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When I go for a walk from my home, built some 250 years ago in the English countryside, I have two choices. One way I can walk for many kilometres over arable land, where almost every area has been taken to grow a wide variety of constantly rotating crops. In the other direction, a long walk towards the coast over land which is largely at sea level or below; I go through long term grassland and light scrub, lightly grazed by sheep or, far more frequently, cattle.
One noticeable difference between these two zones is to be found in one word: biodiversity. The cropland has lost most of the wild animals we saw some decades ago when the agriculture was more mixed, be it birds, small mammals or other things. The long term grassland in contrast is teeming with wildlife.
This thought coincides with an article sent to me by a friend in Denmark. It was written for an online Californian journal called Medium, by someone called Drew French. It had an unexpected title:
'Grass-fed Beef — The most vegan item in the supermarket'
Other than as a writer of such articles, I know nothing of the author or the journal, whether it is produced as a lobbying piece, a serious scientific item or merely intended as thought provoking. Regardless of any purpose or motive the article read as if the author had not long returned from a wander through my neighbourhood.
“This use of arable land provides ample food for all humans, but it takes away the daily meals of billions of wild animals such as rabbits, bees, rodents, turkeys, earthworms, and endless insects, and it destroys their habitat, family structure, hunting grounds, and nectaries.”
This is so true. We have seen some expansion in the number of buzzards but, over this land, small birds have hugely declined in number and diversity, rabbits and small mammals are greatly reduced and hares seem to have almost disappeared. It is a wildlife free walk. On the other hand, his view of long term grassland was equally precise.
“A perennial agriculture, on the other hand, based on trees, shrubs, grasses, and livestock, allows nature to thrive without annual destruction.”
It is too easy to absorb the arguments against meat and livestock that relentlessly bombard us, whereas this article asks us to step back and look at the big picture and form our own conclusions about what we see. Looking through this lens while all agriculture causes harm to wildlife in some form or other, so if your objective is minimum harm you need to think matters through very seriously.
It does appear quite clear that covering the countryside with crops, fertiliser and weed killer is the way to cause the greatest suffering to living creatures, large and small. I remain convinced that as we interrogate all these different aspects of livestock, meat eating and veganism, sustainability of materials, responsible manufacture and more leather consistently comes through as a top material.
One good thing happening near my home is that the long term grassland has increased in recent years as it has been found to suffer the least in both periods of drought and flood, and to recover the fastest. Like leather it is sustainable and resilient.
July 31, 2018
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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