As a nutritionist I’m often entangled in debates about whether it’s right and healthy to eat animal products or should we all be switching to plant-based diets. It’s not a clear-cut argument on either side, and there are all sorts of myths circulating on social media, cluttering up the debate.
So, it was a joy to be invited along to the Future Farmers of Yorkshire debate about the myths and realities of livestock farming in Harrogate earlier this month and hear direct from our region’s farmers.
I was invited to speak about the nutritional properties of meat and dairy, and the common health issues that can occur when switching to a poorly balanced plant-based diet. (I must emphasise poorly balanced as I know many perfectly healthy vegans and completely respect their chosen diets).
The debate covered a range of subjects including environmental and ethical impacts of farming, and the challenges farmers face when engaging with the public about farming processes. Key facts included:
Environmental impact: only ten per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK stem from the farming industry
Farming, along with forestry, plays a major role in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere
Changing our driving and mobile phone habits would have a more significant environmental impact that stopping eating meat
Livestock cultivation is a vital part of our ecosystem; good use of manure can help build soil structure and provide nutrients for crop growth
Shoppers buying habits are being influenced by busy lifestyles and lack of cooking skills
Contrary to the idea that livestock is pumped full of antibiotics, antibiotic use is greater in humans than animals.
I asked a Vale of York dairy farmer for more details on this; he explained how antibiotics are used as little as possible in livestock, and the time it takes for the medicine to leave a cow’s system is closely monitored. Every tanker of milk is tested for traces of antibiotics before leaving the farm and if any are found the whole tanker must be emptied away, costing them thousands of pounds.
Factual details like these are the sort that get lost in the noisy online debates but are vital for us to make informed food choices.
Written by Sally Duffin