Given that the NFU and Defra are so in thrall to the oxymoronic ‘sustainable intensification’ agenda - megafarms, GM, etc - it was refreshing to hear MPs on the International Development Committee concluding that, in the words of chairman Sir Malcolm Bruce, “as a nation we should place a stronger focus on more sustainable extensive systems of meat production such as pasture-fed cattle, rather than on highly intensive grain-fed livestock units”.

In our green land, pasture-fed meat production makes total sense: it reduces our dependence on imported grain and soya and strengthens food security. The meat is also more nutritious and getting livestock back into fields has further health benefits still. As a new report from Compassion in World Farming makes clear, factory farming has increased the risk from ‘zoonotic’ diseases, such as campylobacter, E.coli and salmonella.

Its typically high stocking densities, extreme breed selection and feed strategies encourage the spread of disease by causing stress to animals, reducing the effectiveness of their immune systems. We are then exposed to these diseases when we eat animal foods: 20% of salmonella infection cases, for example, are caused by eating pork.

“In our green land, pasture-fed meat production makes total sense”

CIWF reports on evidence showing that, contrary to the myth that intensively-reared animals confined indoors enjoy greater bio-security than their extensively reared equivalents, the reverse is more often the case. For instance, if outdoor-reared poultry have campylobacter, research shows the pathogen is more likely to remain in the gut, rather than penetrating the meat.

In the case of avian and swine flu, CIWF cites evidence that these viruses are inactivated by UV rays in sunshine, while indoor production prolongs their life. When it comes to E.coli, cattle reared extensively on grass and forage diets have higher levels of natural plant compounds, which inhibit E.coli growth.

The International Development Committee makes a crucial point: getting animals out in fields is the only truly sustainable option. A little less, but higher quality meat from pasture-fed animals is a resilient blueprint for both human and animal health.

Joanna Blythman is a journalist and author of What to Eat