The negative impact of animal agriculture on the environment is no secret. Beef, lamb and pork – staples of the British diet – are some of the least environmentally friendly foods. And it’s getting harder and harder for meat eaters to avoid this reality.
Despite this, not everyone is prepared or able to embrace a vegan lifestyle.
Instead, sustainable meat and adopting a flexitarian diet are becoming increasingly popular. Meaning a diet which is predominantly plant based but not strictly meat free. The meat we do choose to eat being more sustainable.
But what does sustainable meat actually mean? Where can we find it? Is it possible to eat meat responsibly, without harming the planet we love?
What Is Sustainable Meat?
The term food sustainability is used a lot these days. It’s used in the media, by farming companies and on food packaging, but what does it mean with regards to meat?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear cut answer. We’re still waiting for a standard definition of what is and what isn’t sustainable. What qualifies meat as sustainable can vary from farm to farm, meat to meat and person to person.
But the essential aim of sustainable meat is to produce meat in the most efficient way. Whilst minimising the negative environmental impact throughout production and the entire supply chain.
Definitions of sustainability include:
- Meat produced by farms which use low impact farming practices such as:
- Holistic grazing which allows livestock to graze on grass in one pasture and move on to another so the soil recovers naturally.
- Water and energy recycling programmes.
- Minimal use of chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics.
- Organic farming.
- Grass fed (rather than grain fed) livestock.
- Locally produced meats which reduce food miles.
- Genuine free range farming. (Which provides better animal welfare conditions by allowing livestock to roam outside.)
- Lower impact meats (i.e chicken rather than beef or lamb).
- Wild sourced meats which come from wild animals rather than farmed animals. Although controversial, this is arguably more ethical than intensively farming livestock.
What’s the Difference Between Organic and Grass Fed Beef?
Often, organic certified beef and lamb is also grass fed, but not always.
Organic meat means that the livestock were fed organic feed, free from pesticides and other chemicals. This can be grass or grain. Organic farmers are also prevented from using growth hormones or routine antibiotics.
Beef or lamb labelled as grass fed means that the animal was fed on grass, hay or foliage only.
Typically, grass fed livestock roam outside and graze naturally. For this reason, grass fed animals are often healthier than those fed grain. The act of grazing allows them to exercise and grass is far more nourishing than grains.
Which Is Better, Organic or Grass Fed?
Both grass fed and organic beef are more environmentally friendly than regular beef. The absence of chemicals and pesticides on organic farms is also better for the soil.
Meanwhile, grass fed farms are usually run on a much smaller scale than regular cattle farms. Plus, grazing can be beneficial for the soil. Grass fed cattle raised on organic farmlands is definitely the best combination.
That said, neither guarantee the welfare of livestock. We still need to take a close look at the specific farming practices used on each farm.
What About Organic Free Range Chicken and Other Meat?
Chicken and poultry is considered a more environmentally friendly meat. But it isn’t always that clear cut.
Chickens raised on factory farms won’t be as sustainable as say, organic grass fed beef. Plus there’s a problem with the manure produced from intensive chicken farming. It contains toxins, bacteria and pesticides that can all pollute local environments.
So again, it’s about choosing our meat more carefully, whether beef, lamb or poultry.
Where Can I Buy Grass Fed Beef and Sustainable Meat?
Just as there’s no standard definition of sustainable meat, there’s no universal label to look for either. Products labelled as free range may be less ‘free’ than you’d hope. That’s why understanding meat labels is important.
Next time you’re buying meat, these are some key labels to look out for. These will all give you confidence that you’re buying ethical meat.
- Organic certifications (i.e. The Soil Association or the Organic Food Federation)
- Red Tractor
- Pasture for Life
- LEAF Marque
- RSPCA Assured
You can also check the country of origin to know if the meat has been produced in the UK or imported.
A better option is to visit your local butchers instead of buying meat from the supermarket. They’re more likely to know the provenance of the meat they’re selling.
Or you could buy directly from a sustainable local farm. There are a growing number of UK farms and organisations that offer sustainable organic meat delivery. Here’s our pick of some of our favourites.
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FIELD & FLOWER
Field & Flower work with British independent farmers who use extensive free range systems.
While not certified organic, all cattle is fed grass and allowed to forage for their entire lives. Their farmers focus on using free-range systems that also help with prevention of disease within livestock.
They source fish in the sustainable ports of West Country; Newlyn, Newport and Brixham. Traditional line methods are used on slow-moving day boats thus reducing overfishing concerns.
Well Hung Meat
The Well Hung Meat Company provide high quality, sustainable, locally and ethically produced meat. They’re also accredited by the Soil Association.
All their products are organic and most of their meat is hung and butchered on their farm in South Devon. The rest comes from organic farms across Devon.
Green Pasture Farms
Green Pasture Farms are like an online butcher. They provide meat from livestock fed a natural diet and left to roam freely on the pastures of Pendle.
All their meat products are certified organic and their beef and lamb are 100% grass fed.
Brighton Community Agriculture
Brighton & Hove Community Supported Agriculture support local, sustainable farming. They also champion ethical farming.
They’ve launched two programmes – SheepShare and PigShare. Sheep Share allows sheep to graze freely on the downs. Pig Share rears pigs on an organic and free range local farm.
The livestock from both are slaughtered locally on selected dates or according to order and delivered to local customers.
Another UK company specialising in sustainable meats and transparent farming is Primal Meats.
They use regenerative farming to maintain soil quality. Their range of products includes 100% grass fed beef, lamb and mutton. As well as organic chicken, free range pork and wild game.
The Wild Meat Company
The Wild Meat Company are based in rural East Suffolk where there are large populations of wild game.
The company specialises in providing wild caught meat. These include game birds, rabbits, venison and squirrel.
The catch is prepared on the farm, thereby reducing food miles. Then it’s sold at farmers markets or delivered by courier to mainland UK households.
Why Should We Choose Sustainable Meat?
One third of Britons have reduced or stopped eating meat. But meat consumption is still rising globally.
Industrial scale animal agriculture is devastating to our planet. Eating meat is one of the key contributors to global warming and our current climate crisis.
Sustainable meat won’t solve all our environmental problems. But producing and purchasing meat responsibly will help.
Eating less meat and making the meat we do eat more sustainable makes us more environmentally responsible.
Can Meat Ever Be Truly Sustainable?
Many experts agree that avoiding animal products is the single biggest way to help the planet.
It’s true that buying sustainable meat will impact our wallets. In many households, switching to organic or grass fed meat will make eating meat a luxury. Which is as it should be, rather than an everyday expectation.
Eating less meat but of a higher quality is beneficial to our health and to the health of the planet.
We need to think about where our meat comes from, the farms it’s produced on and the farming practices that are used. Because buying mass produced meat on a daily basis at rock bottom prices will never be sustainable.