised to regenerative farming and its associated diets, will require huge cultural change.
So, “It’s not the cow, but the how!” And that begs the question “How can we all pull together to make the quantum cultural change that is needed?.
Hominoids have been eating meat for over 2.6 million years, ever since homo erectus stood up, looked over the top of the tall grass and spied that succulent mammoth. Anthropologists say the result was that erectus developed a bigger brain and went on to become sapiens, while the herbivores remained in the trees. Is that not a good reason for not giving it up?
The USA, the lead influencer of the 20th century, is the largest producer of beef on the Planet; but 96% of its production is lot-fed. That not only affects the nutritional value of the final product, but also employs huge swaths of ploughed, re-ploughed and artificially fertilised land for the production of feed. Is that not a waste of resources?
One can understand why it is a favoured method – producers turn their capital over three times a year as opposed to one (if that) for pasture fed production. Profit is the driver, and wins again! Can we really ask producers to invest for a lesser return?
To add to that conundrum, is not the principal problem that there are too many of us? Eight billion on a Planet that can only sustain four and half billion. Is it not understandable that those who have not been able to afford beef for decades should aspire to have it as their income increases?
What is the right balance?