Demonising organic beef and lamb won’t help save the Earth

Farming industry representatives respond to an article by George Monbiot that outlined the damage caused by grazing livestock

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Herd of Hereford beef cattle in the English landscape, Cumbria.
‘Encouraging citizens to reject truly sustainable farming systems risks boosting the backlash against serious action on the climate and nature crisis.’ Photograph: Universal Images Group/Getty

There are huge and urgent questions to be asked and answered about the globalised food system. In cherrypicking examples of poor agricultural practice, highlighting particular academic research, and demonising organic and pasture-fed livestock, George Monbiot risks joining curious bedfellows who claim definitive knowledge of “the science”, and alienating fellow travellers in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.

It is a shame that the article did not refer to new research on farmer-led innovation (including that from the IDDRI thinktank and Feeding Britain) and the vital role that ruminant animals play in providing agricultural fertility.

There are risks in undermining the farmers who are working hard to end reliance on fossil-fuel-dependent practices, sequester carbon, restore nature, and demonstrate an alternative to the current globalised, commodified and financialised system, which is harming people and planet. It undermines the agroecology movement, led by the global south, discounting the important role that livestock has to play in nutrition security, fertility rotations, conservation grazing and the livelihoods of small farmers and pastoralists.

Polarising and simplifying these vital debates is distracting and unhelpful. Encouraging citizens to reject truly sustainable farming systems risks boosting the backlash against serious action on the climate and nature crises. Farming can be a force for change, with huge potential to build resilience and security into our food system.
Gabriel Kaye Biodynamic Association, Christopher Stopes English Organic Forum, Sue Pritchard Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, Roger Kerr OF&G, Jimmy Woodrow Pasture for Life, Jyoti Fernades Landworkers’ Alliance, Patrick Holden Sustainable Food Trust

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