Wednesday, 21 January 2009

The scientists agree

I'm happy to announce that I am NOT alone in my beliefs that a return to grass based farming is benificial to all...scientists agree with me.

According to a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) "Cattle and sheep grazed on natural grasslands help maintain biodiversity and produce tastier, healthier meat". 

If that wasn't reason enough to eat grass fed then read on. The report also says that "pasture-based farming is good for the environment, the consumer and the producer

You can read the whole piece from the ESRC here.

If you want to read more about the benifits of switching to grass fed you might like to read my latest book The Carbon Fields. Available in bookshops throughout the UK or you can buy it online and save 20% of the RRP.

Monday, 29 December 2008

About-turn on fats

“Eat, drink and be merry,” says the Observer headline . Turns out it’s about a new healthy diet recommending full-fat foods. And about time too, I say.

The Observer piece is based on a new, best-selling American book called Secrets of Gorgeous: Hundreds of Ways to Live Well While Living It Up. In it the author – nutritionist Esther Blum - writes of the “disservice” the low-fat, fat-free culture has done to our bodies – particularly for women.

She says: “We have got ourselves to stage where we can’t comprehend that we need good fats to live a healthy life. We need fat to regulate our hormones. We need cholesterol to make oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone.

“We should be eating full-fat food… Saturated fats support bones, protect the liver, enhance the immune system, and absorb omega-3s. In moderation, they don’t cause heart disease but slow down the absorption of foods in your stomach making you feel fuller for longer.”

To which I say three cheers to Esther Blum. Readers of this column will know how we at GrassRoots Food feel about the low-fat, over-processed junk that’s all too often passed off as the healthy option. We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking that saturated fats and the foods containing them – foods that human beings have eaten since we emerged as a species – are somehow bad for you.

It must be about the most effective con-job ever perpetrated by food manufacturers on a gullible population. It’s good to know that in popular American culture the penny has finally dropped. We’ve all been duped.

There’s just one proviso to all this, and it’s an important one. Those healthy saturated fats will come principally from animal foods. And the way those animals are reared and grown is crucial.

Whether it’s meat or dairy foods we’re talking about, the healthiest fats come from animals raised on pasture; animals grazing fresh, herb-rich grass. This is how most animals were raised when I was a kid back in the 1950s. In Britain – the nation with some of the world’s best grasslands – it’s the system we need to return to.

You’re probably thinking this’ll mean more expensive, elitist niche foods. Far from it. Pasture-fed foods – though healthier – are generally cheaper to produce than conventional foods, particularly if we enter another period of high oil prices. Most of today’s foods require copious amounts of oil to produce. Grassland and its products are solar-powered.

If you want the story of why we desperately need a new full-fat culture – and how we can achieve it in a new austerity age – read my book The Carbon Fields. As it says in the ad: It could change the way you think about food.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Squandering our future

Here are a couple of pictures I took in early December close to where I live in Somerset. It’s the sort of thing you can see all over Britain at this time of the year.

The hedge bank on the left has probably been in place for a century or more. But following the intense winter rain we’ve been getting lately it has started to collapse. The mud in the road isn’t just from the hedge. It also contains a lot of silt from the adjoining field. The soil is literally washing away. Along with it goes the land’s ability to grow food for future generations.

The cause of the damage is the condition of the field. It has been cultivated for a cereal crop which means that it has been left exposed to the elements. Had it gone into the winter as pasture, the soil would have been held in place by the grass roots. Soils under grass are able to retain a lot more moisture, so the chances are the winter deluge wouldn’t have burst through the hedge bank taking half the field with it.

A few days after I took my pictures the local council moved in with diggers, trucks and half a dozen staff. In a job that must have cost thousands, they installed a heavy-duty new drainage system to take away the torrents that regularly run off the fields nowadays. This quiet country lane has never needed drains like this before, but then the land was mostly under pasture.

If we’re serious about saving the planet we’re going to have to put a lot more of our farmland back into pasture. It’s the only way we in Britain are going to secure a truly sustainable food supply. As a bonus it’ll also give us healthier meat, eggs and dairy produce than we’ve enjoyed for year. After all, grass-fed is the new organic.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

A disaster of our own making

I’ve just watched a DVD of Dr Michael Greger’s warning on bird flu. In his view the H5N1 strain threatens to be the greatest human catastrophe in all history, with the possibility of deaths around the planet exceeding those of AIDS and the world wars combined.

Photo Credit: CIWF/Martin Usborne

I’ll spare you the gory details. Let’s just say it’s not a good way to die. Dr Greger is Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture for the Humane Society of the United States. He’s not one for over-statement. But in his talk in Washington DC he likened the possible impact of a bird flu plague to an Indian Ocean tsunami striking every town and city in the world.

He quotes Dr Robert Webster – the world’s leading authority on bird flu – as saying: “We’ve never seen such an event since the time of the plagues.”

I don’t mind admitting I was scared by this DVD. But more than that, it made me angry. Because if this catastrophe happens it won’t be a natural disaster – it’ll be one of our own making. According to Dr Webster, we’ve created this threat by rearing chickens in their tens of thousands in factory like sheds.

In effect we’ve produced the ideal conditions for the emergence of a virus strain that could wipe out half the word’s population. By buying cheap chicken – and by allowing farmers to keep them that way – we collude in an experiment that could cost the lives of billions.

The cause of this threat is a moral bankruptcy in our treatment of animals. Our materialistic society produces food animals as if they were plastic mouldings on a factory production line. We need to treat animals better if we are to have a future on this planet.

We could make a start by letting then out of their sheds and cages, and putting them back on green pasture where they belong. That way we’d all be healthier and our children might have a future on this planet.

To read Dr Greger’s latest book – Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching – visit

Thank you to CIWF/Martin Usborne for the use of the pictures.

For further reading please follow the link to read a report from the CIWF on The Role of the Intensive Poultry Production Industry in the Spread of Avian Influenza

Saturday, 15 November 2008


On a visit to Switzerland I made a quick detour to Vevey, a little town on the edge of Lake Geneva. Set among the vinyards this was once the home of Charlie Chaplin, his escape from the America of the McCarthy era. It's also the home of corporate giant Nestle, the world's biggest food company. Nestle runs a food museum in the town.

It's called Alimentarium and it's housed in a rather fine old building that used to be the company's HQ before they built their steel and glass palace just along the lake-side.

Nestle is the subject of a long-running campaign as a result of its marketing of branded baby milk to mothers who'd be better off breast feeding. Which is quite a neat summary of what all food companies do – replace natural, nutritious foods with inferior, processed ones. Nestle's brands include Cheerios, Kit Kat, Carnation, Munch Bunch and Maggi 2-minute Noodles. You get my meaning. Well anyway, with a collection like that I was interested in what they'd have to say on

I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. The food museum was well laid out with imaginative, hands-on displays that got you thinking about what you ate and how it might affect you. Particularly revealing was a display on the food culture of the local area - Switzerland's Vaud
canton. I learned that diets in the region were strongly influenced by rural traditions. Meat was at the heart of the main meal, with cheese an integral part of many cooked dishes. Regional products linked the local cuisine to vinyards, farms and mountain pastures, we were told.

What's interesting is that the Swiss are a very healthy nation. In the international league tables of life expectancy they're right up there with France, well ahead of Britain. Yet in this part of the country, at least, they're eating diets high in red meat and dairy foods, the ones we're told are loaded with saturated fats and will kill us in no time at all. I've long thought this was a load of bunk. The foods people have eaten for thousands of years didn't suddenly get to be unhealthy. We just started producing them the wrong way, that's all. When, as in Switzerland, they're from animals raised the natural way –on pasture – they're very healthy foods.

That's one of the key messages I took away from the Alimentarium, though to be honest I knew it when I went in. That and the fact that a boycott of processed products might just turn out to be very good for your health.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Corporate Spin

How on earth did the biotech industry manage to get their PR message plastered across a whole news page of The Times? (November 3 2008)

The headline ran: “GM bean could help prevent heart attacks.” What followed was a thinly disguised publicity puff for Monsanto’s latest gift to humanity – a GM soya bean whose oil apparently raises blood levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in people who consume it. This will protect them against heart disease and diabetes, we’re told, while speeding the growth of brain cells in the young.

The best source of long-chain omega-3s is, of course, fish oil. That’s why the Food Standards Agency recommends that we all eat a portion of oily fish each week. But as The Times reminds us, fish stocks are fragile. It seems we’re about to change our hostile attitude to all things GM when the new soya oil turns up in our yogurts, salad dressings and cereal bars.

Quite why journalists are so ready to swallow this corporate mythology is beyond me. The fact is there are safer, healthier ways to get omega-3 fats even if the supply of fish oil does run short. For a start would could free our cattle from their factory farms and put them back on fresh, green pasture as nature intended.

Many industrial countries now house beef cattle in vast sheds and feed them on industrial grains – the sort agribusiness companies like Monsanto supply the chemicals to grow. There’s plenty of evidence that grass-fed beef contains far higher levels of omega-3s – including the important long-chain variety – than the beef of cattle fed on grains.[i]

One of the reasons our diets are now so dangerously low in omega-3s is that industrial farming chooses to feed grains to ruminant animals in place of grass.

To add a sort of spurious objectivity to its biotech promotion, The Times carried a comment piece from the director of Rothamsted Research, a publicly funded agricultural science institute. Not surprisingly the research chief was generally in favour of GM technology, suggesting that the world may need it to feed a soaring population.

It’s a technology that also happens to support tens of thousands of science jobs around the world. In the 1970s the British research establishment identified genetic engineering as a priority area. They persuaded governments to pour millions into this area of research. Between them taxpayers and large corporations have staked billions on biotech research, which is why scientists are so keen to promote it.

What the world urgently needs is research into biodiverse, carbon-capturing, healthy food-producing agriculture. But the corporations won’t fund it because there’s not likely to be a lucrative product for them to sell at the end of it. And governments won’t fund it because they’ve been conned by corporate science into believing the only productive form of farming is the high-input variety.

It isn’t, but until the politicians, science and the media begin to seriously scrutinise the corporate view nothing much is going to change. The rest of us will have to put up with a more polluted planet and a less secure food supply than we need have done.

* If Rothamsted scientists are interested in finding out more about sustainable forms of farming I’d be happy to lodge a few copies of The Carbon Fields with the institute’s library.

[i] Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2006; 15 (1): 21-9

Thursday, 6 November 2008

New Hope for Real Milk

I was shocked at the news of the demise of Daisy's dairy. Perhaps I shouldn't have been, considering the problems that our current agricultural system is suffering from.

My new book published this month, 'The Carbon Fields' uses my many years of research to lay out the argument of where our farming has gone wrong and how we can improve our lives with what we eat. To buy the book have a look here; The Carbon Fields.

In the meantime, have a look at the excerpt of an article below that I wrote for the website, or to read the full article click here; New hope.

"With all the mayhem over the banking crisis, no one much noticed the closure of a small, farm dairy in Hampshire. Except, that is for the hundreds of local families who thought their neighbourhood milk the best they’d ever tasted. For them the demise of Daisy’s Dairy was little short of a disaster.

Now there’s news that this pioneering dairy may re-open under community ownership. It could provide a blue-print for bringing fresh, healthy, local milk back to neighbourhoods all over the country.

Before the set-back few who tasted Daisy’s milk ever wanted to go back to the supermarket version. They found it far fresher and more flavoursome than any shop-bought milk – better, too, than the milk delivered by big dairy companies. James and Helen Hague, who ran the enterprise from their small farm at Rotherwick, near Hook, pulled out all the stops to produce healthy milk and get it onto the doorsteps of local families in double quick time."