Paris in the spring – it’s warm enough but we’re not there yet

Every silver cloud has a dark lining and despite the euphoria following the Paris climate change agreement, meat production, particularly beef, is still the bad boy on the block. Depending on whom you believe, meat production is responsible for between 12 and 20% of total greenhouse gas emissions of which half to two thirds comes from the beef sector in the form of methane from enteric fermentation (flatulence), manure and feed production. But, as with last month’s news horror story about red and processed meat and bowel cancer, we need more information to make informed decisions and when you do dig around to find it, you end up feeling more than a little embarrassed to find that, for the most part, you’re already doing the right thing. Firstly, I’d like to think that most farm shop, for lack of a better word, ‘stakeholders’ have made the decision, consciously or otherwise, to eat less meat. For seasoning or celebration is as good a term as any – coupled with nose to tail cooking. We still have a way to go on the latter but we’re working on it.

Secondly, organic doesn’t provide all the answers but it’s certainly better than the grain dependent, feed lot system as practiced in the States and elsewhere.   30% of GHG emissions are from animal feed production (including burning rainforest to grow feed crops) but organic beef and lamb is almost entirely grass fed. Established grass leys lock carbon in extensive root growth while arable crops are harvested and reseeded every year. Thirdly, the very nature of the organic market means the post farm GHG contribution is smaller. You don’t get a lot of heavily processed and packaged organic meat products in supermarkets, much is small scale and marketed locally through farm shops, markets and box schemes.

Lastly, it’s constant for all of us, small scale organic to mass produced conventional, but the above mentioned enteric fermentation isn’t quite as bad as it seems because methane only has a lifespan of about eight years. That still isn’t good but if everybody is so worried about methane, why not lay in to rice production which, through the process of creating artificial wetlands creates nearly as much methane as the entire meat industry. I can’t help feeling that, as with processed and red meat, rather than give the extremely unpalatable, socioeconomic demographic facts, it’s easier to tar us all with the same brush. I suppose it has a certain utilitarian effectiveness but I for one won’t be feeling guilty when I sit down to my Christmas celebration or when I tuck in to the leftovers the next day.