If you ask a vegetarian why they choose to be so, you might hear one of the following answers: To be kind to the animals – and then you’ll hear the counter-argument that those animals would’ve never lived if it wasn’t for their meat. Maybe it’s to protect the environment, and then you compare the diverse oasis of life on grazing land with the monoculture desert of a wheat field. To be healthier; you may be onto something, or maybe not according to others.
Of course, it’s all beside the point, even if not eating meat is the ideal scenario, each individual has the right to evolve at their own pace. By this sentiment, it appears people are going to be eating meat for some time. So what are the opportunities to evolve the meat industry? To begin with, anywhere that the word “industry” can be brought into the world of animal rearing you’re going to have a welfare problem. Micro farms, local production, and knowing the producer of your meat is the only real way of assuring the increased welfare of the animals we eat.
Once you’re satisfied with the animal welfare, what about the environment. Large-scale meat production has an infamous reputation for creating ecological disasters, from deforestation to the nitrification of our oceans, and of course, the methane greenhouse gasses that literally have us baking in the Dutch oven of an over flatulent cow population. I’m not convinced that anyone has the answer to the cow farts, but small-scale, locally produced meat has a far smaller impact on the environment than mass-produced exports, especially if produced on a super-efficient mob grazing system.
Mob grazing is simple, inspired by the natural migration of herds and leaves the land in great condition. The principle is easy to understand; you grow your grazing to a good height before giving the herd access to a small strip at a time. The herd then forages for the species they need and prefer while trampling the rest into the soil. This leads to a much better fed animal, and soil that is so well fed that it creates much stronger regrowth. This, in turn, leads to a healthier animal which will become healthier food.
Other additions to this system, such as following cattle with sheep, and sheep with poultry lead to a huge decrease in parasite and disease build up. The concern of routinely administered antibiotics on the farm can then be largely avoided.
This may all take your fancy, but what about the cost!? I guess one answer is to eat less meat but to make sure the quality is higher. Another answer is the community supported agricultural model. With this model, you simply buy into the share of an animal at the start of the season. The farmer cares for the animal, and at the end of the season the animal is butchered and shared amongst those that have bought into the scheme. This system works well if you like the idea of half a lamb for the freezer, an 8th of a beast or a Christmas goose. The options are endless, and you can assure that the meat that you eat has as little negative impact as possible on all that matters to you.