Can eating meat ever be ethical?

Meat has been so cheap for so long that it has become easy to forget exactly how it is produced. However, various food scandals, including the chlorinated-chicken controversy – and, less recently, the horse meat scandal and the uncovering of supermarket ‘fictional farms’ – has made many people think twice about what they are really eating.

The reality is pretty grim.  At one end of the spectrum, factory farms keep tightly packed animals indoors, feeding them grains to fatten them up quickly, before slaughtering them on huge production lines. This method of “farming” accounts for a staggering 70 per cent of the 75 billion animals farmed worldwide each year, according to Compassion In World Farming.

“Farming has gone through a massive industrialisation over the last two generations,” says Richard Smith, farm manager at Daylesford, an organic farm.

“The difference between other businesses and livestock farming is as food has become cheaper, farmers have been forced into levels of efficiency that have never been seen before – and that includes producing animals that grow at phenomenal rates.”

The harsh reality is that factory “farming” is now the reality for the majority of pigs and sheep in the UK. Credit: Farms Not Factories

At the other end of the industry, organic farms ensure animals have enough space to roam free, eat a grass-fed diet, and are taken to small local abattoirs for slaughter.

“Ethical” and “sustainable” farming is gaining momentum as increasingly savvy shoppers seek assurances about where their meat comes from.

“For a while, the term organic gained the reputation of a Gucci-style luxury product, but I think people are realising now that’s just natural food and that’s the way we should be eating,” says Jody Scheckter, who owns organic Laverstoke Park Farm.

Happy as a pig in… Helen Browning’s organic fields. Credit: Martin Phelps

Experts will tell you that the better standard of farming, the better the taste of the meat produced.

As Mark Schatzker, author of “Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef” explains:  “When it comes to steak, we often say fat is flavour, but the truth is, the flavours that make a steak so delicious are dissolved in the fat. So if you feed cattle a bland, high-grain diet (think endless amounts of porridge) you can get ultra-marbled beef which is so revered. The problem is, it tastes like a glass of tap water.”

Daylesford’s commitment to animal welfare goes beyond the requirements set by the UK’s highest welfare standards. Credit: Martin Morrell

Going against the grain: the ethical meat eater

In a destructive cycle, our meat addiction fuels factory farming, which in turn encourages high levels of meat consumption because it makes it so cheap to buy.

It’s a system that doesn’t benefit anyone, including the farmers who are forced to sell meat so cheaply that sales barely cover their costs. Not us, as our overconsumption of meat is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Not the environment, as animal agriculture is the leading cause of human-caused climate change – more damaging than even transport – and not the animals.

To eat meat more ethically, the advice is two-fold: eat less (about 50 per cent less, if you can) and choose better quality meat. This is naturally more expensive, so the question is would you be willing to pay more – and perhaps eat meat less frequently to balance the costs – for an animal to be treated humanely and for the food you consume to be better for your health?

We’re on a mission to find the labels and brands to look out for in the supermarket, the food box schemes that that will deliver straight to your door and the butchers and restaurants across the UK that at the very least give animals a life worth living.

As Scheckter says: “When you’re producing the best-tasting, healthiest food, animal welfare comes free.”


Main image: Tomahawk steak from Higher Hacknell Farm
This article was originally written by Lizzie Rivera for the Independent

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