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What’s the Beef?

I for one am getting heartily sick of cattle getting it in the neck for climate change!

Not all cattle are alike. Classing a grass fed heritage breed in the same category as a feedlot grain fed Limousin cross is like comparing a Pittenweem creel caught crab with king prawns farmed horrifically in Thailand. Industrialised farming more often than not causes extreme environmental damage but owing to their economic power drivers they seem unstoppable. Be it forests raised to the ground to grow soy; over-large logging machines devastating meadows and compacting land; excessively scaled dairy farms where cows are kept indoors with a scale of waste disposal that defies your imagination; or intensively reared pigs and hens that could no longer genetically survive outside, even if they had the opportunity.

Much of the criticism of meat consumption is based on generalities and fake news. Sure the afore mentioned intensive rearing is shocking, detrimental and will not solve world famine….but don’t paint all with the same brush!

90% of the world’s North Atlantic Heather Heath is gone – we are still blessed with some of it in

Scotland. It is the north’s answer to the immense biodiversity of an equatorial forest. When we plant trees do we plant birch, beech and Scots pine or some imported conifer plantation our wildlife is not partial to? When we raise animals do we look to indigenous breeds that thrive on our machair and woodland or go for continentals that are out of their comfort zone and cost us in extra feed and loss of flavour?

I love to see our hardy breeds as nature intended: Highlanders, Dexters, Native Aberdeen Angus, Shetland Kye; and native Sheep: North Ronaldsay, Shetland, Soay, Boreray and Hebridean, even our Native Scottish Goat, hefted on the hills and not giving a jot to a force 10 gale! Living a good long life – for they grow more slowly than turbo modern cross breeds - then one day, after a short trip to a local abattoir (vital to Scotland’s economy and food security), become a superb ethical food resource - on the tables at local restaurants or cooked at home. Food tourism at its best!

Smaller farming units are environmentally sustainable, in an eco-equilibrium, and as such are far more productive and also more gentle on our planet. My husband farmed organically and annually harvested 20 tons of hay per hectare (6tons in the first harvest and 4 in the second) after which his animals grazed it until autumn. His neighbours farming ‘conventionally’ and larger scale, harvested 3 times – 2 hay and a silage cut, with no grazing and still only managed 50% of the harvest he achieved. Beat that! Grazing animals not only provide healthy meat – it is proven more healthy than grain fed for our dairy consumption as well as meat – but increase biodiversity and productivity, reducing soil erosion and increasing the value of that same soil in nutrients and valuable micro-organisms.

Lake Tysslingen is a shallow nutrient-rich beautiful lake in

Närke, Sweden, surrounded by open grazed shore meadows for cattle. It is famous for the migrating cranes and thousands of whooper swans on its waters, a truly magnificent nature reserve. But it was not always thus.

In the 70’s the cattle were removed resulting in overgrown banks and stagnant pools, a reduction in biodiversity and a resulting dearth of food for the birds. The swans left and the cranes no longer performed their magnificent dances of courtship. The lake was silent. In the light of this environmental tragedy, the cattle were returned, gradually the meadows restored and now Tysslingen once again attracts 50,000 tourists a year to watch the beauty of the birds, visit the bird tower and education centre and lunch at their lovely café. Ruminant grazing is crucial to wetland fauna and flora. A balanced ethical - and honest - food system is inextricable from a balanced planet.

So when cattle get knocked for methane or meat production or some other such nonsense, remember Tysslingen and the importance of biodiversity and animals grazing for our world’s ecosystems.

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