After all those months of BBC News regurgitating the bandwagon ‘reduce red meat to save the planet’ script, what a refreshing change it was to hear a thoughtful discussion on the Today programme with Patrick Holden, director of the Sustainable Food Trust, arguing convincingly for more, not less, red meat consumption.
While Vicki Hird from Sustain stuck to the ‘less but better meat’ mantra, Holden moved on this stale and overcooked debate. He argued persuasively that every country should align its diet to the productive capacity of its land. In other words, what’s on our plates should reflect the ecology of the country we live in. Two-thirds of UK land is grass, so red meat and dairy should form a significant proportion of our diets. When these foods come from fully pasture-fed animals, we can eat them, as Holden put it, sustainably, and with a clear conscience. In terms of climate effects, any methane produced by livestock is short-lived and offset by the benefit of the carbon that is sequestered in the permanent pastures they graze.
Holden also nailed the lie that red meat consumption in these shores is running out of control. Fact is, our consumption of beef has halved in the UK since the 1980s. This helps explain why so many young women of child-bearing age who fit into the red meat-avoiding, plant-based category are deficient in essential micronutrients, such as iron, which are amply provided by animal foods.
Holden threw in something else important to consider: British people used to get 80% of their dietary fats from animal foods, and just 20% from plant sources. Now that ratio is reversed. But the commonly used plant fats – palm, GM soya, oilseed rape – are an environmental nightmare wherever they are grown on the planet.
Ill-informed churnalism, designed to engage readers with facile headlines that are designed to shock and guilt-trip, has imported a lie about red meat – one based on crudely constructed global statistics cherry-picked from epidemiology, the weakest scientific evidence. This gross misrepresentation may have serious consequences for our population’s long-term health.
We’ve been treading water in the Groundhog Day meat vs plant debate. Holden has kick-started it.