Where’s the beef with cat­tle wel­fare?

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

COWS have al­ways eaten grass, so it sur­prised the world when, 30 years ago, we found that quite a lot of them were be­ing fed minced-up meat. ‘Can­ni­bal’ cows were con­tract­ing the bovine form of CJD and fears that it would spread to hu­mans forced on Bri­tain the most strin­gent health mea­sures. Even so, the UK had to fight hard to re­cover the rep­u­ta­tion of the roast beef of old Eng­land. Mean­while, across the At­lantic, the American meat in­dus­try had its own prob­lems. It was pro­duc­ing ever-cheaper meat by feed­ing an­i­mals close to­gether in feed lots and fill­ing them with an­tibi­otics to ward off the disease preva­lent in such un­nat­u­ral crowd­ing. Quan­tity not qual­ity was the watch­word.

Then, grad­u­ally, on both sides of the ocean, things be­gan to change. Cam­paign­ing jour­nal­ists be­gan to re­veal the dark se­crets of the meat in­dus­try in the USA, the lapses of hy­giene, the wel­fare con­cerns and the sheer greed of in­dus­trial meat pro­duc­tion. Cus­tomers be­gan to ask where their steaks came from. Then, the mighty Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trusts be­gan to high­light the sharp de­cline in the ef­fec­tive­ness of an­tibi­otics. It re­vealed that 70% of these drugs used in the USA were be­ing used in­dis­crim­i­nately in an­i­mals and, as a re­sult, su­per­bugs were be­com­ing re­sis­tant. More and more peo­ple con­tracted ill­nesses that couldn’t be touched by medicines. A hu­man health cri­sis was un­fold­ing.

The meat in­dus­try, dom­i­nated by three huge con­glom­er­ates, be­gan to stir it­self. The Brazil­ians stole a march on their American com­peti­tors and in­sti­tuted higher stan­dards in wel­fare, hus­bandry and the use of drugs. Fi­nally, even tardy Tyson, the world’s big­gest meat trader, an­nounced the end of un­nec­es­sary an­tibi­otics in its chick­ens. The cus­tomer wasn’t hav­ing it any longer and the in­dus­try’s fight­back had be­gun. Pro­duc­ers mar­keted ‘grass-fed’ beef as if it were some­thing ex­otic. Su­per­mar­kets iden­ti­fied the farms from which their meat came. In the UK, Morrisons and Waitrose be­came very par­tic­u­lar about their meat sup­ply-chain. Above all, cus­tomers showed they were pre­pared to pay more for qual­ity.

Not that the bat­tle’s over. An­tibi­otics are still be­ing used on an­i­mals all over the world, much of them un­nec­es­sar­ily. Gov­ern­ments have still failed to pro­duce tough reg­u­la­tions and a whole gen­er­a­tion is threat­ened by the grow­ing re­sis­tance of dan­ger­ous bugs, so, still de­ter­mined to win, the gov­ern­ing board of the Pew Trusts gath­ered this month in Lon­don to re­new the fight.

Its meet­ing co­in­cided with news from an­other front. Grass eat­ing isn’t with­out its draw­backs. It causes cows to burp and the seem­ingly in­sa­tiable ap­petite for beef makes for more and more burp­ing round the world. So great is the meth­ane out­put that it’s be­come a se­ri­ous con­trib­u­tor to the sum of green­house gases that are chang­ing our cli­mate. No won­der cam­paign­ers had be­gun to de­mand we eat very much less meat, mak­ing com­mon cause with health ad­vo­cates. Yet an­other de­feat for red meat seemed in­evitable.

How­ever, it looks as if the Dan­ish have come to the res­cue. Their re­searchers are close to pro­duc­ing a strain of grass that en­cour­ages milk pro­duc­tion while dra­mat­i­cally re­duc­ing burp­ing. It’s the first real break­through to help farm­ers re­duce their huge im­pact on the cli­mate, so ac­tion now could make all the dif­fer­ence. De­fra could make the UK the first adopter of low-burp grass and in­sist on tough new rules on an­tibi­otics. UK farm­ers could be­gin to make Bri­tain a by­word in healthy beef pro­duc­tion. They could—but only if con­certed ac­tion is still pos­si­ble in this dis­jointed and dis­rupted world.

‘An­tibi­otics are still be­ing used on an­i­mals all over the world, much of them un­nec­es­sar­ily

Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.