Sustainable livestock farming is essential for a healthy planet, the Sustainable Food Trust insisted this week, as a BBC 1 documentary – ‘Meat, A Threat to Our Planet?’ – launched a broadside at the global meat industry. 

The organisation said it was important to stress the importance of differentiating between the livestock systems and meats that are part of the problem, and those that are part of the solution.

Commenting ahead of screening of the BBC film, SFT founder Patrick Holden said: “There is no doubt that grain fed, intensively farmed livestock, including those found in feed-lots in the USA, are hugely damaging to the environment and public health, and for this reason should be phased out entirely.

“However, it is also true that sustainable agriculture represents one of the most significant opportunities to mitigate irreversible climate change, primarily through the regeneration of our soils. With this in mind, grazing ruminant animals (including cattle and sheep), have a critically important role to play in rebuilding our soil fertility and carbon stocks.”

“…grazing ruminant animals (including cattle and sheep), have a critically important role to play in rebuilding our soil fertility and carbon stocks”

While acknowledging, and supporting, a move away from intensive meat production systems, Holden said that mixed farming – including grazing livestock – formed part of a sustainable solution. And he called for scrutiny to be applied to the provenance and wider impact of the plants we eat, as well as the meat. “Are for example, imported soy or palm oil products, or highly processed meat alternatives, better than eating something we can produce in a sustainable way on our doorstep?”

More attention in the debate on food and farming should given to local growing conditions and capacity, Holden said. “By aligning our diets with the productive capacity of the sustainable farming systems in the area in which we live, we can have a significant impact on shifting the balance of financial advantage towards the type of farming systems we need to mitigate climate change, as well as reducing pollution, increasing levels of biodiversity and most importantly, improving public health.”