It’s always tempting to credit a TV documentary with more influence than it has, especially if it deals with a subject you know something about.
As I know a little about farming, livestock, and meat production I found Dr Michael Mosley’s recent two part documentary on the effect of meat eating on people and the planet fascinating and potentially mind-changing.
But on reflection a) how many viewers were there for its BBC2 showing and, b) how many vegetarian converts did it produce?
It should be said that wasn’t Dr Mosley’s intention. He brings an open mind to every subject I’ve seen him tackle and there’s no doubt that animal welfare campaigners, never mind vegetarians and vegans, wouldn’t like his pragmatic conclusion that intensively reared chicken is the answer to steadily increasing world demand for meat.
Regardless of any other factor, demand for meat increases as income increases. One statistic will do: in the 1960s meat consumption in China averaged about 4 kilos a year per person, it is now 55 kilos and increasing steadily. With a population of well over one billion, that’s a lot of meat and a significant part of the 65 billion animals eaten in the world each year.
Dr Mosley concluded what most of us might guess that as part of a balanced diet meat is a good source of the nutrients we need. An excess, that is 100 grammes or more of red meat a day, is not good for us, and processed preserved meat in any quantity such as bacon, ham, sausage and salami certainly isn’t. There is also the environmental effect of ruminating animals burping out methane – livestock contribute about 14% to the planet’s gas emissions - and how to deal with vast amounts of animal dung.
The immediate answer, Dr Mosley suggested, ensuring no Christmas cards from livestock farmers, is for each of us to eat less meat, particularly if it is processed.
Some of us might do that, but there seems no likelihood that general demand will decrease. That should be good long term news for livestock producers in spite of inevitable ups and downs for prices and the never-ending rows in the UK about what subsidies are available from Europe’s common agricultural policy.
Two weeks ago several former NFU Scotland former presidents came out to support the campaign for Scottish independence.
Last week six former presidents came out in favour of Better Together with the suggestion that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The six included Borders farmers Jim Stobo and Sandy Mole and two who went on to become high profile in politics and with public bodies, George Lyon and Ian Grant. Also backed by a clutch of former vice presidents, including Bob Howat, the Vote No group believe that devolution has been good for Scotland and will be even better in the future with no real or long term benefit from full independence.
The debate can only get more heated on countdown to September 18.