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Let Them Eat Grass: The Livestock That is....

Laura Briggs

18th July, 2016

A once quiet voice, hard to distinguish against the grinding machine of intensive food production is now shouting above the noise. LAURA BRIGGS reports on the growing interest in grass as a feeding option

The new Grass-Fed Nation movement asserts that grazing animals solely on grass will give the planet its best chance of a healthier and sustainable future

Slowly and steadily a growing band of farmers and environmental activists across the UK are turning back the clock, and rather than fattening their cattle in feedlots, keeping their chickens in overcrowded sheds, and transporting sheep in cramped trailers, they're letting them roam free. They are taking back the countryside. They are letting them eat grass.

One man is leading this momentum-gathering revolution to "get back the food we deserve". Known foremost for his behind the scenes work on Radio 4's long-running farming series The Archers, as both scriptwriter and agricultural advisor, Graham Harvey is now taking centre stage to shout about the benefits of grass-fed animals.

Leading a new movement entitled "Wild and Beautiful," Graham hopes to educate and inform in a fun and engaging way, bringing the message of naturally-reared, grass-fed and pasture-raised to a wider audience.

Graham advocates eating less, but more healthy meat. In his latest book Grass-Fed Nation: Getting Back The Food We Deserve, he reiterates what we already know - that modern methods of farming are damaging to both our own health and that of the planet. The over-use of chemicals and pesticides has degraded our soils, and growing high yielding, starchy crops has wiped out whole eco-systems of diverse plants and grasses across swathes of countryside.  Graham claims it's also led to an increase in "modern diseases" - including Alzheimer's, diabetes, depression and some cancers.

The Grass-Fed Nation movement asserts that grazing animals solely on grass will give our planet its best chance at a healthier future. Graham explains: "Grazing animals play a key role in regulating the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere through the use of soil as a carbon sink. It's a natural process that has been going on for millions of years. Yet unaccountably we have decided livestock should be imprisoned in sheds and yards, while we ruin the life of our soils to feed them."

In Britain only a small percentage of farmers follow this grazing method. America is quite literally leading the field, and coined the term "grass-fed". With its vast open plains, many American farmers understand the benefits of mob grazing, where cattle are moved daily onto fresh pasture. One of the best known advocates of this grass-fed process is Virginia-based Joel Salatin. His farm, Polyface, is described as "America's premier non-industrial food production oasis" with an aim to "develop emotionally, economically, environmentally enhancing agricultural enterprises and facilitate their duplication throughout the world."

Seeking to become Britain's next Joel Salatin, and joining forces with Graham to promote grass-fed and support Wild and Beautiful, is Somerset-based farmer and Nuffield scholar Oliver White. Founder of Farm2Fork, Oliver's farm near Ilminster produces 100% grass-fed meat and pasture-raised poultry. His cattle and sheep follow a mob-grazing method. This gives the soil a chance to recover, and ensures the animals get the very freshest grass. The mission here is also to take grass-fed mainstream.

Oliver says: "Ruminants evolved to eat grass and little else. This is a beautifully simple way to produce meat, and when done well this method of production has far reaching benefits. It's not only been shown to produce a healthier meat from a happier animal, but it benefits the natural environment too, building soil life, soil organic matter, and increasing whole farm biodiversity.

"Science shows that meat from ruminants fed a pasture-only diet is healthier, with lower​levels ​of saturated fats, a healthier balance of omega 3 to 6 and higher levels of vitamins A, E​, and ​C​onjugated Li​noleic ​A​cid (CLA) known ​for its cancer-fighting properties."

Currently you'd be hard pushed to find 100% grass-fed products in the supermarkets, so producers tend to use direct selling. Labelling is confusing and as consumers we are often tricked with false promises. If livestock spends just 51% of its time eating grass then it can be sold as "grass-fed". The only guarantee that you are buying 100% grass-fed products is to look for the certified "Pasture for Life" mark, provided by the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA).

There is a huge difference between meat that is exclusively grass-fed, and that which is finished on grain, explains PFLA director Sara Gregson: "Once animals come inside and are fed grain, all that goodness disappears in a matter of weeks. Most farmers that say their animals are grass-fed are actually finished on grain, so all those benefits are gone. Ruminants were never meant to eat grain. They actually get ill from it; they get a disease called rumen acidosis."

Graham and Oliver hope that by spreading the grass-fed message wide, we will choose to return to a sustainable, healthy way of farming.

Oliver says: "In my eyes the future can only be grass-fed. The world's population​ is​forecast to grow to 10 billion by 2050​, and with the pressure this puts on food production, we'll no longer have the luxury of being able to continue to inefficiently feed grains to ruminants which could otherwise be fed to humans.  

"​Feeding ruminants pasture and pasture alone is the only truly sustainable way to produce meat and milk, and with much of the world's surface capable of growing pasture and little else - what better way to use it?

"It must be accepted that a grass-fed only production system will not likely be able to meet the world's current and growing demand for meat and milk, so we also need to start to eat and drink far less - perhaps just what we need."

The ball is rolling; the PFLA is just one of 84 organisations including Compassion in World Farming and Food Matters to sign a letter to new UK Prime Minister Teresa May stating that Brexit Britain needs to invest in common sense policies that are good for farming, the environment and public health.

Graham's Wild and Beautiful movement is gaining momentum and we may start to see cows grazing in our British fields once more. He says: "Without wishing to sound like a dangerous revolutionary, it's about giving power back to people; that most basic power, the power to reclaim the foods evolution prepared us for. At its heart it's all about democracy."

 

Laura Briggs is an Ecologist news reporter

 

 

 

 

 

 

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