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Could pasture be the secret to feeding the world? Part 3

April 24th, 2015

The final in a series of three informative articles by John Meadley of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. He explains why raising animals on grass is much preferred over the intensive and unnatural way of keeping them in feedlots.

John Meadley speaking recently at Compassion's offices in Surrey.

John Meadley speaking recently at Compassion’s offices in Surrey.

Given that two-thirds of the world’s farmed land is pasture, and the unique ability of ruminants to convert this into something humans can eat, raising ruminants wholly on pasture makes a lot of sense. This is why we set up the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) in 2011.

PFLA promotes the raising of ruminant livestock exclusively on pasture and does so through the development and promotion of a brand — Pasture for Life — and the certification and auditing of those farmers who agree to meet the standards. The brand highlights the benefits to the animal by eating a natural diet and growing naturally along with a higher level of welfare. There are also environment benefits (e.g. lower carbon footprint, minimum use of chemicals or fossil fuels). All of these advantages help the consumer, too. Further, our tracking system links the consumer to the meat they buy with our certification. Certified meat from the animals we raise is given a bar code which consumers scan with their mobile phone thereby showing them the farm from which the animal came and information about the animal itself. There is complete transparency throughout the supply chain. Examples are available to see on our website.

Meat bearing the Pasture for Life Certification Mark comes from animals that were 100% pasture-fed.

Meat bearing the Pasture for Life Certification Mark comes from animals that were 100% pasture-fed.

The PFLA is a community interest company run largely by volunteers and whose members are predominantly farmers. Having set up the certification and tracking systems and developed the brand, we are increasing both the production of certified meat and awareness of Pasture for Life. We are currently mapping our producers, getting a better understanding of the economics of pasture-fed production, and contacting the many businesses that claim to be ‘grass-fed’ but do not have a recognised brand or standard to underwrite their claim. We are encouraging our farmers to build themselves into production hubs as the core of new and transparent supply chains. Cutting across this is our wish to ensure complete utilisation of the carcass and that certified produce is available to everyone – including those on lower incomes – whether through purchasing specific cuts or such products as pies and sausages that contain certified meat.

You can find your nearest supplier here and purchase direct from a farm or have it delivered to your door.

Can pasture-fed livestock feed the world? That many people go hungry now reflects deep failures in our economic system as well as in how we use and share the resources available to us. In broad terms, a third of the food the world produces is wasted, a third of the grain produced is fed to livestock, and a quarter of the world’s land area is pasture. There is little doubt that we can feed the world now and in the future if we cut out the waste, ate less meat raised on grain, and made better use of the world’s pastures.

To learn more about why the future is pasture, please read our booklet, ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ by Anna Bassett, which is available on line here.

To read my two earlier earlier articles, please click here and here.

Could pasture be the secret to feeding the world? – Part 2

April 22nd, 2015
John Meadley speaking about Pasture for Life at CIWF's offices.

John Meadley speaking about Pasture for Life at CIWF’s offices.

This is the second in a three-part series of articles by John Meadley of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. He explains further why raising animals intensively is wrong from various perspectives, including harm to the environment, consumers, and the animals themselves.

As feedlot production trucks in feed from outside the pens in which the animals are kept, they produce much more manure than the surrounding area can absorb. That presents a disposal problem. The animals’ faeces and urine are frequently collected in large lagoons, which produce significant levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and pollute local waterways. In contrast, the manures from animals raised on pasture fertilise the land on which they feed, fertilise it, thereby maintaining a natural equilibrium between food production and manure disposal.

Most of the grain fed in feedlots could be eaten much more efficiently by people. Why feed it to animals? Animals raised on pasture convert a product that cannot be consumed by humans into something that they can consume and, in most cases, the farm animals are on land unsuited to producing grains.

Animals raised on pasture express their innate characteristics and tend to be healthier. They’re under less stress and often self-medicate on the diverse species in their pastures. A recent report on the Irish dairy industry demonstrated the benefits of grazing rather than confinement, including improved health, lower mortality, and lower levels of calving difficulties.

Pasture-based systems encourage the use of traditional breeds like the Hereford and preserve floriferous meadows which teem with wildlife. Photo: Pasture for Life

Pasture-based systems encourage the use of traditional breeds like the Hereford and preserve floriferous meadows which teem with wildlife. Photo: Pasture for Life

Meat from animals raised wholly on pasture is healthier for the consumer. It is lower in total fat and the saturated fats linked with heart disease. Grass-raised animals have higher levels in total omega-3 fatty acids, a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and is higher in conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin E, B vitamins, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. But these benefits are found only in ruminants raised just on pasture. They’re lost in those animals finished on grain for the last two to three months. Butter is no longer shunned by the medical profession. The government’s Meat Advisory Panel recently emphasised the value of red meat in a balanced diet, particularly from pasture-fed cattle and sheep.

Grain is generally grown in large fields with most other flora and fauna eliminated through the use of herbicides and pesticides. In contrast, most pastures contain a variety of plant species, including herbs, wildflowers, and clovers. This mixture provides a varied diet for the animals, rich in essential vitamins and minerals drawn up from the soil below, and supporting a diverse range of wildlife.

In the third of this three-part series, John Meadley explains why the future is pasture.

Could pasture be the secret to feeding the world?

April 20th, 2015
John Meadley and Philip Lymbery

John Meadley and Philip Lymbery

I recently had the pleasure of welcoming Dr John Meadley to Compassion’s Godalming headquarters to talk about the importance of pasture to producing decent food and higher animal welfare. John runs a new organisation of farmers passionate about keeping animals on grass called the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. I last interviewed John a couple of years ago and am pleased to present this exclusive article by John on why the future is on pasture.

Ruminant livestock—particularly cattle—have been getting a pretty bad press recently. They are charged with causing global warming and consuming large amounts of grain that hungry people could eat. They destroy the rainforest in the process. Their manure pollutes the environment. Both red meat and butter take you to an early grave. Does this stand up to scrutiny? Or is it because ruminants are caught up in the emotive arguments around mega dairies and feedlots? In this three-part article, I will consider these issues and conclude with an explanation as to why the future is pasture.

Ruminants have the unique ability to convert grass and cellulose-rich foods into useable products such as milk, meat and leather. But in doing so they produce methane, one of the powerful greenhouse gases (GHGs). Feedlot cattle, raised on grain, grow more quickly than those raised on pasture. They produce less methane per pound of meat. Their lives are shorter. But this ignores the GHGs produced by the feed the animals eat (which has to be trucked in) and the manure they produce (which has to be disposed of).

Beef cattle that have only ever eaten grass and forage crops their entire life – from birth to slaughter. Photo credit: Pasture for Life

Beef cattle that have only ever eaten grass and forage crops their entire life – from birth to slaughter. Photo credit: Pasture for Life

There’s more to it than burps and farts. Grain crops are annual species. The land is cultivated for each crop, which dries out the soil, reduces the level of biological activity, and releases CO2. Manufacturing and applying the nitrogen fertiliser they need produces more than 3kg of CO2 per kg of nitrogen applied, which in turn consumes more than 1% of the world’s energy. According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, on average, over 80% of nitrogen applied ends up lost to the environment, wasting the energy used to prepare it, and causing pollution through emissions into the atmosphere and compounds into the waterways. Planting, spraying, harvesting and transporting also uses a lot of energy. A typical feedlot steer in the US will consume the equivalent of around 275 gallons of oil in its lifetime.

In contrast, most of the world’s pasture is permanent. The leys that enrich an arable rotation are replanted only occasionally. Grazed pastures require little (if any) artificial fertiliser. The animals’ manures go back directly onto the land. Nitrogen is produced naturally by legumes (typically clovers), a process which takes CO2 out of the atmosphere. The UN Environmental Programme reports that pasture also removes carbon from the atmosphere into its roots and the surrounding soil at the rate of 200-500 kg/ha/year. This helps to explain why the world’s soils are the largest terrestrial reservoir of carbon, containing three times as much as the atmosphere, and five times that of the world’s forests. There is growing evidence that ruminants raised wholly on pasture can be carbon-neutral and in some cases carbon negative.

In the second of this three-part series, John Meadley takes a look at other issues which explain why the future is pasture.

Swedish Animal Welfare Laws at Risk

April 16th, 2015
Sweden insists on pasture access for cows

Sweden insists on pasture access for cows

Speak to the farmers in any country and they will tell you they are the best in the world. They will say their farm animals enjoy the best standards of welfare.

If you hear this from a Swedish farmer, then take this seriously. Sweden has some of the best laws for farm animal welfare in the world and the very best in the EU.

Sweden was the first EU country to ban the sow stall. Since then, Britain has also banned this cruel confinement system. So has the EU, though not for the first four weeks of pregnancy.

Sweden has also banned the farrowing crate, so Swedish sows never routinely suffer close confinement.

Many painful mutilations are banned. Swedish hens are not beak-trimmed. Swedish pigs keep their tails on.

Swedish animals live in more enriched environments. Pigs must be provided with straw. So must cattle. Dairy cows must be allowed out to pasture during the summer months.

In short, Sweden leads the world in compassionate standards for keeping farm animals, but I have to report that much of this is at risk.

Farrowing crates are banned in Sweden

Farrowing crates are banned in Sweden

The farming industry is lobbying to repeal much of this legislation towards harmonisation with the rest of the EU. In short, they want to lower standards.

They claim that more piglets are dying. This is because they are using “modern” pig genetics which have led to sows producing larger litters than they can properly support.

Rather than moving towards sustainable genetics, the industry wishes to be able to use farrowing systems used in other countries which confine the sow. They have obtained a derogation from the law to test out such systems which confine the sow in farrowing crates. They also wish to be able to keep sows in stalls during insemination.

The dairy industry has become increasingly intensive. Rather than breeding cows which can sustain health on pasture, they wish to be able to keep them inside. Nearby Denmark has done this already. Fifteen years ago, 80% of Danish cows were allowed out to pasture. Today the vast majority never go outside.

Compassion in World Farming will be taking prompt action to campaign against these changes. Sweden should continue to lead the way – we must get the rest of the world to follow.


Time to stop caging hens

April 10th, 2015

Today we look back on the great injustices of the past – slavery, woman suffrage, segregation and think – how did society allow that to persist? In the end, injustices fall and ‘the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice,’ as Martin Luther King once said.

Caged battery hens - cramped conditions with no room to exhibit their natural behaviours

Caged hens – cramped conditions with no room to exhibit their natural behaviours

One day, in the not too distant future, we will look back on the practice of confining farm animals in cages and ask the same thing – how did we ever permit such cruelty to become normal? Compassion in World Farming’s End the Cage Age video, calls for an end to the era of cages. After all, cages have only been part of agriculture for a relatively short period. And they can just as quickly be dismantled. The writing is on the wall. Cages are increasingly being phased out by companies and governments alike, as consumers’ preference for products like cage free eggs continues to increase and scientific evidence, which also concludes that cages can never allow for good hen welfare, continues to mount.

Last month a group composed of food and agribusiness stakeholders, called the “Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply,” released a study that is clearly out of step with this consumer preference and scientific evidence. The report made comparisons between barren cages, furnished cages and cage free systems. It is the result of three years’ worth of work over two flocks. Unfortunately, the study was never going to show the potential that cage free systems have for good welfare when compared to caged systems. It was never set up to do so.

For example, hens in the cage-free systems were only allowed 1 sq ft (144 sq inches) per bird. Even the United Egg Producers, who represent the majority of the US egg industry, states that “a minimum of 1.5 sq ft (216 sq inches) per hen must be allocated to allow normal behaviour.” Cages inherently mean a bird cannot fully exhibit natural behaviour. They cannot have good mental or physical well-being.
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About Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery is Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. He is an internationally respected authority on the impact of industrial agriculture on people, animals and the planet.