The badger cull, twitter, and an alternative viewpoint

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Yesterday I had an unfortunate argument with someone via Twitter about how much responsibility we as consumers need to take for the proposed (and recently postponed) badger cull. I’ll explain my thinking below but I’d like to explain why I said it was ‘unfortunate’. It was unfortunate primarily because (no matter how it sometimes seems) I don’t like to p*** people off, especially when we’re on the same side. I prefer to debate an issue rather than argue about it, and I’m always trying to better understand. If I seem dogmatic (which is where the p***ing people off comes in) it’s often because I’m testing out my thinking and trying to improve it, and one way to do that is to repeat a point I’m sure of until someone can convince me I’m wrong.

And I am more than happy to admit when I’m wrong. In fact I’m grateful for fresh thinking, always. However, debating on Twitter and using only 140 characters at a time, I probably just come over as stubborn and refusing to listen to a point of view that is different to mine. That isn’t the case. I have no idea whether the person involved will read this, but if they do I hope they can understand that all I wanted to do was put up an argument and if I was wrong have it explained to me why. I have no doubt at all that they were as passionate about animal welfare and injustices as myself, as intelligent and thoughtful as I am (in this case anyway, there are some real muppets on Twitter), and thought their POV was as correct as I thought mine was. That the discussion ended up in the online equivalent of having a phone slammed down on me was – again – unfortunate…

So, what was our disagreement about?

The thoroughly-misguided-and-scientifically-invalid -wanted-by-very-few-people-except-Defra-and-some-farmers badger cull. There are details about the cull all over the internet (and Talking Naturally) so if you’re unaware of the issue do have a look, but basically dairy farmers accuse badgers of giving cattle Bovine TB (btb), which leads to the immediate slaughter of the cattle and loss of revenue to the farmer. The government wants to see what happens if they remove 70% of badgers from two pilot areas (despite badgers being protected animals). They think there will be a reduction in btb of up to 16%. Most scientists who’ve studied badger pilot culls disagree.

An alternative has been suggested: vaccination of the wild badger population. All of it. This will cost millions of pounds and will need to be ongoing for years. It is, though, surely incomparably better than killing a wild animal that has for centuries bumbled along largely minding its own business and would like to go on bumbling along for centuries more. As someone who passionately cares about animals I’m of course on the side of the badger – as I know is the person I argued with. Which, again, was why I described events as ‘unfortunate’.

So far so good. Nothing to argue about. Until, that is, I mused aloud about something that’s been niggling me for months. How much responsibility do consumers of dairy products need to take for the badger cull taking place? It’s been a very uncomfortable question to consider, because it asks some fundamental questions about just what sort of ‘animal lover’ I really am.

Here’s the thing (as I see it anyway).

  • Dairy farmers produce milk which consumers either drink or consume as something else: cream, cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream, butter, and a whole myriad of other foods containing milk proteins and lactose. Dairy products are everywhere when you start to look.
  • Dairy farmers want paying for the milk their cows produce.
  • Few farmers now sell direct to the consumer as so few people go to farms to buy dairy products, and besides which most farmers aren’t manufacturers anymore and don’t make the ice-cream or cakes the consumer wants.
  • The vast majority of dairy sales are now made via supermarkets and major processors. The supermarkets/major retailers buy a LOT of milk. Prices paid by processors for parts of the milk, eg cream, varies. This can impact the prices that retailers will eventually sell those dairy products on for.
  • The UK’s major supermarkets sell unimaginably large amounts of milk (in many forms) because that’s now where most people shop. ‘Fresh’ milk goes off (has a shelf-life) so it has to be moved off the shelves quickly. Supermarkets want as many customers as possible to shop with them so they keep the prices of many staples – including milk and dairy products like cheese – artificially low, while expecting we’ll all also buy higher-ticket items too.
  • Generally consumers buy into this. We all like a bargain, and right now money is tight. And how could we afford to buy dairy anyway if we actually had to pay the supermarket, and the processor, and the farmer a decent profit? We probably couldn’t. And as so much modern food contains dairy products that would probably be a major headache for politicians.
  • This all means that the dairy farmer gets less money for milk and barely anyone says anything about it. In fact prices at the farm gate are being driven downwards. In July dairy farmers complained that they were making a loss on every litre produced, as cattle feed and associated costs (antibiotics, vet bills etc) continued to climb at the same time as the prices they were being paid were falling.
  • That means that every single penny is very important to a dairy farmer.
  • Which is why they are looking for any means possible to hang onto their cows and get as much milk out of them as they possibly can.
  • Which is why there is a call for badgers to be culled.

That might seem a leap, but logically if we buy milk at the prices we do now dairy farmers will ask for badgers – and anything else that threatens their profits – to be dealt with. To me that is an inescapable fact. Like it or not we (if ‘we’ consume dairy products) are driving the calls for a cull whilst understandably campaigning very hard to get that same cull stopped.

That is undoubtedly a difficult argument to be presented with. We’re a nation of animal lovers, we don’t want badgers to die. But despite the farmers trying to tell us that we have a badger problem, what we actually have is a ‘dairy problem’. A huge human population eating ever-increasing amounts of dairy products as cheaply and conveniently as we possibly can. If we didn’t, if we didn’t consume the breast milk of another animal, there would be no calls to kill badgers because there would be no industry looking to scapegoat wild animals for falling profits.

I’m sure a great any people will disagree with this. I’m sure because people on Twitter told me so. But they didn’t come up with an counter-argument to convince me where in my argument I was wrong. I’m not discussing anything else here, not the rights and wrongs of our diet (though I guess that’s implied) just that if there was no dairy industry no-one would be looking to kill badgers. If you’d like to have a go to convince me otherwise, please use the comments field – though bear in mind I will just delete anything that contains swearing or that states I’m an idiot because I’m not.

 

(Of course there is another element of this debate that us ‘animal-lovers’ like to overlook: the suffering of the animals that actually produce all this milk. Cows.

Cows are really rather nice animals. Gentle, affectionate, and intelligent enough to get by if not set the world on fire. They are good mothers, and they produce a rich milk to feed their young. Despite the image that we’re sold, they don’t in fact like to be kept permanently lactating though imposed pregnancy, having their calves taken off them soon after birth, or being sent to slaughter when their udders give up under the strain. There is abundant proof for this on the internet (or even at your local dairy farm), and as animal-lovers who empathise with badgers and possibly own a dog or a cat we probably know this really even if we choose not to think about it.

Here’s something to try. Try stepping to one side and thinking about all of this from the perspective of, say, a visiting alien who has no vested or cultural interest, and is merely observing without taking sides. Then think about what you’d be writing in your log-book on the journey home: ‘One animal killing another so that it can sell more milk of a third to the same animals protesting the killing of the second’.

 

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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores

20 Comments

  1. Amanda Scott says:

    I agree with you. Although currently not a vegetarian nor non- dairy, I have been thinking about it for exactly the reasons you give. As a good friend of mine (also currently not veggie but also thinking about it) said, all policies on BTB, whether cull or vaccination, are about maintaining the status quo, but the status quo is no longer tenable. You have bolstered my resolve to stop consuming meat and dairy – it may not have wider impact in scheme of things but at least I will feel more comfortable.

  2. Chris says:

    I see no problems with your argument Charlie, and that’s why many of us should feel uncomfortable. You’ve put into words the niggling feeling I’ve had about the badger issue, in that I agree the big underlying questions about food production and countryside management in the UK are not being asked.

    For me, (and I respect that you would disagree on the point of eating meat), bearing in mind my limited knowledge, I think livestock can have an important part to play in sustainable food production, especially if we’re talking about slow growing, traditional breeds (which do suffer less health problems than your modern milk machines) on marginal farmland, for conservation grazing, or as part of an inegrated arable / livestock rotation. I also instinctively approve of mixed meat/dairy herds, as frankly the wastage of male calves in dairy production should appall us more. Would switching solely to this sort of production mean meat and dairy was more expensive? For sure. But we have a right to be able to afford to eat meat 2 meals a day, 7 days a week, and half a bottle of milk on our cereal every morning (with half of it going down the drain, I daresay, in some households)? I’m not sure we do, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on that point.

    I’ve been noticing this week how many of our breakfasts depend on a lot of milk, and it bothers me. I already eat very little meat, and I suspect dairy should be the next thing I have a good long think about – about how much I buy, and from where (I try to buy mostly organic from a farm I trust, but does that make a great deal of difference to the overall picture?), and whether I should at all. Thank you for the challenge, and thanks for doing your own thinking through in public. Apologies for the as usual long comment, and keep up the good work!

  3. Paul says:

    Hi Charlie,

    There are a few additional factors that complicate the issue and that aren’t covered in your argument bullets, e.g. the incidence of bovine TB has increased in the last decade and a half, and cattle are being compulsorily slaughtered (24,501 in the 4 months from Jan to Aug this year). Wouldn’t you have to show a causal link between low supermarket milk prices and rising TB incidence for your argument to hold? There could be one, but it might also be that if all our milk production was organic, and milk cost more (or less), there’d be no difference in TB incidence––or it might get worse––or better.
    I agree that the squeeze on milk prices by supermarkets must have knock-on effects on the welfare and husbandry of cattle, and the bank balances of producers. Perhaps it encourages us to consume far more dairy than we otherwise would thus increasing the scale of the conflict?
    I can’t help thinking a visiting alien might find our huge consumption of milk and dairy products per se odd enough (although perhaps they’d be surprised we don’t eat the badgers and kill two birds with one stone).

  4. Charlie Moores says:

    Thanks for commenting Amanda. I was expecting a bit of a shellacking when I posted this to be honest! Maybe people who fundamentally aren’t interested in these sorts of opinions don’t ever visit Talking Naturally! I agree: the status quo is no longer tenable. We’re losing far too much wildlife and plantlife to continue upholding the status quo, and so much of that loss is directly linked to what – and how much – we eat. One thing I would disagree with you though is that I genuinely believe that we can have an impact. We may not all agree precisely on what the best actions are and how best to achieve what we want, but just putting your thoughts out there can sometimes change opinions…and if that gets passed down the chain who knows what might happen.

  5. Charlie Moores says:

    Hi Chris. Thanks very much for your thoughtful comment (too long? never). I’m (as I think you know) just working these things through myself. I honestly don’t know what the environmental impact of very local, small-scale production is. As you say I wouldn’t eat the meat from, say, the Dexter Cattle that Wildlife Trusts use to graze in conservation areas but is it ‘wrong’ from an environmental POV? I honestly don’t know. It’s not industrial scale agriculture which I loathe, and I can see the merits of grazing in chalk downland areas of course…but is it just the ‘nice’ end of us using animals until we don’t need them anymore I don’t know? Maybe I should ring the Trusts and ask what happens to the cattle when they’re taken off the reserves. Given the popularity of Dexter beef in local restaurants round here I suspect it’s not going to be happy.

    Re dairy, I was really surprised when I stopped to think about just how much dairy I was eating. Cheese and cream is in everything, and like you I used to drown my cereals in milk (I use sweetened Soya now which was a surprisingly easy switch). I genuinely admire people who have given up dairy on principle (rather than because of lactose intolerance), and – for me anyway – I can’t see me turning back. Once you think about these things and allow that they may actually be true (as vegans have been saying for decades) it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

    Anyway, thanks for your encouragement and support and thanks for reading and taking the time to comment

  6. Charlie Moores says:

    Hi Paul. Thanks for your comment and for obviously thinking abut the issue. I’ve thought about what you’ve said, and for me the point of what I wrote was that if you ‘drill down’ (I can’t think of another phrase) the cull is taking place because we consume dairy products. I’ve not gone into the minutiae of the argument as there are so many factors (like the growth in the human population, the massive growth in dairy products – we didn’t have creamy ready-meals when I was growing up, cheeses were a bit of a treat, cheese-covered pizzas weren’t sold on every high street, etc etc – and the resulting intensification of the dairy industry (and the rise in milk yield expected from each cow which means they’re producing many times the amount they were just a few decades ago)) which doubtless impacts on profits vs welfare vs how many badgers will be killed, but the bottom line is that were there no dairy industry there would be no cull. That’s logically indisputable surely? What an individual chooses to do with that information is up to them of course, but I do sincerely believe that this fact has been largely overlooked/ignored in the debate so far.

    Oh,and re the visiting alien eating the badger, there’s no reason to suppose that such a technologically advanced race wouldn’t have given up eating meat many millenia ago :)

  7. Peter says:

    Hi Charlie

    I’m not saying the consumer is blameless in this – but I don’t see that we have a lot of choice. There seems little link between what we choose to buy and how the supermarkets treat farmers. If we could influence that – if we had a choice about what to buy – then I think we would have to accept at least partial responsibility for the situation.

    It would be interesting to see what would happen if we could buy the equivalents of free-range or fair-trade milk – where we paid a premium for milk from more humane farms (less pressure on the cows) or from farms where no badgers were killed (but prices included the cost of btb for the farmer).

    I suspect cheap milk would still form the majority of sales. But we’d have a choice. I’ve not looked too closely, but stood in a supermarket, I don’t see any purchasing power of the consumer when it comes to milk.

    I don’t wish to excuse the public’s (including me) general preference to buy cheapest while quietly dismissing nagging doubts as we take products from the shelves. But the disconnect between choice given us in the shops and what happens behind the scenes is, I would have thought, the crux of the issue. I suspect – as with many such things – we will rely on pressure groups to campaign for better standards to make real improvements to the lot of cows, badgers and farmers – thereby forcing a realistic price for milk.

    And, whilst I sympathise with farmers about btb, the fact that Government (as I understand it) dismisses science when deriving a strategy for the issue dooms us to ineffective and expensive approaches that don’t provide a solution. Indeed, to waste money on political expediency in a time of austerity seems downright irresponsible of those in power who are peddling the cull.

    Best wishes

    Peter

  8. Charlie Moores says:

    H Peter. Thanks for commenting. I hope this doesn’t sound harsh but though I understand your point – and would perhaps have said the same thing until recently – we absolutely do have a choice: to not buy the milk at all. Not buying milk would have been unthinkable to me not so long ago, but I always had that choice whether I recognised it or not. The effect that has on farmer’s incomes is a whole other debate, but my central point still remains – if there was no dairy industry there would be no calls from that industry for a cull of badgers.
    Interesting that you should mention ‘disconnect’ too. It seems to me that many of us are completely disconnected from what we eat and the impacts it has on the animals and environment around us – and from the choices we can make to ‘reconnect’ again,

  9. Chris says:

    I feel I should point out that I’m only imagining the drowning in milk, I actually like a bit of crunch in my definitely-never-Nestle-generic-brand ‘Shreddies’ ;)
    But thinking about it, we’re still getting through about 1 litres a week each, which is only a bit below the average (1.5, apparently)

    Veggie diets often end up being dairy heavy by default. Our vegan friends often complain that vegetarian options in restaurants invariably end up with cheese replacing the meat. The clue should be the ‘veg’ part of vegetarian, that’s what we all need to eat more of, whether or not we actually drop animal products altogether. A little of them goes along way, flavour wise, after all.

  10. Hannah Condliffe says:

    Instead of pointing fingers and telling consumers how to live their lives, why not try to come up with a solution to the problem? In your opinion, nobody should buy dairy products and that’s fine. If you feel so passionate about it, why dont you come up with a REALISTIC solution?

  11. Charlie Moores says:

    Thanks for your comment. I do feel passionate about it and I have come up with a solution: I no longer buy dairy. That feels quite real to me. Do I expect people like yourself to follow suit? No, of course not. It’s entirely up to the conscience and ethics of the individual consumer and if that’s not appropriate to you that’s nothing to do with me.

  12. Paul says:

    Hi Charlie,
    No, the cull isn’t taking place because we consume dairy products. It’s because badgers are one vector for the spread of bovine TB in our country and that impacts on our consumption and production of dairy products.
    You are right of course – if none of us ate dairy products (or beef I guess) there’d be different problems to address. But we do.
    I can’t see that it is necessarily right or wrong to choose the rights of badgers over our dairy consumption preferences or the life-history of the bacterium or the rights of farmers, or even supermarket executives (and surely they deserve less consideration than the bacterium), when it comes to removing a term from the equation that would ‘solve’ the problem. The problem of making a decision full of compromise exists because we hold different views and sensibilities.
    It will be a political decision weighing up the costs and benefits (and uncertainty) of scientific recommendations, the general mood of moral sensitivity, feelings of injustices done towards farmers (or badgers; or cattle; or milk consumers), our economic security, unease or unwillingness to confront or care about long term impacts on biodiversity (perhaps with a large dose of consideration for the likelihood of re-election Peter!)
    A recommendation to avoid dairy only solves the problem for a few, others believe it is morally and practically preferable to eradicate badgers – while for our visiting aliens having evolved, as they no-doubt did, obligately to eat nothing but animal protein, the most fitting moral solution is to feast on the cattle, the badgers and then us. (who brung the aliens to this thread?)

  13. Charlie Moores says:

    Hi Paul.
    Thanks for your articulate comment.
    Actually, yes, I do believe the cull is taking place because we consume dairy products. I go back to my central thought: if there was no dairy industry there would be no calls to kill badgers. I’m not saying that there aren’t other factors, other elements to take into consideration, but it’s surely not debatable that human beings (not me or you specifically – all human beings) can live without dairy products. We might want them, we might have preferences, we might like cheese or creamy foods, but we don’t require them. If we accept that then it follows that we don’t NEED the dairy industry.
    No-one else is calling for a cull of badgers. I’m not. You’re probably not. Most people (according to all the polls) don’t want it. Where do the calls come from? From the people whose livelihoods are directly impacted by btb. I’m not debating whether it’s a horrible disease or not (it is), I’m not saying that if I wasn’t a dairy farmer I might not make that same call (many don’t, some do), and I’m not specifically debating the morality of the industry (though it’s obvious how I feel about it). I am saying though that if the industry didn’t exist there would be no calls from it to kill badgers (badgers affect profits as you acknowledged when you wrote “It’s because badgers are one vector for the spread of bovine TB in our country and that impacts on our consumption and production of dairy products”).
    Yes, of course the industry exists, yes of course many people choose to consume dairy. I’m not suggesting a boycott (it wouldn’t work), I’m simply musing aloud about what I know some people are also thinking and saying what I intend to do. It’s a very complex problem. Let’s hope vaccination is the answer so many of us want it to be.
    But I genuinely don’t understand – and I’m not trying to be awkward – how there can be any debate about whether the dairy industry would be calling for a cull of badgers if that industry wasn’t around to make that call.

  14. Paul says:

    You are right of course, the dairy industry wouldn’t call for a badger cull if the dairy industry didn’t exist. I’d venture to suggest that it would be silent on an infinity of other issues in that case :)

  15. Peter says:

    Hmmm. OK, fair enough. (And, no, not harsh at all.)

    You don’t see a great call by major conservation NGOs to wean the world off cattle – but no doubt someone has done the sums (cost, area of land that would be needed, improved carbon efficiency (without all that burping etc)) and I’m sure there are well-worked and compelling arguments from a conservation point of view. (Just need to check how wildlife-friendly soya farms are, and what the ratio of those to arable is necessary to support Lapwings and Skylarks…)

    Presumably, as with many such issues, the key is how you convert a public to change their traditional tastes to an alternative in the face of a machine that advertises so effectively to keep us buying the products that business would prefer we buy. You can’t help thinking that conservation success over the next 50 years will be won through a much better understanding socio-economics…

  16. Peter says:

    Actually, one cup of tea later, I’m going to disagree! I don’t think going non-dairy is the correct approach. (You’ll have to forgive the following for being based on no understanding of how economics work, but I’d like to think there’s at least a naïve logic…)

    The human race will exploit the worlds’ resources to house, clothe and feed itself. It’s a fair assumption that, at some point, wildlife will have a negative impact upon that production line – whether it’s a more direct effect such as a disease that damages animals (eg bovine TB) or the crop (whatever rust Barberry carried), or a less direct one such as farming practices (profits would no doubt be increased by pristine monocultures with no weeds, insects, hedges etc). So, it’s likely that any farming business that simply wished to increase its profits would harm wildlife in one way or another.

    It’s a bit of a leap, I admit, but abandoning dairy farming to avoid a badger cull is a bit like not eating anything made from wheat because (ultimately) it has caused the loss of Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings and other farmland wildlife. (Please excuse the tone if it sounds like I’m being facetious.)

    Conservation strives for balance – a compromise to a pure profit-seeking production line that allows a bit of space for wildlife. That inevitably increases the cost – and that’s the price we pay to have wildlife and open spaces and all the other benefits we reap from the natural world.

    Somehow, that premium should be passed onto the consumer. Bread (wheat) should cost more to ensure wheat farms accommodate a certain amount of wildlife. The same should apply to dairy products.

    But, as said, I suspect there is a large disconnect. I suspect the cost of set-aside, HLS etc comes from taxes, rather than a few additional pence on a loaf of bread. I suspect supermarkets pressure farmers so that Tesco can complete with Sainsbury over milk prices. I suspect those prices are little influenced by farmers or suppliers debating the real cost of farming or by consumers being able to choose.

    I suspect consumers have no idea of the fair price of farm products, or the pressures and costs upon farming to accommodate wildlife – yet, I suspect, most of the nation if asked would say this should be an important consideration.

    I presume wildlife-friendly farming relies on being able to establish the proper cost of production, factoring in all the compromises that are necessary to accommodate wildlife – whether that’s a badger population free of the threat of a cull, enough large insects that would allow Red-backed Shrikes and Great Bustards to survive in the UK, hedges, functional floodplains etc etc.

    So, my turn to say I hope this doesn’t sound too harsh: the all-or-nothing approach of boycotting a whole arm of the farming industry is, I feel, unlikely to be effective and – crux of the issue – avoids the real problem of seeking a genuinely integrated approach (including a fair cost for the consumer and farmer) for how we exploit the planet while still providing space for wildlife. (Though don’t ask me how you solve that!)

    The badger cull is just one example of that dilemma – the majority are less obvious, don’t make the headlines and don’t tug on the heart-strings.

  17. Charlie Moores says:

    Hi Peter. Many thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment (I know how busy you so I especially appreciate it)..

    You bring up a number of points about conservation and farming and food production etc that I find extremely interesting.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m teaching you to suck eggs. I’m just thinking aloud. Firstly I must stress that I’m not suggesting for a moment that we can exist without having a footprint. Everything we do, of course, impacts other forms of life. For us humans to exist other things are dying all the time. We should (and I’m sure you agree) do what we can to lower that impact as much as we can though. Food production of all sorts has a massive impact on the planet, but for me the great difference between a farmer ‘ultimately’ removing Corn Buntings etc and what is being proposed for badgers is that it’s deliberate. This is not remotely about increasing production of a ‘food’ we need to feed the world (more of which below), but – in the most cold terms – killing a wild animal because that animal is impacting on the profits of individual farmers who are exploiting other animals on our behalf anyway. To me that is just wrong.

    Does that mean a boycott is the answer? I’ve not advocated a boycott anywhere except my own personal one. I already don’t eat meat for many reasons but welfare, land-use, climate change, and the fact I don’t think we should industrialise sentient beings and turn them into commodities are amongst them. Logically, and I think i should have seen this years ago, that means my not supporting the dairy industry either which is no different to the meat industry in any way except name. Millions of people disagree, but millions more won’t have even given it a thought. This post was one way to put my own thinking out there and suggest an alternative viewpoint. That viewpoint remains that without an industry that produces vast, vast amounts of something we don’t actually need at a huge cost to the animals and the environment there would be no cull.

    You mention soya and wildlife-friendly farming. I’ve had this brought up many times – ie wouldn’t we be covering the world in soya fields if we all went veggie or gave up dairy. We (we humans anyway) are currently turning the Amazon into a soy field: not for direct human consumption but largely to feed to animals to process (with enormous amounts of water) into much smaller amounts of meat (“About 85 percent of the world’s soybean crop is processed into meal and vegetable oil, and virtually all of that meal is used in animal feed…Approximately six percent of soybeans are used directly as human food, mostly in Asia.” http://www.soyatech.com/soy_facts.htm). Cut out the ‘middlemen’ (ie the farm animals who are fed all this soya) and just imagine how more environmentally-friendly our food production would suddenly become? And it would: “In the reference scenario – developed to represent the FAO projections – global agricultural area expands from the current 5.1 billion ha to 5.4 billion ha in 2030. In the faster-yet-feasible livestock productivity growth scenario, global agricultural land use decreases to 4.8 billion ha. In a third scenario,combining the higher productivity growth with a substitution of pork and/or poultry for 20% of ruminant meat, land use drops further, to 4.4 billion ha. In a fourth scenario, applied mainly to high-income regions, that assumes a minor transition [my highlighting] towards vegetarian food (25% decrease in meat consumption) and a somewhat lower food wastage rate, land use in these regions decreases further, by about 15%.” http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/banr/AnimalProductionMaterials/WirseniusLandNeeded.pdf

    A Utopian vision? Of course, but isn’t that what we should be aiming at? That brings up what you said about conservation. “I suspect consumers have no idea of the fair price of farm products, or the pressures and costs upon farming to accommodate wildlife – yet, I suspect, most of the nation if asked would say this should be an important consideration.” Why don’t they know? Why is no-one telling them? You talk about the balancing act that conservation is constantly having to make, but I do wonder just what conservation is going to achieve in the next thirty years if it doesn’t tackle the Big Three issues of over-population, over-consumption, and food production. You know just how much admiration I have for conservationists and I appreciate that those at the sharp-end of conservation have to deal with reality, but surely if we all continue to say that ‘we all eat meat that’s just how it is’, or ‘conservation can’t get involved in issues like over-consumption or talking about population it’s not what our members want’ that’s ignoring the reality of what’s causing global wildlife populations to collapse. Conservation – for all the work, the occasional victories, and the heroic efforts of people like yourself – is like putting a plaster over a huge running sore at the moment and that sore won’t be fixed by government. Who’s going to fix it? It’s going to have be the rest of us hugely changing our ways. IMHO the message about the change needs to come from respected conservation organisations with their huge memberships and access to media and it needs to be far stronger, far more forthright than now. That change in tone is happening, but there is so much caution, so much need not to upset the member and lose those all-important membership subs (I’m not being flippant or facetious I know how important that is) that (IMHO again) it’s nowhere near as strong as it needs to be. Rant over., but I know how frustrated many conservationists are and I’m not far off the mark.

    On that when it comes to the badger cull I’ve not found a single wildlife conservation organisation saying, ‘Actually, you know, dammit, it is wrong to kill badgers to prop up an industry we don’t actually need’. They may well be saying it because they don’t believe that to be true ( :) ), but the fact is that we don’t need dairy, we don’t need to kill badgers simply because we consumers want dairy products, and I don’t think we should be ignoring the impact on the environment that the dairy industry has. As I keep saying, no-one else is calling for this slaughter. I’m not, you’re not, most people aren’t. Why do we ignore that fact? Could it be that we just don’t like to think about our own role in what’s going to take place?

    That’s more than enough for me. Thanks for the chance to discuss this further, and thanks again for taking the time to comment.

  18. Charlie Moores says:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks so much for commenting at such length.
    The odd formatting of this blog means that the amount of width to respond gets narrower with every reply, so I’ve carried on below.

    Charlie

  19. Tristan Reid says:

    Some interesting and perhaps provocative comments. Firstly I have to agree with Charlie regarding his stand point on the dairy industry. I also applaud his move to veganism. I have been a vegetarian all my life, but I have not quite made the leap to becoming a vegan.
    Lets face facts and look at the bigger picture; the only way to really make any impact on saving the planet from imminent destruction is if we all became vegan. The reality is that this is really unlikely to happen; we do need to find alternatives.
    I do feel for the farmers trying to make a living in hard times and I do understand that bTB is having a major impact on their livelihood. However I cannot understand the governments insistence on going ahead with a savage cull that goes against scientific research and will in effect make the problems for farmers far greater. There are alternatives; we need to use them.
    I digress….. is it the individuals responsibility to make the right ethical choices? Yes, of course it is. We are all accountable.

  20. Simon says:

    Disease in agricultural is often driven by the intensity of a given system, it breeds / has a higher risk of disease – this is no different to the Btb issue and of course badgers are a vector of the disease, but they are rather caught up in this debate, which has failed to address the real issue.

    I’m not sure we need to agree to all stop eating meet or dairy we just need to stop eating so much of it. Clearly with over a billion people clinically obese it’s a big problem and clearly we aren’t short of food – I can hear the internal dialogue of some now regarding food security – stop! It’s about resilient and sustainable food systems not about growing more – because lets face it that wont get to the starving people anyway!

    80% of all arable produce goes to feed livestock – hold on there’s a problem here isn’t there?

    Lets have a more integrated, resilient and sustainable system of agriculture with farms that produce food, wildlife, good soil, clean water and store carbon and less about paying farmers who do well out of the market with more payments going to those who produce those public benefits – surely the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy will do this…….oh wait a minute!

    I quite like my milk to go on a nice bowl of Jordan’s conservation grade cereals – I know it comes from farms producing those goods already! Conservation Grade milk would be quite nice too!

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