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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK

We shouldn’t have any beef with conscientious farmers

Cow in a field
‘The regenerative farmer keeps beef and dairy cattle as part of the farm’s ecosystem.’ Photograph: Getty/iStockphoto

As someone who actively campaigns for environmental protection, I admire George Monbiot, but his attack on the excellent film Six Inches of Soil seems to suggest that he is prepared to assault any idea that does not conform to his apparently very limited worldview (There’s no such thing as a benign beef farm – so beware the ‘eco-friendly’ new film straight out of a storybook, 15 April).

First, the film is primarily about how we can improve and protect our soils, which for many years have been degraded by the overuse of agrochemicals and overproduction. Regenerative farming aims to improve soil quality, increase biodiversity and allow farmers to grow food for us while making a profit. I would have thought these are aims that Monbiot would heartily endorse. Instead he focuses on the beef farmer in the film and his contribution to the climate crisis.

Second, yes, cattle farming is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, but the real villains are the big food lots in the US, Brazil and elsewhere. The regenerative farmer keeps beef and dairy cattle as part of the farm’s ecosystem, using the manure to fertilise fields that would otherwise be covered in artificial fertiliser, much of it produced by fossil fuels. The keeping of animals on a small scale encourages greater biodiversity, improves animal welfare and produces high-quality beef or milk. In the long term, regenerative farmers are encouraging less frequent consumption of meat of a higher quality, which has to be better for us and the environment.

It is naive to expect farmers to completely rewild their land – they need to make money and we need food. Rather than attack those who are trying to improve their farming methods, let us celebrate the regenerative farmers who are making real improvements to the ways in which we produce food and look after our countryside.
Rev Richard Stainer
World development adviser, diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, Suffolk

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