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Farming union hits back after environmentalist predicts demise of Welsh livestock farming

04 May 2024 5 minute read
Abi Reader

Martin Shipton

The Deputy President of NFU Cymru has rubbished claims by a leading environmentalist that livestock farming in Wales is doomed.

Gareth Clubb is the director of WWF Cymru, but he stresses that an article published on his blog is a personal view that has not been endorsed by his employer. In it, he argues that changes in eating habits will lead to the demise of the Welsh livestock industry within a few years.

He referred specifically to protein molecules produced by precision fermentation – a technique that allows alternatives to meat to be created by tissue from live animals.

But Abi Reader of the NFU, a third generation farmer herself who farms near Cardiff, said: “Gareth’s comments have not been received well at all by our members. I think it just goes to show how out of touch he is with the situation on the ground, and with reality in terms of how people in this world feed themselves. It’s not news that anyone wants to be hearing at the moment.”

Statistics

Ms Reader said she didn’t recognise statistics quoted by Mr Clubb that suggested there was a significant decline in the number of meat eaters: “We know from the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board’s latest survey that you’ll find dairy in 98% of households, which actually is a higher rate than toilet rolls, and likewise the independent statistics gathering group Kantar has research to show that meat – they haven’t specified whether it’s red or white – is in 97% of British households.

“I’m happy to recognise that diets are varying all the time, and people are very into experimenting with different food, and growing all sorts of different things – the world is getting a smaller place and people are happy to try it. But at the same time their staples – we’re talking about 97% and 98% of households having meat and dairy – we can’t ignore that.

“There was a statistic in Gareth’s piece about younger people not eating meat. The latest statistic I’ve heard from nutritionists like Alex Stanton would be that veganism is at less than 2% and falling. I think vegetarians would be in single figures as well. But people are trying more things.”

Meat alternative

Asked about the protein molecules alternative to meat mentioned by Mr Clubb, Ms Reader said she’d read a couple of papers about it, but the only person she knew of who was championing it was the environmentalist George Monbiot. She said:”It involves taking a molecule from the muscle of a live animal, and then you put it into a Petri dish, I suppose, and you brew it. You have to be quite careful how you do it, because if it goes wrong you’ll just end up with a vat of slurry. But assuming that you’ve got it right, you create the ‘meat’ and then you have to have another dish to create the fat, and then they mix it together.

“We’ve got no indication of what this will do to the human body. It’s not natural at all. What is it going to do to people over time? Without those studies, I think we should be very nervous about what we’re putting into our bodies. Gareth references 2030 – there’s just no way. I’m not saying it won’t happen in the future, but it’s a very long way off – a generation off.

“No one, so far as I’m aware, is eating this stuff regularly. The other interesting thing is that they have to use growth hormones to enable it to grow. That’s something that’s banned in this country.

“I know that George Monbiot has been over to one of the Nordic countries and tried some of the ‘lab-grow’ meat. He’d be the only one I’ve heard of who’s done that. Obviously it’s there in various pockets.”

Taste

Ms Reader said there was also no evidence available about how such alternative ‘meats’ would taste. She said: “I would imagine that if you go to the expense of creating something like that, the taste is going to be one of the key things you’ll want to try to recreate. I think we should be more concerned about the micro- and macro-nutrients that it needs to recreate, and whether it can actually do that. We’re talking about iron, zinc, vitamin B12. All of those things are very important in the diet, and it can only be found sufficiently in meat and dairy.

“They’re incredibly important for us to have in our bodies to keep us healthy, and I’m just not sure that a lab is going to be able to recreate those. It’s got to recreate it within that meat, but it’s also got to recreate it in a form that our bodies recognise and absorb. So it might clinically analyse as something similar to meat, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work. A good comparison would be when you transfer an organ from one person to another – sometimes they’re accepted, sometimes they’re rejected. There’s so much research that needs to be done on these things.

“We don’t know whether what Gareth is suggesting will be successful in the future or not. It’s a very dangerous game to play at the moment when there are so many problems in the world. We need to make sure that we can feed people and keep the price affordable – and the only way you can do that is by keeping the food we’ve got on the market.”


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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
18 days ago

Overreaction, calm down all of you, it would take another Chernobyl to see off our four legged friends…

And is that likely?

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
18 days ago

It’s happening, and six years is a long time where technology is concerned. Initially I’m pretty sure that the lab grown stuff will have some shortcomings compared to the real deal, but let’s face it, natural meat is expensive to produce and not terribly efficient, or indeed a particularly healthy food to eat in the amounts it is eaten. I’m not a farmer, or an environmentalist for that matter, but I often do wonder if better, healthier meat could be produced through ‘rewilding’ and then harvesting the rabbit, deer and wild pig that would thrive in that kind of landscape,… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
18 days ago

Beef is one of the highest costs to the environment, world wide. I fear we are looking at unsustainable methods and will have to change and lower expectations. The cost of food in Wales, anyone buy lamb every week, or steak? Too expensive, it is treat for us. Once a month if we are lucky but had some New Zealand lamb at half Wales lamb price not long ago. If labs knock out something similar will they need to dose up with antibiotics and all the other chemicals you can get with a farm reared chunk? I guess no. If… Read more »

Ap Kenneth
Ap Kenneth
17 days ago

Insulin used to be obtained from pigs, it is now produced by precision fermentation. Originally hugely expensive but now cheap leading to a big row in the US where they were charging $98 per unit while the cost in the UK was $7. Rennin used in cheese manufacturing was obtained from the stomachs of slaughtered calfs, the majority is now obtained microbially. Is anyone pushing for a return to the original source of rennin? Milk proteins are likely to be the first big substitution and while the argument that micro-nutrients will be absent compared to the natural source may have… Read more »

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
16 days ago
Reply to  Ap Kenneth

I think farmers do have a vital role to play moving forward, but I suspect that it will be more in the landscape management and heritage farming business more than food production, which will still be part of what they do, as in today’s article about ancient cattle breeds role in the recreation of habitat. Though there are, and should be caveats, the prospect of lab grown meat without antibiotics, hormones and things like E.coli and Salmonella without the huge environmental impacts of current meat production looks to be a huge benefit for all of us who eat meat, and… Read more »

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