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40
DECEMBER 2018
Sustainability Focus
www.irishfarmersmonthly.com
Slowly but surely the merits of grass-based livestock production are coming to the fore. Teagasc's
research on grass-fed dairy production is bringing science to bear on previously anecdotal evidence
that the environmental impact of using pasture to produce milk and meat is far more benign that
confinement systems which rely on grain buffered diets to produce food.
The latest testimony to the desirability and, indeed,
necessity of incorporating grass-based livestock
production into our efforts to deliver sustainable meat
and dairy production systems, comes from an informed
source in the UK. Patrick Holden is the CEO of the
UK Sustainable Food Trust. In a discussion on the BBC
recently Patrick warned that plant-based cropping systems
are leading to the depletion of carbon in soils. While this
is not new science it has been difficult to get the message
across that continuously turning over the soil for planting
various crops leads to the release of significant amounts of
carbon from the soil. By comparison, semi-permanent or
permanent pasture-based food production binds carbon
into the soil structure.
Opposing the vegan rationale
The actual context of the debate in which Patrick Holden
engaged was in relation to the question as to whether
the consumption of meat and dairy should be abandoned
entirely in an effort to limit agriculture's contribution to
climate change. With a strong background in soil science
as a former Soil Association director, Patrick Holden can
be relied on to know what he is talking about. He had this
to say about the growing interest among young people
in adopting vegetarian or vegan diets: "Our concern is
that in giving up eating meat altogether, which of course
is perfectly legitimate for ethical reasons, many people
do not understand the difference between the livestock
that are part of the problem which undoubtedly a lot
of industrial livestock are and the livestock that are
essentially part of the solution. I'm talking here about
ruminant animals beef and sheep, mainly grass-fed
dairy cows without which we would not be able to feed
ourselves in this country in a sustainable way."
He went on to outline the role that livestock at pasture
play in soil fertility: "Some of the most fertile soils in
Arguing the case for
grass-based sustainability