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Environment & ethics   |   Eating & drinking

Guy’s news: how much meat?

So how much meat should we all be eating? After three months of reading, thinking, debating, meeting MPs, policymakers, academics, campaigners and farmers, some things are clear, others less so. This is where we have got:

1. We need to eat much less meat (also eggs and dairy). What would be sustainable? No credible answer exists, but there is consensus in academia of around 600g/wk; about 40% of the average UK consumption (1600g/wk) or marginally less than global consumption (800g/wk). Clearly a huge challenge, but not impossible, as demonstrated by the UK’s 3-4 million vegetarians. Collectively, we need to decide our priorities and face up to our responsibilities.

2. If we carry on as we are, livestock production will account for our entire global CO₂ emissions allowance (as defined at the 2015 UN Conference on Climate Change) by 2050. Despite this I’m told the issue doesn’t feature in Defra’s soon-to-be-published 25 year Food and Farming Plan. Increased consumer awareness will help, but farming practices won’t change without amends to government policy; the environmental costs of meat production must be internalised and reflected in price as increasingly the case in other sectors.

3. Feeding grain and soya to ruminants, like beef and dairy cows, is insane. In addition to driving climate change, this form of agriculture is the least efficient use of land and given that one in nine of the global population is already going to bed hungry, it is morally questionable. The arguments around the relative environmental costs of different animals and agricultural systems are complex, but buying grass-fed meat and dairy seems the best way to go. As I originally suspected, the evidence suggests we must eat more veg, and eat less and better meat; look for organic accreditation and the new ‘Pasture for Life’ label, which guarantees livestock have never eaten grain in their entire life. Meanwhile, in the longer term, we are looking into lobbying Defra on addressing this incredibly important issue. We simply can’t afford to ignore it any longer.

Guy Watson

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    Guy Singh-Watson

    Guy Singh-Watson has over the last 30 years taken Riverford from one man and a wheelbarrow delivering homegrown organic veg to friends, to a national veg box scheme delivering to around 80,000 customers a week. Tired of meetings, brands and the assumption that greed is our predominant motivation, Guy converted the business to employee ownership in 2018, using the proceeds to buy a small farm and return to growing organic vegetables. In common with many of Riverford’s new co-owners, Guy is an advocate of using business to shape a part of the world, however small, to be kinder, more considerate and sustainable; more like the world most of us want to live in.  His weekly newsletters connect people to the farm with refreshingly honest accounts of the trials and tribulations of producing organic food, and the occasional rant about farming, ethical and business issues he feels strongly about.

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