Could eating meat save the planet?

Dr Sally Bell, a medical doctor specialising in lifestyle medicine, explores how ethical meat consumption can help improve environmental, welfare and health standards across the board.

I have been talking about our broken food system over the past few weeks. Industrialised farming is having a devastating effect on our planet by degrading the land, impacting the welfare of our animals, and impacting the quality of food we have access. It is unsustainable.

The food we eat is information to our bodies. Yes, it provides the building blocks for our body and brains to function, but it talks to our genes, our microbiome and impacts disease and health. Good quality whole food is an essential part of recovering our health as a nation.

I advocate that meat should be a part of our diet, I have explained before why I believe it is safe to eat and how it is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, a true superfood. Animals are vital for the restoration of our world too. They are an essential part of the nutrient cycle of the land, managing them properly within our agricultural system is critical for restoring soil and balancing climate.

Many animals in our modern food system have been removed from farmland. That said, the farming standards in the UK is very different from the story portrayed in America and Asia (another reason to buy British and local). Still, industrialised farming is mainstream here in the UK with increasing growth in American style mega-farms. The raising and slaughtering of livestock in this conventional (industrialised) model break the nutrient cycle, creates pollution, and contributes to climate change.

Many animals are not fed their natural diet. Farmed this way requires massive industrialised corn and soya bean fields to produce the food to feed them, further degrading the land and releasing carbon from the soil. 

When animals live in such confined quarters, they need to be fed antibiotics or other additives to keep them healthy and promote growth. It is estimated that 40% of global antibiotic use is used in animal feed. There is strong evidence that the development of resistant strains of bacteria in humans is closely related to antibiotics used in animals. Also, more research is needed on the effect these antibiotics have on our gut microbiota and subsequent health.

We know that feeding animals the diet most suitable to them can be of benefit to their health and our health. Still, on the other hand, grass-fed livestock can be detrimental to the land and climate if they are poorly managed and allowed to overgraze. And finally, let us not forget that the transportation and slaughter of animals, as well as the packaging and delivery of meat, have high fossil fuel costs.

It is complicated, isn’t it? But don’t stop reading yet!

So what is the solution? How about looking at those that are changing the system?

The vegan movements solution to these genuine problems is to stop eating meat. But is there another solution? I would suggest yes, but more than this, I would believe that the research demonstrates that animals are an essential part of the solution. 

The regenerative farming movement raises animals differently. They are moving livestock over the land in a way that mimics the impact that large herds of herbivores once had on grassland ecosystems. These carefully managed systems using cows, sheep and other animals is shown to not only improve the health and resilience of the land but animals are stronger, healthier and happier. This method of farming enhances the taste and the impact on our health when eating them. Farmers from this community have also demonstrated that they can increase the yield of animals by grazing this way.

Ok, but as a consumer, how do I choose ‘good’ meat? Noticing the country of origin and buying British may be the first step. Venturing into your local farm shop or butcher and asking about their meat may be the next.

But, in the UK, we have a growing number of farms that have, or are adapting to, more traditional farming methods. I see that COVID has pushed farms shops and on-line meat services to the forefront, allowing us to buy directly from producers. But how do we know it is ‘good ’meat? Am I looking for an organic, red tractor, biodynamic, free-range or soil association label?

As yet, there is no ‘label’ for the regenerative farming movement. In my pursuit to find solutions for you, I have begun visiting farms to find out for myself. The list is growing but let me mention two resources:

I had the pleasure of spending a day Henri and Peter Grieg from Pipers farms. I saw for myself how their chickens, pigs and beef are being raised. I got to ask all my questions and meet real people who understand and have a passion for the land. It was inspirational. So, I can wholeheartedly recommend to you www.pipers.com. I would encourage you to follow their blog and engage in the conversation. They have more expertise than me! They also offer ideas on how to use cheaper cuts of meat to help with our budgets AND it tastes great!!!!

Another excellent website for a list of farms near you can for animals raised on pasture is on www.pastureforlife.org. The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association brings together British farmers committed to producing high-quality food in a more natural way. It is another excellent resource and conversation to follow.

Dr Sally Bell has 20 years’ experience as a medical doctor specialising in lifestyle medicine. She has extensive international experience in providing healthcare in many different clinical scenarios. Drawing from her experience, Dr Sally Bell has developed the five foundations framework. These five foundations underpin all health. Her passion is to put health firmly back into your hands. Alongside her NHS work and private health clinic, Dr Sally Bell contributes on BBC radio, acts as an advisor to the British Army on Wellbeing and works within the farming, food and hospitality industry seeking to highlight the power of our lifestyle choices in the pursuit of health.  She lives in Nottingham, Uk with her husband and three children.


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