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my Devons grazing Path Field

my Devons grazing Path Field

Did any of you catch Countryfile this week? In particular John Craven’s investigation into methane producing cattle and sheep, climate change and Meat Free Monday?

Research, reported in the New Scientist not long ago, suggests that producing a kilo of beef has the equivalent effect on the climate as driving 250 km and leaving all the lights on at home to boot.  Meanwhile ministers have been on record as saying that if you really want to save the world (and your health), you should stop eating meat.  There’s also a maxim that climate change is driven by the three Cs:  combustion, chainsaws and cattle.

So, am I an arch climate villain?  Is my carbon foot print so big that I leave tracks across the world like yeti? By my calculations, every time I sell a bullock, it’s like driving all the way from Devon to Timbuctoo.  I’m told cattle produce huge quantities of methane, a gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in its greenhouse effects, from both ends.  Even worse, on conventional farms, the grass and grain they eat requires tonnes of fertiliser which takes barrels and barrels of oil to make as well as releasing yet more greenhouse gases when it’s spread on the fields.

But there’s some hope for me.  I may not have to sell up quite yet.  Some Swedish research shows that organic beef raised on grass has a much lower carbon footprint, emitting forty percent less greenhouse gas and consuming eighty-five percent less energy.   This figures since we don’t use artificial fertilisers, recycling nutrients (good, old-fashioned muck) from the farm, and keep far fewer cattle per hectare.  What’s even better, there’s good reason to suspect that organic soil management actually results in carbon being taken out of the atmosphere (carbon sequestration) rather than being released into it offsetting the methane produced by the animals.  (It’s a little known fact that there’s far, far more carbon stored in England’s soils than in all its woodlands.)

But, I could be in danger of being complacent here.  Unfortunately it’s still a fact that my Devons are belching and farting large quantities of a powerful greenhouse gas into the beleaguered stratosphere. So what I should try to aim for is to be carbon neutral, right the way from grass to plate. I wonder, by the way, what the term is for a negative footprint is? Someone who takes more carbon out of the air than they release into it?

I shall have to have one of these carbon audits done and see what I can do to reduce my footprint.  Perhaps I can manage my soils differently, let my hedges get even bigger; reduce transport costs, put up solar panels on the barns and be energy self-sufficient, look into other means of collecting and storing water…fixing plastic bags onto the rear end of the cattle is an interesting prospect, perhaps my inventor friend can work out a way and we’ll get rich on the patent!

The other side of the coin is that Devon badly needs its cattle and sheep.  Imagine Dartmoor without them.  Our priceless historical landscape would be lost beneath a sea of bracken, gorse and trees. Think also of all our wonderful unique indigenous grasslands. They and their supporting habitat wouldn’t survive without grazing. I guess our challenge as farmers is to produce beef and lamb in a way that helps the climate. Far better for us to face the challenge now and take the matter into our own hands than to wait for the inevitable regulations down the road.  I don’t know the answers, but suspect they may involve all of us who enjoy meat eating less of it, valuing it more, and being prepared to pay much more for it, so farmers can afford to farm in a way that is in tune with Mother Earth.

For now, I’ll keep my cows. Try to sleep soundly at night too…after all, there are things I can do.

'...verrry interesting!' *Belch* 'Ooops! Excuse me.'

'...verrry interesting!' *Belch* 'Ooops! Excuse me.'

I thought this might amuse you. Can you remember when I was having the dickens of a job finding out whether I could send my organic beef and lamb to my son and family in France?

I was sent spinning around every conceivable agency and organisation, embassy and Government department, both English and French; not one, it appeared, had the faintest clue as to any rules or regulations governing the export of meat from the UK to France.

Eventually I was told to contact Eblex (in England) by the French Department of Agriculture (in France). My luck changed as I was recommended to one importantly busy Jean-Pierre Garnier, the font of all knowledge surrounding matters such as the import of meat to the EU from the UK.  Jean-Pierre, jetting to Dubai (he’s very, very busy), was unable to speak to me personally, but his delightful PA contacted him mid-air and within minutes confirmed what she had thought to be the case. You do nothing. That’s right. Nothing. I was given the green light to stuff my case, pockets, shoes and bag with squishy lumps of meat. Or, of course, which was my preferred option, to send over my usual insulated, vac-packed and labelled boxes of the stuff.
“So it’s nothing, then? Rien?” I was slightly sceptical…

The piece I subsequently wrote was picked up and published in the Countryman magazine. Sam, a sheep farmer in the South East, mailed me. He thought it was a bit ironical considering.

“Considering what?”

“Considering the notice Johann Tasker saw a few weeks back.” (Johann Tasker is an editor on the Farmers’ Weekly)

“What notice?”

“The one at Paris Orly Airport.” Sam very kindly forwarded me a photo of said notice.

I was gob-smacked. Truly, yes. My jaw fell open, hit my boots and stayed there.

I just had to get hold of Johann to see if he would mind if I showed it to you. He said “Go ahead” (nice man) “though it’s not tip-top as it was taken on my phone.”

So here it is. Squint a bit, improvise. But you’ll get the gist. A Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) warning notice, prohibiting the import of any meat or dairy products into France from the UK.  And, please, do tell me what you think is going on…!

the notice at Paris Orley Airport taken a few weeks ago by Johann Tasker

the notice at Paris Orly Airport taken a few weeks ago by Johann Tasker

“Oh and one more thing. Do you have any information about sending organic meat to France?”

I was on the phone to the Soil Association (SA).

“No, it’s definitely dead.” I said “Yes, and butchered. The same I supply to customers in the UK. You know vac-packed, labelled, insulated boxes, ice packs, pretty paper, recipes…”

I listened.

“It’s not a great quantity. No. It’s for my son. Yes, he lives in France and he, his future wife and family want my meat.”

Ben and Berengere had asked if it was possible to send my beef and lamb down to them in Marseille.  As I was talking to the SA anyway I thought it  as good a place as any to start my enquiries.

But unfortunately they had no information on exporting organic meats, only importing. DEFRA, she thought, should be my next port of call.

I called DEFRA.  If I want information about FMD/Bluetongue: press 1. Avian flu: press 2. The whole farm approach: press 3. Helpline: press 4. I pressed… another list of options and choices – yes, helpline again: press 9.

A very helpful and efficient person answered. No, they didn’t have any information on the export of organic meat but they could give me the number of the department that did.

Animal Health – yup, if I called them they would have all the answers. I was given the local phone number and a call reference number too. Excellent, I thought.

I phoned Animal Health. Heavens no, they didn’t have any information about exporting meat to France. Yes, they used to but it had all be centralised. Did DEFRA really say they could help? Well, how out of date were they?

I was directed to call the centralised Animal Health Export Centre in Carlisle where they could definitely help me.

I called. Those options again…cats, dogs and ferrets to the EU. Cats, dogs and ferrets not to the EU. Livestock and germplasm (germplasm?). Live animals, dead animals, other animals, meat and dairy…that was it. I pressed.

“I wondered if you could help me with necessary licences and/or regulations needed for the export of a small quantity of organic beef and lamb to my son in France.”

“No, sorry, we don’t deal with exports of meat to the European Union. We only negotiate with third world countries. Actually, in reality, we work with the world. All of it. “

“France? It’s in the world.” I squeak

“No, we have nothing to do with the European Community. You need to talk to the French Embassy.”

“The French Embassy?” I’m amazed.

“Yes, google it.”

“Okaay. Google it?”

“Yes.”  She softened and giggled, warming in quite a conspirital way “Actually I go to France quite a bit for my holidays. You can find out all sorts of things from the Embassy site, about where to stay, what to eat and how to drive there. Really good maps and advice too.”

“As well as the export of meat?” I try to bring her back to the point in question.

“Oh yes, I should think so.” She replied, crisp and business like again “It’s them, after all, who look after their borders.”

I said a small thank you and did a search for the French Embassy. Loaded the English version and dialled the helpline number.

The options were spoken in French, which is much prettier, so I listened again, then again, and again…eventually someone picked up – they must have a signal for ‘imbecile-on-line’.

She spoke in French. I asked her politely if she wouldn’t mind talking to me in English as I wasn’t too sure of the correct way to ask about exporting meat. With a very French ‘Pooffe’ and a Gallic shrug reverberating down the phone, she replied in perfect English.

“Export of meat? You’re asking me?”

“Well yes, I was told you may be able to help?”

“No, this is London.” She replied with icy clarity “London.  You need the French Department of Agriculture. Possibly the science department.”

“Oh. Could you put me through to them please?”

Without any hesitation the phone was ringing again. Another list of fast spoken options, in French. Ah, but wait…if I didn’t understand, it said in English, hold and I would be answered! A very proficient woman answered and changed to English immediately she heard my voice.

I repeated my question.

“Why are you asking me?”

I gave her a potted history of the last two hours.

“How extraordinary” she said “You don’t need us. I can’t believe this. Someone in your country must know!”

I nodded franticly on the phone. “Yes. Yes. I agree. Completely.”

“Well, it’s very obvious. You need to contact the MLC or Eblex. In England!” she says…from France.

“Oh, that’s great. I’m a member of Eblex. Thank you. Thank you so much.” I gabble.

“No problem. They, of course, will know…and good luck.” she threw at me from across the Channel.

I phoned Eblex (in England). A lovely lady answered. I’d come through to the wrong department. But that was okay. She knew exactly the man I needed, one Jean-Pierre Garnier. She would give me his number, but as he’s very, very busy she’d also give me his email. Any problems I was to get back to her and she’d find someone else to help.

I phoned the number. Jean-Pierre’s PA answered. I asked my question.  Jean-Pierre was in Dubai, she said, he’s very, very busy. But she’d see if she could reach him and get back to me as soon as she had. The phone rang within ten minutes.

“I’ve just spoken with him. It’s what I thought, but I just wanted to make quite sure. You see I take meat back home with me to Spain. And yes, it is exactly as I thought…you do nothing.”

ARRGH!

ARRGH!

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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