Prince Charles, Cows, and Grass: An Assessment

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:

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?


About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

7 Responses to Prince Charles, Cows, and Grass: An Assessment

  1. BlessUsAll says:

    The U.K.’s Vegan Organic Network folks should invite Prince Charles for a tour of its farms.

    I watched the VON videos and listened to their audios a couple years ago (see But as I recall, they are proof positive that not only are no animal products needed for healthy soil, but vegetable gardens and wild habitat and wild life and helpful insects all thrive when there’s no killing involved.

    As to your last question, a search of the words Prince Charles and horticulture and sustainable food and organic agriculture yields a fair number of entries. Seems he’s been involved in the field for 30-plus years and even has his own line of foods, which raises money for his charities.

  2. Vanilla Rose says:

    Well, to be fair, he does own a lot of land which is farmed organically. Some of the stuff sold from that land is suitable for vegans, or as suitable as the other stuff not farmed according to vegan-organic methods.

    However, given his penchant for hunting (ie of foxes and deer until the hunting ban) and shooting (ie what Americans would call “hunting”), his bias is obvious.

    The lack of monarchy in the USA is one of the things that you guys have got right, in terms of politics. I’m in the UK and it amazes me that so many of my fellow citizens don’t mind or actively support the monarchy

  3. Al Nowatzki says:

    Jumping off from your second response, what could be better for the soil than decomposing bodies? Instead of killing and removing animals from the land why not let them die naturally, decompose naturally and naturally return the elements which make up their bodies to the soil from which they came? Why not? Because there’s no money in that version of “natural.”

  4. Lisa Viger says:

    The only truly sustainable agriculture is veganic. We’re moving in that direction, too, and it’s really exciting to discover animal exploitation {and animal manures!} is unnecessary. It can be pretty simple, too. I live in a rural area. In the past, we’ve let a neighboring dairy farm mow our land for hay. It meant our land was mowed at no cost to us. But the work involved was tremendous. It takes three men three days to mow and bale hay that won’t last but a few weeks. This year, we’re keeping our grass, mowing it ourselves, and will be using it directly on our {becoming} veganic market and farm stand garden. It does double duty, as mulch first and then as fertilizer as it breaks down.

  5. Provoked says:

    Hi Al Nowatzki! Your solution is so logical! I’ve asked that many times myself… Why are we on this very small planet taking up space “preserving” the corpses of the human dead? We cut forests down to make coffins – Then waste huge amounts of water keeping a pleasant green lawn dotted with headstones… It’s all so silly when our own bodies could be recycled back to the land as well.

    Isn’t that what the animal ag “scientists” are always claiming about the “circle” of life? Our useless, dead bodies ought to go back to the dust – That’s the circle!

    And the idea of nonhumans waste being beneficial to the soil… Why wouldn’t the waste from 6.7 billion humans accomplish the same thing with a bit of tweaking? Keeping “livestock” for their poo appears to be a lot of bovine excrement! In the end it’s just another excuse to have the meat and the money.

  6. Keith Akers says:

    I’d also mention that pasture fed beef is worse for climate change than feedlot beef. Those methane emissions are part of a “natural” process. While feedlot beef and feeding corn to cows isn’t natural and makes the cows sick, it does bring the cows to market faster and short-circuits the methane emissions.

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