News stories frequently abound about the impact of eating meat on our health, the planet and animal welfare. But, if you’re not keen on going vegetarian, there are still ways that you can enjoy meat while taking an ethical stance.
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When it comes to environmental credentials, meat production has earned something of a bad reputation. As well as demanding a lot of land – with more than 80% of farmland used for livestock – meat production is accountable for producing approximately 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Beef production alone is responsible for 6% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, making it just as bad as the construction industry for causing pollution.
The overuse of antibiotics, poor quality animal feed and dire living conditions also have a negative impact on animal welfare. The result is mass production of cheap, tasteless meat that, at best, lacks nutritional goodness, and, at worst, may contribute to human health problems. So, what can you do to ensure you eat meat that’s the best it can be for your health, the planet and the welfare of the animal it came from?
Quality over quantity
Environmentalists claim that the best way to eat meat sustainably is to opt for quality over quantity. Reduce the amount of meat that you consume and replace it with plant alternatives, such as legumes. When you do eat meat, always choose good quality sources.
Know where your meat comes from
Eating meat ethically is about taking an interest in where your meat has come from. Read the labels on the packaging and look for symbols that denote good animal welfare. These include Pasture For Life, RSPCA Assured or organic certification. Don’t just assume meat is of a good standard if the label includes a farm name. Some farm name brands on meat products have been found to be fictitious.
Buy your meat from a good quality local independent butcher, farmers market or farm shop, where the proprietor will be happy to tell you where the meat has come from if you ask. Find out how the animals were raised, and opt for meat from animals that were pasture-fed, slow-growing, a native breed and humanely slaughtered.
Many people argue that good quality organic meat is too expensive to buy, but there are other factors you need to consider before you dismiss this option.
Mass-produced, processed meat is cheap because it has been intensively farmed, where the animals have been pumped with antibiotics and fillers and fed on inferior grains in cramped conditions. Animals that endure these stressful scenarios and are made to grow faster than normal usually emit a bitter, metallic taste, while animals left to grow at a natural pace outdoors boast a deep, rich flavour.
The nutritional value and quality of cheap, mass-produced meat are likely to be poor. In truth, you just don’t know what you’re eating, or what impacts it could have on your body.
Although good quality meat often comes with a higher price tag, at least you’ll have the reassurance of knowing that the animal was cared for, the meat is as natural as possible and it comes with a much superior flavour. Plus, animals that enjoy better welfare standards tend to be healthier and are less likely to require large doses of antibiotics.
Only buy what you need
Eating meat ethically is also about only buying what you need and reducing wastage. 290,000 tonnes of animal products such as meat are thrown out every year in the UK, much of which could be put to good use. When purchasing meat, use as much of it as you can in cooking, including the carcass, which can be used to make a stock. Freeze any leftovers that you may have.
Cut down on how much meat you buy by bulking dishes up with vegetables, beans and pulses, or opt for ground meat, which is cheaper than other cuts.