Prince Charles, Cows, and Grass: An Assessment
February 29, 2012 7 Comments
In a speech delivered earlier this month at a Future of Food conference, Prince Charles (who has a book coming out called On the Future of Food) summarized his idea of what a sustainable food system will look like. Here is the full text of the speech: http://www.princeofwales.gov.uk/speechesandarticles/a_speech_by_hrh_the_prince_of_wales_to_the_future_for_food_c_848967946.html.
It’s as boilerplate as it gets. It goes without saying that Charles did not promote an agricultural system free of animal exploitation—this, despite the fact that it’s the most sustainable thing we could do. To the contrary, he argued that we absolutely need animals for their manure and, no surprise here, that those animals should be “fed on grass-based regimes as Nature intended.”
Anyone who promotes the importance of veganism has heard this tired line. I generally counter this argument with three points—and am eager to hear others:
a) Did Nature (whatever one means by that) really intend for humans to create “regimes” based on the enslavement of a species’ genetics? Did Nature really intend for one species to restrain another, dictate where animals eat, steal their milk from their offspring, and kill them when people were hungry? What makes any of that natural?
b) If you feel that you absolutely must have manure to have healthy agricultural soil—that is, if you think you require animals for this purpose—then why not exploit them exclusively for that stated purpose? Is it natural to remove animals from the “regime” and kill them before they’ve lived a quarter of their natural lives? (At this point you will hear grumblings about having to make a living, etc. etc.—which essentially concedes the point that the motivation is not nature, but economics.)
c) Putting aside questions of the ethics of exploiting animals for food we do not need, where will the land come from this sprawling agricultural practice? There are going to be nine billion people in the world. Feeding them grass-fed or pastured meat will require that we mow down rainforests to make room for cattle that often need up to 20 acres per cow to reach slaughter weight. Is that natural or sustainable?
Finally, what the bloody hell does Prince Charles know about agriculture?