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By Rosewood Farm, May 30 2018 03:02AM

The Guardian revealed yesterday that 'industrial-scale beef farming comes to the UK', and it's likely that this kind of reporting will lead to some people reducing their consumption of beef - but is that really the best solution?

Scenes like these will no doubt elicit strong feelings from the public about the welfare of animals contained within these 'feedlot' style rearing systems, but I tend to think that everyone is missing a trick. It may be that animals prefer to be in grass fields with hedgerows and trees for shelter, or they may actually enjoy having their food delivered to them in concentrated, grain form. Proponents of more industrial systems like to point to the fact that management can be better on a large farm that is able to monitor animals more closely and even partake in regular veterinary checks to ensure high welfare. As we cannot ask the animals which system they prefer, that argument is likely to run & run.

However, whilst we waste our time debating whether a cow prefer grass or corn, there is another factor that we cannot ignore - the effect that more industrial farming systems have upon our wildlife. Now, I'm a big fan of everyone eating more beef in order to save our wildlife, but I also stress that we need to be sure that the beef we eat does actually help to preserve declining wildflower meadows, and doesn't speed up their decline.

Recently I wrote about the plight of the Curlew, and if you have read the book that I recommended in the blog, Curlew Moon, you will already know about the effect that rapidly intensifying farming is having on birds such as the Curlew & Corncrake over in Ireland. The country the main source of UK beef imports & much of this beef supplies supermarkets & fast food outlets. Figures from the AHDB show that in 2016 the UK imported 263,500 tonnes of beef & veal, a massive 22% of our total consumption!

It's often suggested that increased industrial farming is driven by a greater demand for meat, but when we take a look at the long term figures for the UK we see that each of us are now eating 24% less beef than we were in 1961. Even accounting for the increased population we are still eating 11% less beef as a country. So if we are being told to eat less meat, is this actually contributing to more industrial farming? I think so.

The problem with eating less is that, with lower demand, the price of meat drops and farmers have to produce it ever more cheaply. As identified by The Guardian report, this indutsrialisation is driven by cost, not volume, and the less we eat, the more intensive farming must become to survive, with even less money leftover to make provision for wildlife.

People say to me that farms like Rosewood simply can't produce enough grassfed beef sustainably to feed the world at current levels. My response is always - not if we don't try to! I think that to encourage farmers to produce beef the Rosewood way we need to demand more, not less, grassfed beef. If we can produce it then everyone, including our wildlife, is happy. But what happens if we can't produce that much? Well, the demand would then exceed the supply so the market price is forced up and people eat less as a consequence - it's a real win-win scenario.

Eating less beef may be a consequence of a move to more sustainable production systems, but it is certainly not a prerequisit and buying less does nothing to encourage farmers to change. I also believe it is highly damaging to tell people to eat less because those most receptive to that message are already supporting farms like ours - a double blow on the back of low prices.

Rosewood Farm; when we say 'grassfed' we mean from birth to beef!
Rosewood Farm; when we say 'grassfed' we mean from birth to beef!

As a small farm selling all our own produce we do receive a higher price than if we took our animals to the local livestock market, however we lack the economies of scale that large retailers enjoy. Our customers, too, receive more individual attention, which all comes at an extra cost. I'm pleased to report that our sales are up by 27% year-on-year in 2018 BUT we're also serving more customers with the average spend decreasing which pushes up the cost of selling by one fifth!

I understand that not everyone can afford to eat Rosewood beef every day, but there are a few things you can do to help us out & keep industrial farming at bay;

1. Buy in bulk; the more you spend at once time, the lower our costs

2. Do more home cooking; buying a joint to slice up for sandwiches througout the week - you'll save money and avoid industrially produced meat

3. Return the packaging; not only does reusing our shipping boxes reduce waste, it also saves us money!

4. Share this blog with your friends - word of mouth is our best endorsement, and is our cheapest way to advertise!

Thank you.

By Rosewood Farm, Jan 7 2016 11:56PM

This might not be what you were expecting me to blog about this month but when asked (it's one of the unfortunate hazards of being around the sustainable ag community) if I was taking part in veganuary this year, I declined. The #veganuary website asks, Why take part in Veganuary? Well, why not?, so I thought I'd summarise some of the reasons why you too might decide to give it a miss;

1) January is one of the worst months to rely upon plant based foods

Think about it for a second, in conservation, when do we feel the need to feed wildlife most? That's right, winter. Food is in short supply for our wild animals at this time of year and it is during these months that many animals die for lack of sustenance. Humans, on the other hand, have developed sophisticated food production, storage and transport techniques that allow us to eat exactly what we want, when we want it, but this does come at a cost.

2) It's not seasonal

We're always being urged to eat more seasonal food, for a variety of reasons, and it makes sense for us to eat whatever is available in abundance at that particular time of year. Our vegetable crops are at their most naturally productive during summer, so you'd think they'd schedule a month for eating more veg when there is naturally more available, but apparently not.

Image credit;
Image credit;

On the other side we have meat which, as a natural food for humans, would tend to be consumed in greater quantities during winter when alternatives were less available. At the same time, a limited plant based food supply encourages more hunting to protect the valuable crops and stores from all the other creatures that are struggling to survive the winter. The temperatures (usually!) tend to be cooler in winter, which makes for easier preservation and storage of meat too, so if ever there was a time to eat meat, it's now .

4) It drives imports

You may be thinking that the seasons don't apply any longer and we can produce everything we need from plants, in which case have a look at some of the recipes designed to tempt your tastebuds this month. Chickpeas, Coconut, Tomatoes and Tofu - not exactly your usual homegrown favourites from the garden in January, or indeed any time of year for three out of the four. So how far does your meal have to travel to reach you, and is it really ethical to be importing so much water in fresh produce from arid regions?

Image credit; Holy Cow vegan recipes
Image credit; Holy Cow vegan recipes

5) It drives exports

Britain has quite a wet, cold climate that isn't so great for growing annual crops year round, but it is a wonderful climate for grass! About 65% of our agricultural land in the UK is grassland so we are capable of producing a lot of meat at home. The trouble is that we can't just change our land and climate to suit changing diets, so our farmers continue to rely heavily upon livestock to produce edible food. A switch to less meat, particularly in winter, gives them fewer options to continue making a living from the land. One solution is to export what we can produce in order to pay for what we can't.

Exporting food just to import alternatives is hardly sensible, even if you don't care about the environment or animal welfare. We believe that animals should be killed as close to the farm as possible, which is why we use small, local abattoirs, just a stone's throw away from the fields where the animals graze.

6) It's dull

OK, so maybe you don't feel the need to import all your ingredients and already buy everything locally. In the UK that probably means you have a few dried pulses, winter brassicas and selected root vegetables to make a meal from. Far better to give it a go in the summer when there's often a glut of fresh produce available, so much so that we end up feeding the excesses to animals because we can't possibly eat or store it all.

Image source;
Image source;

7) Wildlife suffer

We have a climate suitable for growing grass but we've still lost 97% of our wildflower meadows over the past 100 years. These are important habitats for a wide variety of insects, birds, plants and mammals and often the last haven for biodiversity in otherwise arable landscapes. Our grasslands are very important threatened habitats for winter visitors too, with waterfowl and waders enjoying the seasonally inundated wetlands as safe places to feed and spend the winter. Grasslands have developed over thousands of years of pastoral farming but to date there have been few efforts made by the vegan community to support these habitats.

Winter visitors to the Lower Derwent Valley
Winter visitors to the Lower Derwent Valley

8) Farmers suffer

Farming, particularly with livestock, is a 365 days a year job - animals can't be turned off for a few months. Winter is the most expensive season for farmers, at a time when animals require greater daily care and attention while they are not able to be out grazing. While every farmer needs to make a profit to feed both his/her own family and to reinvest in the business, more often than not it is cashflow, rather than profit, that means a business ceases to trade. With many abattoirs and markets closed over the Christmas period, January is an important time to start selling livestock and produce again.

9) It drives factory farming

A commonly held belief is that reducing the amount of meat we eat is beneficial for animals and ourselves, but as a recent assessment from the US Food & Drug Administration showed, we're eating less meat but using more antibiotics to produce it. By cutting back on consumption there is a negative feedback loop where the farmer receives less money and therefore has to produce more, for less. Most likely the smaller farmers simply have to cease production enabling, larger industrialised units to increase their size & economies of scale.

10) It was very carefully planned to be this way

They were correct, January was the ideal month to capitalise on the post-Christmas lull as both personal finances and mood are at an annual low. It was obviously not chosen to make the most of the wonderful food we can produce seasonally and sustainably in this country.

So, rather than indiscriminately cutting out a whole food group at the worst possible time of year, I urge you to take a look at the food you buy each week and consider just how much you do know about how and where it was produced. All meat and dairy sold in the UK can be traced all the way back to the farm or farms where it was produced, veg and manufactured goods are a little harder to follow. Vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, I challenge you to do this for at least one item of food this week (and don't make it too easy by choosing the last of the winter greens from the garden!). It may not be immediately apparent from the labelling and you might need to ask your suppliers for some more information, but what better way to connect with the food you are eating?

Once you've discovered where your item originates, call or email the farmer to talk and learn about your food. Ask if it would be convenient to visit the farm sometime and really reconnect with it's origins. I hope, for your sake, that this means a short journey into the local countryside, rather than buying a plane ticket to the other side of the world!

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