A butcher suggesting the British people adopt the New Year’s resolution of eating less meat sounds like an exercise in self-sabotage.
But hear us out. Eating less meat – but, crucially, higher quality meat – is the better way to go. It’s better for the environment. It’s better for small-scale farmers. It’s better for you. Not to mention better at attaining superior flavours and textures not possible in livestock reared on, figuratively speaking, chicken feed.
Going into 2020, eating less meat will be even more important. Recently, the National Farmers’ Union drew attention to British cattle farmers receiving poor and ‘untenable’ compensation for their work. Perhaps it’s no surprise in an economic environment where big retailers, driven by profits and competition, seek cheaper and cheaper meat. And farmers have little choice but to oblige. That’s not a sustainable form of business.
Then there’s the matter of US trade. If, after Brexit, a trade deal with the US should happen, the potential for more cheap meat is very real. Anxiety around American chlorinated chicken, for instance, is well-founded – the practice is a portent for a significant drop in food standards, quality, and welfare for livestock.
Chlorinated chicken may even set a new precedent. Think that’s unlikely? Meat in excess – as is synonymous with the US diet – is already influencing Britain. The construction of new US-style pig factories are planned for the UK, where there’s been a 26% increase in the number of intensive farms in the past eight years. Their ultimate purpose? Again – more cheap meat, at the expense of welfare, quality, and the environment around them.
Looking at what came to light in November, deforestation of the Amazon rainforest (aka the ‘lungs of the planet’) to clear way for cattle ranches is the high price we pay for cheap meat. It doesn’t have to be like that – some British cattle farms, such as Netherurd Home in south Scotland, promote agroforestry, which involves expanding and looking after precious woodland (in Netherurd’s case, all 98 acres of it) rather than destroying it.
The UK has some of the highest food standards, and some of the best quality meat, in the world. We think they’re worth upholding, but that doesn’t come cheaply. If you’re interested in conservation, supporting the best of British farming, and ultimately getting more bang for your buck, try eating better meat this coming year – not more.