The grass is greener – or is it?

It seems ‘grass fed’ is becoming more and more of a buzzword – used at every opportunity as a USP for everything.

Grass is better than grain fed. Well there’s not much doubt about that.

But for some people even grass fed isn’t good enough.  Take ‘Pasture for life’ – an altogether higher body that makes organic look lightweight. Graham Harvey loves it. But George Monbiot hates it – as far as he’s concerned livestock farming is a no-no whether it’s grass fed or not.

Personally, meat and three veg has become ten veg and a bit of meat for me, but I’m not going to eschew all livestock farming. Maybe it will come to that but, right now, less is best and whatever the statistics about bovine flatulence, our beef, lambs and venison eat grass grown on land that’s not much good for anything else, other than growing trees.

I’d rather feed humans than squirrels. Permanent pasture might not lock up as much carbon as forests, but it’s a lot better than arable crops. I’m sure we can survive, and eat well, without animals but it’s going to take a long time to work out how.

The alternative to animals for fertility is the carbon heavy Haber-Bosch process for converting nitrogen into fertiliser which goes hand in hand with a system of monoculture and commodity farming and processing which isn’t the way to go at all. Or not our way.

Salmonella and swill

Like most of us, I thought it was great news that our eggs are now salmonella free and when food writer, Joanna Blythman wrote that the logic should also be applied to non ‘red crown’ free range and organic eggs she was spot on. But then, in the same breath, to start waxing lyrically about the joys of grass-fed chickens seemed like rolling out the feel-good juggernaut a bit too far. Why? Because they’re not grass fed.

Yes, good free range and organic free range are better than conventional, indoor chickens but they don’t live off grass. Anyone who’s kept chickens or pigs will tell you that, yes, they do eat a bit of grass but they still get 80-90% of their diet from bought in, mainly imported, high protein (soya) feed.

So ‘good-lifers’ and Chris Grayling’s ‘dig for Brexit’ followers –  don’t kid yourselves. Ruminants live off grass. Chickens and pigs don’t. It might give a better product in terms of flavour and omega 3 fatty acids, but the carbon footprint and balance of payment figures will hardly be affected.

In fact, the reverse might be true. Free range pigs and chickens need about a third more food. Knock off the nutrients acquired from grass and that adds up to around 20% extra soya protein, imported from heaven knows where. Whoever said making the right decisions was simple?

Now if Chris Grayling were to say, as I believe Joanna Blythman has, that we should bring back feeding swill – that really would make a difference. And we’d have a sustainable meat that us ‘ten veggers’ actually want to eat. (Find out more at thepigidea). You can pad out beef and lamb in stews and pies etc but when it comes to meat as a seasoning, which is the way I like to think of it, it’s pork (particularly bacon) and chicken that really work. My kitchen wouldn’t be the same without bacon, chorizo, smoked chicken and chicken stock. And then there’s the dairy!