Eating sustainably – how consumers can support British farmers

After plenty of drunken conversations at 3 am in the morning outside fast food shops in a busy city centre, attending a non-agricultural university really opened my eyes to how out of touch my peers are with British food production and modern farming practises.

After plenty of drunken conversations at 3 am in the morning outside fast food shops in a busy city centre, attending a non-agricultural university really opened my eyes to how out of touch my peers are with British food production and modern farming practises.

Yet these late night conversations illustrated a deep-rooted desire from my peers to know where their food comes from and how exactly it is produced.

Whether a meat-eater, vegetarian or vegan, I firmly believe your choice to eat what you want is yours and yours alone. But whilst I am not prejudice towards other peoples’ choices, I have encountered prejudice due to my farming background and different perspective about the production of food.

For instance, it is often not recognised that British farmers are producing food for everyone across a range of price points that is affordable to all.

But more often than not I am told misconceptions about the industry that are simply not true and have encountered a lot of negative, hostile opinions.

Happy healthy grass fed lambs

And with the climate change conversation taking more and more precedent in media coverage every day, I, like many other farmers, feel it is time to set the record straight about British agriculture, especially red meat, and the importance of eating seasonally and sustainably.

Did you know that the UK is one of only four countries grades A in animal welfare globally?

Some much needed TLC

This means British agriculture has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world: so purchasing British meat ensures that from farm to fork, that animal has had the best quality of life adhering to the best welfare standards at every single stage.

The UK is also one of the lowest antibiotic users in the EU – usage on British farms reduced by 53% on farms between 2014-2018. This means UK farmers are using antibiotics on farm in a responsible way to tackle and prevent antibiotic resistance in comparison to globally where antibiotics are seen as a tool to enhance faster, more profitable animal growth.

Interestingly, only 65% of UK farmland is suitable for growing grass and grazing livestock – this means the land cannot be used to grow cereals, fruit or vegetables. So grazing sheep and cows is the best way of converting this luscious green grass into protein fit for human consumption whilst making efficient and sustainable use of one of the country’s most natural resources.

But perhaps more impressively, these livestock pastures also act as carbon sinks, sequestrating atmospheric co2 in the soil as well as providing vital habitats and food sources for some of our most treasured wildlife species.

This is why British beef has a carbon footprint 2.5 times lower than global average and is incredibly sustainable!

And although we are all very fortunate to live in a society where we can eat strawberries at Christmas and can access world wide produce all year round due to imports, I feel slightly uneasy that the importance of seasonal produce is not even an after-thought for most shoppers.

Buying British produce in season not only supports your local growers but also reduces the environmental impact of food miles and ensures flavoursome nutritional health benefits too!

Farm fresh seasonal strawberries anyone?

In the UK carrots, cauliflowers, potatoes and peas are available from British growers all year round but other fruit and vegetables have much shorter seasons – why not visit the Great British Larder to find out what is in season when!

With the UK average household only spending 8% of income on food, the third lowest in the world, it therefore does not seem to me an unreasonable ask when considering all of the above for consumers to spend an additional £1 on British produce, especially red meat, rather than purchasing cheaper foreign alternatives.

After all, it is all about making conscious choices regarding the provenance of the food in your fridges and cupboards and by buying British you are simply supporting sustainable agriculture.

So how do consumers select British produce?

Below are four labels to look out for on packets of produce on your next weekly shop. These apply to everyone – meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans, so there should be something for every dietary requirement!

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Red Tractor 

An independent UK whole chain food assurance scheme, Red Tractor assures the highest standards of food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection from farm to pack.

Inspections are made regularly to ensure that producers are meeting certain standards, such as food safety, animal welfare and the environment.

The logo can be found on:

  • meat: beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey
  • dairy: milk, cheese, cream,
  • cereals and flour
  • fruit, vegetables and salads
  • sugar

With strong characteristics of tracability, animal welfare standards, 100% British and environmental protection, it’s time consumers #trustthetractor

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British Lion Mark  

The British Lion Mark is one of the UK’s most successful food safety schemes, selling more than 130 million eggs since its launch in 1998.

 Their eggs are produced under the requirements of the British Lion Code of Practice which covers the entire production chain.

It has strict safety controls such as a guarantee that all hens are vaccinated against Salmonella and a ‘passport system’ making all hens, eggs and feed fully traceable.

Healthy hens = happy hens = eggs!

https://www.egginfo.co.uk/

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Quality Standard Mark 

One for you meat eaters.

Quality Standard Mark is a scheme for beef and lamb which has a strict selection process to ensure that it is succulent and tender.

It also tells you where the meat originates from: for instance, there is a St George’s flag if the animal was born, raised and slaughtered in England and the Union Jack if any part of the process took place in Scotland and Wales.

It is really that easy to buy British beef and lamb!

http://www.qsmbeefandlamb.co.uk/quality-standard-mark

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RSPCA Assured 

The RSPCA Assured label ensures that every stage of an animal’s life has met their Five Freedom Standards. It can be found on meat, poultry, diary and fish products.

Their vision is for all farm animals to have a good life and be treated with compassion and respect.

It covers all types of farming – indoor, outdoor, free-range and organic farming and includes regular traceability checks.

Fun fact – M&S became the first supermarket retailer to supply RSPCA Assured Milk in September 2017!

https://www.rspcaassured.org.uk/

Where else can I find British food produce?

British products are not only found in supermarkets – they are widely available in butcher shops, farm shops, markets and pubs chains (such as J.D. Weatherspoon) across the country. Have a google and see for yourself!

So, take the time to be more aware about the provenance of your food and what makes it into your mouth…

And if you want to know where to buy any British products from, the National Farmers Union (NFU) has a handy online resource which tells you which supermarkets you can buy all your British produce from, catering for all dietary choices.

https://www.countrysideonline.co.uk/home/get-involved/how-can-i-back-british-farming/

I hope you have found this helpful and as always, let me know if you have any questions.

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#LoveLambWeek

Unsurprisingly for a sheep farmers daughter, Love Lamb Week is my favourite campaign in the farming calendar – here’s why

It’s finally here…  the best campaign in the farming calendar (although as a sheep farmer’s daughter I am a bit bias!).

#LoveLambWeek is an annual campaign promoting the work of British sheep farmers and their efforts in providing the produce on your plates.

With over 65% of the UK’s farmland suited to growing grass (aka unable to grow crops), especially in Upland areas, grazing livestock is the best way of converting natural resources into protein rich lamb.

Grazing plays a key role in shaping and maintaining our iconic countryside and also stores a huge amount of carbon – a win win for everyone!

Swale lambs grazing at 1000ft above sea level

This year’s campaign, running from the 1st – 7th September, is all about celebrating everything that is tasty about sustainable British lamb and the health and wellbeing benefits of eating this red meat.

I’m quite old fashioned in that I like my lamb chops served with roast potatoes, veg and a dollop of homemade mint sauce.

But with recipes for lamb kebabs, herb rubbed steak and pies popping up all over the internet, the versatility of this delicious meat is becoming common knowledge, which is great to see!

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Teriyaki Lamb Stir-Fry

Here’s a link to some awesome lamb recipes from @simplybeeflamb should you wish to expand your tastebuds and cook something new! http://www.simplybeefandlamb.co.uk/campaigns/love-lamb-week

But whilst this is a week of celebrating this sustainable protein rich red meat, it is also a week of educating and shattering misconceptions about the production of lamb.

Some of these misconceptions have already surfaced on my social media timeline.

For example, this image.

It shocks me how misleading this image is.

Suggesting that the lamb in the photograph is a few months old is laughable – at most it is 4 days old.

Here is a photograph of a few months old lambs – let’s play spot the difference.

Just a shed full of lambs

Notice how these lambs are much bigger, with broad legs, neat and compact shoulders, have a good width of loin and their tails are not too lean or fat.

These are the kind of lambs, known as finished/fat lambs, that are served on your plate – not the week old cute and cuddly one in the photograph.

But what bugs me more is the misconception that farmers are cruel to their sheep!

The reality is that sheep farmers care too much about their flocks wellbeing and a lot of time and planning goes into producing a lamb!

A short insight into a year of lamb production…..

Autumn If farmers did not care, we would not spend days at an auction ringside, bidding at sheep/tups sales for additional or replacement stock to ensure our flock grows in strength.

Winter If farmers did not care, we would not drag ourselves from our comfy warm beds at 5.30am to scan sheep in the freezing cold morning or go searching in blizzards of snow for lost sheep.

Spring If farmers did not care, we would not tire ourselves out during Lambing time for months on end.

The list of daily jobs include: bottle feeding pet lambs, marking and turning out, bedding up, feeding up, checking outdoor sheep, bringing in any poorly lambs – to name a few.

Oh and of course, lambing sheep!

If farmers did not care, we would not spend hours out in the fields checking on new born lambs and running after them until we are blue in the face trying to catch them so that they could go back inside for some extra TLC.

We also would not free the lambs who get their heads stuck in fences and suffocate themselves, a notorious party trick for horned lambs!

There is always one!

Summer If farmers did not care, we would not spend most of our time maintaining our flocks welfare through daily chores of dosing and foot-trimming (the smelliest job!).

If farmers did not care, we would not work long hours gathering and sorting lambs to go to the auction/abattoir in sweltering hot conditions.

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In charge of tagging

So, think again before stating farmers do not care as we clearly do! This, in short, is how the lamb on your plate is produced each year.

A final point to mention is that not all lambs are produced solely for meat! For example, on our farm we select Swaledale/Texel  lambs each year in order to improve the quality of our future flock.

For me, #LoveLambWeek is an incredibly important campaign that sheep farmers everywhere need to get behind.

It is time we educate our consumers about the provenance of their meat, rather than leaving it all to Google.

If you are still unsure about eating lamb, ask your local farmer questions and if possible, go and see how lamb is produced.

Support us by buying lamb directly from local butchers or consciously selecting British Lamb at the supermarket.

And finally join in with #LoveLambWeek and promote our hardworking sheep farmers!

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Lord Mayor’s Show 2017

This weekend I was extremely fortunate to represent North West Farmers (Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire) at the 802nd Lord Mayor’s Show, London, on behalf of the National Farmers Union, New Holland and The Worshipful Company of Farmers.

This weekend I was extremely fortunate to represent North West Farmers (Lancashire, Cumbria and Cheshire) at the 802nd Lord Mayor’s Show, London, on behalf of the National Farmers Union, New Holland and The Worshipful Company of Farmers.

For those of you thinking, what on earth is the Lord Mayor’s Show, it is one of the most popular historic civic pageants in the world, dating back to 1215 and is basically an eccentrically British celebratory pageant through the streets of London.

I was delighted when I received the email back in August from the NFU announcing I had been nominated and selected as their ‘Young Farmer’ representative for the North West region, and have been counting down the days until the show ever since.

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One of the magazines we were featured in!

And what a weekend it was.

After all, it is not your average day that you escort a brand new T7 tractor and C8.80 Combine down the narrow streets of the capital city on national television live!

I was super excited, having only been to London a couple of times previously and couldn’t wait to meet the other seven young farmers who I would be sharing this unique experience with.

I travelled down on the Friday and despite getting lost twice on the tube and abandoning google maps for the old fashion ‘ask a stranger for directions’ technique, I finally made it to The Grange St Pauls, arguably the most luxurious hotel I have ever stayed in!

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Which to choose?!

After the excitement of finding two queen sized beds in my room, both for me, we all met in the lobby and headed off for an official show briefing.

Following this,  we went for dinner at The Paternoster, kindly provided by New Holland.

I have never felt so full in all of my life, especially since there was a mix up with the starters and I ended up with a British bangers board all to myself!

Every part of the meal was delicious and if you are ever in London, I highly recommend checking out this restaurant – you will not be disappointed.

During dinner I got the chance to get to know the other young farmers in a more informal manner, as well as meet the New Holland and NFU team in charge of organising the event, including the then NFU president Meurig Raymond.

Once the meal was over we were provided with our jackets, caps and to everyones’  delight, a model T7 tractor each.

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Big kid alert!

Never have I see a group of Young Farmers so excited over a toy!

DAY OF THE SHOW

Up early in true farmer fashion, we headed out onto the streets for official photographs with the New Holland kit.

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After the two minutes silence for Remembrance Day, the parade started and what a sight it was to watch!

There was so much noise, colour and performance going on that you simply didn’t know where to look.

We were number 101 in the pageant and after 45 minutes, we finally set off, promoting the “PROUD TO PRODUCE YOUR FOOD” message to the onlooking general public.

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We got an incredibly reaction, from children cheering, hi-fiving us and pointing to the combine in excitement to the elder generation thanking and smiling at us from every direction.

Even the mayor seemed delighted with his hamper of British produce and New Holland toy tractor!

It was humbling and encouraging to see so much enthusiasm for UK agriculture from all generations lining the streets, especially with the lurking Brexit negotiations making the next ten years uncertain for most farmers, and the fact that by 2050 there will be 9 billion people needing to be fed.

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Tight squeeze!

It made the freezing cold and aching jaw (from smiling too much) worthwhile and filled me with optimism that the British people are keen to #backbritshfarming and learn about the provenance of their foods.

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Pre-parade brew and selfie

All good things come to an end and in a jiffy the parade was all over.

We parked up the machinery for the final time and after saying our goodbyes, headed off in our different directions.

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If you ever get the chance to represent UK Farming at the Lord Mayor’s Show, do not hesitate!

It was, hands down, one of the best opportunities I have ever experienced, from meeting a fantastic bunch of people proud of our industry to promoting the important #backbritshfarming message to the general public both in person and on national live television.

I simply loved every second, and all memories from the day, as well as my toy tractor, will stay with me forever!

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Thankyou to everyone involved for making the day successful!

Here is a short video from the NFU summarising the day.

Watch the parade here at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09ffqph/the-lord-mayors-show-2017 (We appear at 1:12:27 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing!)

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