Eating more red meat, not less – so long as it comes from sustainable grassland systems – could help in the fight against climate change, says Patrick Holden, founder of the Sustainable Food Trust.

The comment came during an interview on the BBC’s Today show this week with Holden and Vicky Hird of the Eating Better Alliance.

Asked by Today’s John Humphrys to respond to the ‘clear message from climate campaigners and recent reports that we need to eat less meat to save the planet’ Holden said that he agreed with the broad advice that we should be eating less meat overall, but added that the real issue was ‘which type of meat is part of the solution, and which is part of the problem’. 

“The recent IPCC and EAT Lancet Reports have both been advocating a dramatic cut in the production of meat and have tended to focus on red meat as being the principal problem. But in Britain two thirds of farmland is under grass. And the best way we can use that grassland – if we’re not going to re-forest it, and we can do some of that – is to graze it with ruminant animals: sheep, beef and dairy cattle. And if we did that we could eat sustainably and with a clear conscience. But we do need to give up eating meat which is fed on grain from other parts of the world, which are causing devastating environmental damage.”

I think we need to eat more red meat from grass-fed, and mainly grass-fed systems

Asked by Humphrys if he agreed that people should be cutting their overall meat intake by 50% as the Eating Better Alliance and others are calling for, Holden said: “No. I think we need to eat more red meat from grass-fed, and mainly grass-fed systems. And we need to align our diets to the productive capacity of the nation where we live. And in the UK that will mean a significant proportion of our diet coming from red meat, from many grass-fed systems.

“The problem is that the red meat market is so depressed that you actually have farmers in Wales, for example, putting in planning requests to convert to poultry units. And that’s in part because of the plant-based advocacy of recent climate change reports. I actually think the authors in many cases don’t understand the true elements of sustainable agriculture.”

Vicky Hird didn’t fully agree with that analysis: “I think the IPCC do understand the issues here. Our message is eat less of all types of meat, because of the methane generation it creates – methane being one of the most potent greenhouse gases there are. And if we eat less, and better, we are supporting farmers who are producing meat sustainably like organic, like fully pasture-based. There is a lot of intensively reared beef in the world, and if we start eating more beef we will probably be importing it. 

If we want to keep the carbon in the soil bank, we need the grazing ruminants to make sense of the whole system

“We’ve got to be doing the sorts of measures that support labelling and marketing, and direct consumers towards the right kind of beef, not intensively reared beef, pigs and poultry.”

Challenged on Hird’s point about methane, Holden said: “The methane is offset by the carbon sequestration of the pastures. So if we want to keep the carbon in the soil bank, we need the grazing ruminants to make sense of the whole system.”

Commenting more widely on the effects of a shift to plant-based food ingredients, Holden said: “It’s an interesting fact that at the beginning of the 20th century, 80% of our dietary fats in the UK came from animals and just 20% from plants. Today, the situation is reversed. But where do the plant fats come from? From palm oil, genetically modified soy, almond oil, oilseed rape – and all of these plants are produced in highly unsustainable ways.”

, , , , , , , ,

About the Author

Jim Manson

Jim Manson is Editor-In-Chief of Diversified Communication UK's natural and organic publishing portfolio. He’s written widely on environment and development issues for specialist magazines and national media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, Time Out and World Bank Urban Age.

Articles by Jim Manson
Jim Manson

One Response to Eat more red meat to help fight climate change, Holden urges

  1. Avatar
    Robert Redfern September 5, 2019 at 6:24 pm #

    Unsustainable food production has existed for over 10,000 years (and some say 100,000) and in the past populations had perished or moved on when the land or water shortage made growing impossible. The causes of ecological devastation include the growing of cereals, overuse of groundwater, cutting down trees, farming of and wild herds herbivores. There are now too many people for mass migration.
    Now 80% of all arable land in the world is used to feed and raise animals for foods. In the process, 3 trillion trees have been cut down. The wasteful use of water both from rivers and groundwater is a disaster waiting to happen. Humans and animals need about 70-80 minerals in their diet to be healthy. These minerals are now so depleted in the land that some scientist reckon the soils will become useless for nutrition in five to ten years.
    The levels of oxygen in the atmosphere are now so depleted that frogs are dying all over the world.
    So what can we do?
    Get planting deciduous oxygen producing trees all over the world on every piece of soil.
    Treat meat-eating the same as carbon fuels. Tax all animal products to help pay for planting trees and investing in massive hydroponics schemes to grow plant foods.
    Hydroponics is the most sustainable and ecological farming system and works 365/7 using solar-powered LEDs
    Invest in huge sea farms to grow kelp, and other mineral rich seaweeds to both create edible foods and use as fertilizer for the hydroponic farms.
    There is a world recession coming and this will provide work and food for everyone.

Leave a Reply


NaturalProducts Sponsored

More from NaturalProducts Sponsored