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Eating & drinking

Ben’s meat news: Grass-fed & The Archers

Meat news has been thin on the ground recently. In the past, the Archers has offered inspiration but all we have at the moment is the Fairbrother bros and their ‘Upper Class Egg’ enterprise. Despite their slightly ‘fake farm’ marketing shenanigans, their main USP of grass-fed chicken is worth looking at.

The Cowspiracy film posed the questionable proposition of grass-fed beef being worse for the environment because they grow slower and live longer, so produce even more methane. There are actually many arguments in favour of grass-fed beef and the same applies to lamb which, if anything, offers even more benefits on hilly, marginal farm land. So for better or worse, grass-fed beef, lamb and venison is pretty much what it says on the tin. With non-herbivore pork and poultry things are different; in extremely simplistic terms and ignoring all the other building blocks of a good diet, there’s plenty of protein in grass but pigs and chickens don’t have the digestive system to extract it.

Hardcore ‘paleo’ dieters bang on about 100% grass-fed chicken and eggs and I’m sure it is possible, but in practice a grass-fed chicken will get most of its nutrients from elsewhere. Grass might add flavour and give the end product nutritional benefits (fatty acids for example) and will also give colour. A good, but not infallible, test of a genuinely free-range chicken that has had access to fresh pasture is a healthy, yellow pigment in the skin. With all chickens it could come from maize but I can almost guarantee that a lily white, supposedly, free-range chicken will never
have seen or eaten a blade of grass. So don’t be fooled by those dastardly Fairbrother brothers; their chickens might have better views and a caravan might be preferable to an insulated poly tunnel, but calling them grass-fed is a tad misleading. They’re still fed on bought-in rations, almost inevitably grain and soya based, and it’s where this comes from that matters. I’ve mentioned a few times before ‘The Pig Idea’ campaign and the benefits of feeding swill/food waste to pigs and chickens, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of progress. It might work in small, integrated local farming systems but not in today’s mega agribusiness world.

Years ago, before she came to work at here, a Riverford colleague was looking at the feasibility of a self-contained wormery and chicken rearing operation. Sadly it came to nothing but a bit of thinking outside the box is what’s needed. What will the Fairbrothers come up with next?