Grazed and Confused!

Guest post by REG member Marian Harding. The opinions voiced here are not necessarily those of REG – comments welcome!

Anyone come across the ‘ditch dairy’ vegan campaign? It featured so prominently on my radar earlier this year that I felt in need of counselling! However it doesn’t seem to have been taken very seriously by farmers – maybe their social media orbit safely avoids the ‘green consumer’, and maybe they don’t do much shopping either! However the chickens will come home to roost soon enough as the market for our produce vanishes in favour of plant based substitutes made in factories using stuff we can’t produce here, what shall we do then?

As I look out over the Pevensey marshes SSSI to the South Downs National Park I see landscape maintained by extensive meat and milk production, much of which is supported by agri-environment schemes which specify low input grazing and haymaking systems. Wildlife organisations have had an influence on these schemes, but seem to side-step the issue of habitats in relation to what we eat, and mostly continue to advise us to eat less meat despite using sheep and cattle to manage their nature reserves. ‘Green’ choices seem very disconnected to the Sussex landscape but will obviously have implications for what we farmers get up to!  My limited understanding of almond and soya ‘milk’ production leads me to query it as a ‘green’ alternative in this country where grass grows so well, and most UK cows and sheep will have spent a large part of their life eating  grass so I wonder if the carbon footprint figures that condemn them may be unreliable , as Graham Harvey suggests in his book ‘The Carbon Fields’.

Climate change and pollinators in peril are current threats that are influencing environmental thoughts. Farmers respond to demand just like any other business, but they are getting very mixed messages, cheap food sells, despite all the worthy words.  Not only am I inundated with messages from environmental organisations telling me not to drink milk or eat meat, but also to support a ban on neonics, GM crops, hormones, routine antibiotic treatment and a host of other agrochemicals, some of which are already banned here anyway, and all of which are banned on organic farms.  I understand that the UK has the largest membership of conservation organisations in Europe, but why is organic food ‘niche’ here whereas in Europe it’s mainstream and the conservation organisations and organic farming groups all sing from the same hymn sheet? Do we have a lack of joined-up thinking here or just  a different analysis? Maybe it’s a result of the ‘land sparing’ principle sometimes espoused by the RSPB, whereby some land would be used for ‘conventional’ intensive agriculture and some ‘rewilded’………and we all continue to eat food laced with chemicals, much of which is from faraway places where labour is cheaper and there is no frost! Not my idea of healthy food!

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