Our food and where it comes from is the subject of increasing discussion and debate. As a Wildlife Trust, we have been taking a keen interest in how food can be produced to make a healthier, wildlife friendlier future for us all. With the Agriculture and Environment Bills of 2018, important policies for wildlife have been up for scrutiny. Also, consumers are increasingly questioning how our food has been produced, and veganism is becoming popular. For those who eat meat, some choices are better than others, and nowhere is this more evident than in the beef and dairy industries.
It all depends what cattle are fed. Beef and dairy cattle can be divided into animals which have been fed entirely on grass (including silage and hay), and those which have been fed wholly or partly on grain. Grain typically means concentrated cereals, along with products from crops such as soya and palm oil, in the form of ‘nuts’ – compressed, processed feeds, which make cattle grow faster and produce more milk. Grain production requires a large area of land, sometimes in far-flung countries where it results in clearance of precious native habitats such as rainforests.
The case for grass
Farmers rearing livestock on 100% grass often take a longer term, more sustainable approach to grassland management, incorporating a wider range of plants into the mix, including deeper rooting, drought-resistant grasses and flowering plants such as legumes which release nutrients: more flowers, more nectar, more wildlife. Cornwall has plenty of grass, with a long growing season in our mild climate. Livestock efficiently convert grass into protein which humans can eat, and we need the livestock to maintain our grasslands for a wide range of wildlife. Arable (crop) farming, like cattle farming, can be an intensive, industrialised business, requiring high inputs of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, leaving soils exposed to erosion and degradation. Using arable land to grow crops to feed cattle, when they could be fed grass, seems inefficient when that valuable land could be used to grow food for direct human consumption. If we reduce the amount of meat we eat but choose to buy meat or dairy products reared entirely on grass, this is surely better for humans, farm animals and wildlife.
Beef cattle have long provided an essential service in maintaining our nature reserves for our cherished wildlife. Generally, the cattle eat nothing but grass and herbs while they are on the reserves, resulting in healthier cattle, and healthier, tastier meat for people, too. Numerous beef farmers and some dairy farmers in Cornwall produce a 100% grass-fed product, but you need to know your producer – through farmers' markets, direct via farm shops or food boxes, or through a local butcher. Ask if the product is 100% grass fed as, legally, beef can be labelled as grass fed if this only means 51% grass!
Pasture for Life
The best way of ensuring that your meat and dairy is 100% grass fed is to look for the Pasture for Life (PFL) certification mark, guaranteeing that the animals have been fed grass for
the whole of their lives.
Wilder Beef in Cornwall
We are working with some our Nature Reserve graziers to try and ensure that they receive a good, fair price for beef reared on our nature reserves, to encourage a 100% pasture-fed approach and ultimately to benefit more wildlife. In 2019 we trialled a Wilder Beef box scheme which proved popular and resulted in the farmer receiving a higher price for the cattle, enabling us to support a more environmentally and wildlife friendly way of farming. Feedback from our customers on Wilder Beef was very positive.
We are planning to explore more ways of connecting wildlife friendly cattle farmers with conscientious consumers in the future. Wilder Beef is a premium product which is not always available. If you’d like to be added to our Wilder Beef mailing list so that we can let you know when Wilder Beef is available please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you’re a farmer following the 100% pasture fed approach in Cornwall email us at email@example.com – we’d love to hear from you.