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This content is taken from the EIT Food, University of Reading & European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)'s online course, Trust in Our Food: Understanding Food Supply Systems. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 33 seconds There are many different logos found on food products. Some of the logos describe the farming or production methods used. However, our food is produced using a wide variety of farming methods, and some are more sustainable than others. So how can consumers find information that describes the farming methods used to produce their food? And how can they trust whether more sustainable approaches were used? As an example, we will investigate a typical production method used in the UK for the beef products in our meal, and examine potential enhancements towards more sustainable methods. The total number of cattle and calves in the UK livestock system is currently in the range of 9 to 10 million animals.

Skip to 1 minute and 12 seconds Some are for dairy production and some for beef. The livestock raised in the beef production system provides the UK market with a range of fresh meat products. And consumers also buy beef in chilled ready meals, and fresh prepackaged pies. Approximately 80% of beef sold in the UK was produced here, but the UK also imports beef, mainly from Ireland. But some meat is transported from countries across the globe. The UK, in return, exports beef, mainly to the EU. There are many different systems of livestock production, but the typical system involves several key stages. Calves are solely bred for beef production or come from the dairy industry, and kept on farm until they can eat solid food.

Skip to 1 minute and 56 seconds They are then moved to finishing farms where they’re kept until they reach a certain weight. And finally, they’re driven to abattoirs for slaughter, where the resulting meat is cut and distributed. Throughout this process, farmers need to ensure they’re balancing four aspects, the welfare of their animals, the impact on the environment, while ensuring good productivity and meeting social responsibilities. These concerns represent ethical aspects along with the three pillars of a sustainable production system. How can this typical beef system in the UK be enhanced or improved to make the production process more sustainable? Farmers can choose to review and amend many different aspects of their livestock production. For example, they can consider changes to animal nutrition.

Skip to 2 minutes and 43 seconds In many systems, animals are currently finished on high energy and high protein diets. A more sustainable alternative would be to formulate a precise diet that meets the animal’s nutritional requirements and reduces their methane emissions. Secondly, creating a careful herd health plan with a vet can help reduce the use of medicines and antibiotics. This could lead to better health and welfare of the herd, and therefore, to higher productivity, while reducing the risk of antibiotic resistance. And finally, animal welfare could be enhanced using more comfortable housing, keeping animals together in social groups, and minimising stress during transport. But how are consumers able to tell whether their food has been produced using more sustainable and ethical production processes?

Skip to 3 minutes and 29 seconds Firstly, consumers can trust the EU farmers need to comply with a series of good agricultural practises as part of the common agricultural policy. Secondly, farmers can choose to farm organically or sign up to an assurance scheme. These schemes provide consumers with guarantees that the food has been produced to a particular set of standards, and the scheme logos logos are recognisable on food packaging. Finally, consumers can speak to farmers directly about their production methods, or check online to understand the differences in the standard set by the assurance schemes. For example, Red Tractor only assures meat from British farms.

Skip to 4 minutes and 6 seconds With this information, consumers can trust they’re buying foods that have been produced to the set of standards that best fit with their own ethics and values.

The meal: steak

This video will take a look at the third case study and explore the key sustainability/welfare issues when producing a piece of meat (beef) for the consumer market.

You’ll be taken on a journey of the entire food production chain and for the purposes of this video you’ll be looking at farming practices in the UK. You’ll explore a generic example of the most ‘typical’ beef production system (probably an intensive mixed farming system) which will demonstrate basic good farming practice – but something that could be adapted to make it more sustainable/higher in welfare.

Please note this video is used for illustrative purposes only and does NOT feature upsetting images.

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This video is from the free online course:

Trust in Our Food: Understanding Food Supply Systems

EIT Food

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