Activists who condemn all livestock agriculture indiscriminately might want to consider the ecological benefits of pasture.
At Montague farm we raise organic, grass-fed, single-suckled beef cattle as well as naturally reared lambs. The animals spend their entire life on our grasslands – permanent pastures teeming with the quiet fun of wetland wildlife – before being sent to a local slaughterhouse for onward sale as prime beef and lamb ‘fit for the Queen’. Our farm could not produce anything else without the complete destruction of the herb-rich meadows and reed-fringed marshes. It is the antithesis of the image presented by vegan activism and by extremists in causes such as Extinction Rebellion, for our herds and flocks are part of an ancient and sustainable farming ecosystem.
At our local slaughterhouse, Tottingworth Farm, groups of activists waving placards regularly hold up farmers delivering their animals. Yet this is a small abattoir, essential for small farmers selling stock through short local chains. Vandalism, disruption and extra security are adding to the already crippling costs both of running an abattoir and of sustainable farming, while also sapping morale. At a neighbouring abattoir, police recently arrested six trespassers who were letting off red smoke bombs and terrifying animals in the lairage in the name of fighting ‘speciesism’. We peasants, advised to say nothing and taciturn by habit, shake our heads in exasperation. We should not be the target.
Being condemned through errors of simplification and generalisation is galling. Our produce cannot be compared to the beef products coming out of the deforested Amazon or even the over-grazed and desertified Australian outback. Our animals live outside in cossetted high-welfare regimes. They are not like the pigs or chickens kept entirely in sheds. Our fields are not managed like those of conventional vegetable producers who routinely sterilise their seed beds, but quite the reverse: the soil fauna is a paramount part of the pasture ecosystems. In the current farming quest for net-zero carbon emissions, our business is, depending on what calculator is used, on the right track, because of the presence of livestock. Political and social distaste for meat-eating must become savvier and more selective, striking only where good can be achieved. A recent article in the <emphasis>Ecologist</emphasis> (18 September) rails against “UK beef imports tied to deforestation”, citing large corporations trading nearly £1bn in beef products that source meat from illegally cleared forest land in the Amazon. Soya grown on deforested land in Argentina and exported to the EU is another possible valid target for intelligent protest. There is a long list of villainy before reaching small Sussex farmers.
While delivering fat lambs a month or so ago, and while being held up by genially obstructive protesters at Tottingworth’s gate, I got into conversation with another farmer. We found mutual accord in our respect for Greta Thunberg. He was amused at her cheek to the British parliament in asking them: “Are you listening?” I applauded her determination that we should “do more” to tackle the environmental crisis. We both believed her to be on the right track in her invocation to “listen to the science”. The irony of where we were was not lost to us, and we both thought that if the complainers in front of us were following Thunberg’s brilliant advice, then they would be elsewhere.
The concepts of ‘all things in moderation’ and ‘look at the detail’ are being lost in environmental faddism and greenwash. In response to this, I refer you to an updated version Heinrich Hoffmann’s ‘Struwwelpeter’, the grizzly but funny poems read to me as a child. This update is written by Paul Lovatt Smith, a fellow farmer who also gets stuck at the Tottingworth gates and a man whose rustic gentleness and friendly smile quietly mask a keen quest for the sustainable ways to our future – a quest at the heart of both our businesses.
The Story of Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup, revisited.
By Paul Lovatt Smith, after Heinrich Hoffmann.
Augustus was a chubby lad;
Fat ruddy cheeks Augustus had
And everybody saw with joy
The plump and hearty, healthy boy.
He ate and drank as he was told
And never let his soup get cold.