Over recent months the media have been full of stories about meat consumption and climate change. The number of people who are choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet has been increasing, but the debate can be quite polarising leaving livestock farmers (like those in Weardale and Teesdale) feeling under siege. However, there is a lot of work going on which shows how farming can be part of the solution to reducing emissions without closing down the whole industry.

As part of Food Durham’s work with the farming sector in County Durham, we partnered with the North Pennines AONB Partnership’s Tees Swale project to organise a farm visit to Trees House farm in Teesdale, which is the only certified Pasture for Life farm, in the County. Simon Hare, the farmer, showed a small group of farmers from Teesdale and Swaledale around the farm. He talked through his pasture and soil management which allows him to produce beef shorthorn beef entirely from grass without inputs of feed (i.e. grain or soya based animal feeds) or artificial fertilisers. The farm, which is also certified organic, sells its beef through Cross Lanes Organic Farm Shop on the A66 and a national organic meat group. By focusing on careful pasture and soil management through grazing Simon is focused on building soil organic matter (carbon) which in turn produces better grass and improves resilience in wet weather. The group was impressed by how well the system seemed to be working and there was lots of discussion about potential benefits to wildlife and applications in other geographic areas.

Whatever your views on the issue of meat production and the climate and nature emergency, it is clearly not simple.   Sustain’s recent publication, Every mouthful counts,  outlines the role the sustainable food sector can play with regard to this issue. The Sustainable Food Trust, which works to speed up the transition to more sustainable food and farming systems that nourish the health of both people and planet, has a range of articles on its website about sustainable livestock production. A lot of the peer-reviewed scientific research is brought together on the Food Source website on livestock, but the research on this topic is ever evolving!