Happy cows – spring is coming

The best and healthiest milk comes from traditionally farmed cows that live in fields, eating grass. Watch this clip of cows being turned out onto the pasture after spending winter indoors. It says it all.

Sadly not all cows enjoy the sun on their backs or lush grass under their hooves. US style mega ‘zero grazing’ dairies have been introduced into the UK. Behind the innocent looking white stuff that ends up on the supermarket shelves, there is a mega industry under huge pressure to produce more for less. Zero grazing dairies means that cows are kept indoor for the whole of their adult lives in concrete and steel pens. It is all about production, 24/7. In the UK approximately 20% of milk production is now from mega dairies and that is on the increase.

Cows are ruminants, they are designed to graze pasture, kept as part of a rotational, traditional farming system, dairy is healthier, sustainable and has low environmental impact. A diet based on grass results in cow’s milk that’s higher in an essential fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fat that reduces inflammation in the body and has been tied to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Grass-fed milk has double the omega-3 fat content as conventional milk. Changing that to keep cows indoors creates huge welfare and environmental issues. All for the sake of making more profit and saving you a few pence.

Milk is cheap, even the highest quality milk is affordable, it is not a luxury item or an item we should be undermining to save pennies. It is estimated that moving to organic milk would cost the average family of four just £1 per week.

It is clear that we should buy milk with caution but it is wise to know the facts. It is very easy to a condemn a whole industry whenever there is bad press and the dairy industry has had it’s fair share. 66% of dairy farmers have gone out of business over the last 20 years and we are loosing around 1 traditional farm per week. Dairy farmers are under huge pressures and we need to support those that are fighting to maintain high standards at affordable prices. Not all milk and dairy is the same, there are vast differences in production yet small difference is price for the superior version so it is well worth investing in quality dairy.

How can you compare and buy ‘free range’ milk

Buying organic milk and dairy is the easiest way to ensure grass fed, free range milk. There are various organic standards in the UK but all of them include grazing access. e.g. Duchy, supermarket own brands, Yeo Valley, Moo and smaller independent organic farmers, sold directly or via retailers.

Free range milk is also now widely available, looks out for this Free range dairy logo at Asda, Morrisons, Booths and some Co-op stores. As consumer awareness increases, the industry responds with labelling to help you differentiate between products. The concept of labelling ‘free range’ milk has now been introduced. Free range dairy used to be normal, so it is not a new product, but the need to label it as such is. See http://www.freerangedairy.org for more information.

Waitrose has a ‘grass promise’ on their own brand essential milk but it is the same price per litre as Tesco and Sainsbury own brand, so a great choice if you are budget conscious.

There are also high end milk producers that make the cream of the crop, literally! Worth a look even just for interest to compare against the industry. A raw milk microdairy http://www.the-calf-at-foot-dairy.co.uk. Unhomogenised guernsey milk from Able and Cole https://www.abelandcole.co.uk/guernsey-milk

We are lucky in the UK compared with other EU nations and countries worldwide that we still have a large amount of traditional dairies, where cows get access to grazing, but this is rapidly declining. Unless the label states organic, free range, grass promise or you can trace the milk to a specific dairy or corporative that has a policy to give cows access to pasture there is a real possibility your milk or diary has come from an intensive dairy system.

Cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter

Labelling on dairy other than milk has not caught up in terms of free range or grass promise. The industry focus in on milk. For example I contacted Waitrose to ask if they grass promise extended to cheese and butter and their response was no. They did not have a direct relationship with the farmers so where unable to guarantee it was produced from pasture feed dairy cows.

Buying organic cheese, yogurt and butter is a guaranteed way to ensure the diary is free range. Some producers will label the product as such but you’ll need to read the label carefully.

Imported cheese from outside the UK is likely to come from zero grazing dairies. Italy, Spain, France, Germany etc. all have a very high ratio of non grazing dairies. Even high end, luxury cheeses such as Parmigiano Reggiano = no grass. So read the labels and ask questions.

Parting thoughts, dairy and specifically milk is considered an essential item, but it is not a necessary part of our diet for calcium, that is a myth, see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-77. Consume dairy because you really enjoy it, look for organic, free range, traditional, high quality milk, ice cream, cheese, butter and yogurt and thus enjoy it even more!

Alternative plant based milk, yogurt, ice-cream and cream (I am not convinced about cheese) are readily available and on the increase see this post for ideas https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8U

Moo to you too, the Ethical omnivore.














Woah – meet quinoa!

Hard to spell or pronounce (Keen-wa not Kin-oo-ah, as Mr Ethivore keeps telling me), It is all the rage so I decided to investigate. What I found out is fascinating. It was one of those things I had in the back of the cupboard; another grain to eat instead of rice, but now I know more, it will be moved to the front.

Quinoa might be new to us but it a staple food in many areas of South American and especially the Andes where it has been grown and eaten to thousands of years.

We tend to think of it as a grain, but it’s not it’s a seed. It is in the same family as spinach, beets and chard. The leaves are edible too but the bit we eat is the seed. The United Nations, FAO made 2013 ‘International year of Quinoa’ to promote it’s importance as a food crop.

Why is it good for you?

It is celebrated for being of the most nutritionally rich food on the planet, compared with both plant and animal sources. Quinoa is a complete protein food, meaning it contains all nine of the essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body and therefore must come from food. This is also true of the soya bean (edamame). Making them a perfect source of plant based protein. In the debate around the best source of protein, quinoa and soya win over meat with their added benefit of also reducing cholesterol whilst meat proteins can increase it. It is also rich in omega 3, 6 and 9 fatty acids.

It is easy to digest and good source of calcium, phosphorus, copper, folate, zinc and iron, rich in vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C and vitamin E. Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium which relaxes blood vessels so provide cardio vascular health. Protects against breast cancer and acts as anti oxidant.

Quinoa has many qualities that make it a weight loss friendly food. It is high in protein and fiber, and has a relatively low glycemic index value.

Cooking with quinoa

There are reported to be around 120 varieties of the quinoa plant. We typically eat three types, white, red and black. White being the most common. Red quinoa is more often used in meals like salads since it tends to hold its shape better after cooking. Black quinoa has an “earthier and sweeter” taste. You can also find quinoa flakes and flour which are great for baking. Quinoa is also gluten free so a great alternative to wheat flours.

You can buy dried, raw or pre cooked quinoa. Before cooking the dried version give it a good rinse in cold water, the seeds are coated in a compound that is quite bitter. Follow the instructions on the packet. Typically, add it to the pan with 2-3 times the volume of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 mins, the water should absorb, the quinoa turns translucent and the little ‘tails’ uncurl when it is ready.

Because quinoa has a fairly neutral taste it is good to use in both sweet or savoury. It makes a nice porridge cooked in 50/50 apple juice and water or milk. You can also cook in stock to give it more flavour if you are eating it as a savoury side dish. Once cooked it can be cooled and stored in the fridge for several days.

The pre cooked version is usually open and serve. They often add oil so it is slightly higher in fat, but handy to have in store and good to check in a salad or when making a quick lunch.

I wouldn’t bother with quinoa mixed with other grains as a source of quinoa, it is a bit of a sales gimmick really, they are often very high in the other product e.g. rice 90%, quinoa 10%.

Is all quinoa the same?

No. The main exporters of the quinoa in the word are Bolivia, Peru and Chile. It is also now being grown in UAE, EU, Canada, basically anywhere it will grow, now over 50 countries!

The champagne equivalent of quinoa is grown in Bolivia; Quinua Real or Royal Quinoa it is grown in the same way the Incas have for thousands of years. It is organic and traditionally grown, harvested and prepared. Soil preparation is fully manual, it’s fertilized with llama dung and pests are controlled using extracts of indigenous plants. Sounds good to me!

Quinoa is big business and where there is big business there are ethical challenges. Reports that the Western demand of quinoa caused a sharp price increase and meant local people could no longer afford it, have been balanced in recent years with reports of improved economic conditions for farmers and communities. Buying Fairtrade or organic approved products is a way to ensure you are supporting an ethical choice.

Waitrose Duchy Organic British Quinoa

Parting thoughts, as quinoa is grown in the UK and the prices even for the organic version are similar, it seems like a good choice, considering Airmiles, ethical issues and supporting UK farmers.

Long and short is we should add quinoa in our diet because it is easy to grow, highly nutritive, medicinally important, economical and versatile food.



The best tomato ketchup ever

Why am I writing about Ketchup? Not normally a product associated with ethics in the food industry. Well this family staple serves as a great example of the how to assess the real value of the food we buy.

It is easy to look at the label, see organic and think hmm, ‘it might be slightly better’, look at the price and wonder if it is worth the difference. So what is the difference?

The difference is huge! There are 600g of tomato per 100g of Mr Organic ketchup. Compare that to standard Heinz at 148g per 100g, Heinz organic ketchup 180g per 100g and a similar price to Mr O and Tiptree which is considered a premium brand (By appointment to Her Majesty The Queen) coming in at the highest cost per KG, but still only 180g per 100g.

Tesco value is 116g per 100g so the smart money is to either buy a supermarket value product or to buy a branded product that really is a quality product and worth the extra money. It is worth looking past the labelling and questioning what a brand represents.

Overall, because it is so rich we end up using less so the cost equals out. I’d never buy anything else now. If I am honest I am a bit in love with Mr Organic, he is my kind of guy!

Parting thoughts – Some companies put a lot of money into marketing and branding with the focus of driving up profit and others companies create a product they are really proud of. That is the one that is worth the extra cost. With everything you buy, look to support producers that have everyones best interesting in mind and are genuinely passionate about creating a great product.




White striping in chicken breast

Would you like extra fat with your chicken breast sir. A serving of muscle disorder perhaps? Known as white striping, it is a condition that affects nearly all chickens raised under intense conditions (factory farming). Look at any packet of supermarket chicken breast that is not free range or organic and you will most likely see it for yourself.

White striping has become common in recent years. According to a 2016 study by the University of Arkansas and Texas A&M, after testing a total of 285 birds, the study found that 96% had white striping. This is a similar picture in the UK and Europe where the same type of hybrid birds are raised for meat under the same conditions as in the US.

It is visible as white striations parallel to muscle fiber on surface of breast. The birds suffer from a muscular disorder, similar to muscular dystrophy, due to the way they are raised (all they really do is eat), they double the size in half the time, genetically manipulated to make them bigger than nature intended with around an 80% increase in the amount of breast meat.

What are the effects of white striping:

  • Breast fillets affected by severe white striping have been found to contain up to 224% more fat and 9% less protein than normal breast meat
  • Muscle disorders like white striping are chronic, degenerative conditions that cause pain and suffering in broiler chickens
  • Lower quality meat overall, with woody breast also often being present, making the meat chewer as well as fattier.

White striping is considered as moderate to severe, any white striping has the same effects to varying degrees.

Good chicken isn’t cheap and cheap chicken isn’t good. You don’t have to have a degree in biology to understand that encouraging chickens to eat 23 hrs a day, giving them little room to move and growing them to full size in 35 days isn’t good for anyone.

How do you avoid white striping?

Don’t buy intensively farmed chicken in any form; in the supermarket, in a restaurant, as fast food, in a sandwiches. Remember if it isn’t labelled free range or organic it is intensively farmed. Farm fresh, corn fed, Red tractor, it is all intensively farmed. RSPCA assured is a higher standard and a better choice, but still indoor farmed. In the supermarket choose free range or organic chicken.

The best way to buy chicken is from an independent farmer, available online if not locally, one that is proud to tell you why they are real farmers. There is a price difference but it is for a good reason, you are not comparing the same product. If you have never had a slow grown roast chicken you will never have tasted real chicken. If your budget is tight or as part of cutting down on meat intake aim for – eat less meat, but eat better meat. Check out these websites and you’ll see what I mean:

Pheasant breast is a very good alternative to chicken, available of line or if you live in a rural area and can find the butcher that processes game meat if it a very good option. I’ll write a separate post about pheasant.

Parting thoughts: We don’t like problems we can see. Take hock burns, a lot of producers deal with it by cutting the lower leg joints off, so rather than fix the cause, they cut it off so you can’t see.

The industry hasn’t found a way to ‘get rid’ of white striping yet, but we sure they are working on it. Sadly it won’t be by improving conditions and dealing with the real cause, the focus will be on whether you can see it or not. It is the choices you make that have the highest impact on the behaviour of the industry.

As well as the things we can see, there are many things we can’t see. Altering nature to get bigger, faster cheaper has consequences. For more info see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-cS

Cluck cluck, the Ethical omnivore










Organic milk and dairy – why?

‘If there is one organic product you should buy, it is dairy’. Not all milk is created equal.

There is a lot of variation in the way milk is produced and a lot of negative press coverage about dairy farming. The life of a dairy farmer is very tough and more so during recent years, due to a global excess of milk supplies, super market price wars and increased livestock animal feed prices. Our part as the consumer is to recognise good farming practices and support those farmers to protect our dairy industry. In this post I focus on organic dairy specifically. Buying organic milk is the easiest way to be sure that you are buying a higher standard of milk.

Let’s be honest milk is cheap, in most cases too cheap, it is a product we should value more. Organic milk is much better value when considering the quality of the product and cheaper than a lot of bottled water! At around £0.81 per litre (based on 4 pints).

Organic milk accounts for around 5% of all milk sold in the UK with 1 in 4 homes buying some organic. All large supermarkets offer an organic milk option. Switching to organic milk would cost the average family of four just £1 a week.

Remember dairy is all products made from milk; cheese, butter, yogurt etc. The same applies choose organic. The same also applies to goats and sheeps milk, it is all mass produced.

Organic dairy is the premium standard, with farmers commiting to follow and be inspected according to strict guidelines concerning all aspects of production. Think of it as a guaranteed standard. There are several different organic standards in the UK but all fall under EU organic standards as a minimum. In this post information is from the organic standard set by the Soil association.

What makes organic different? 

  • Free range – By law, cows must be at pasture whenever conditions allow, over 200 days on average
  • Fewer pesticides & no artificial fertilisers used on pasture
  • Cows fed a grass-rich, GM free diet (minimum 60% grass-based)
  • Routine antibiotic usage banned
  • More consideration for the calf, to create milk a cow has a calf once a year. 
  • Highest levels of nutrients, e.g. Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Higher wildlife benefits
  • Average yields in organic milk production are around 20% less than in intensive production. A more natural rate of milk production. A system designed not to push the cow to their milk producing limits
  • Cows get more time in a natural environment, outdoors, eating grass

The differences in more detail:

Truly free range, organic cows spend much of their lives outdoors where they can graze naturally on a diet of grass and clover. On average, organic cows spend, 215 days per year outside, which is more time outdoors grazing than the average amount of time spent outdoor grazing by ‘free-range’ cows.

Keeping cows indoors all their lives, is banned under organic standards. When they go indoors because of bad weather, all cows must be housed in well-bedded spacious yards.

Organic through and through, organic dairy cows eat a 100% organic diet. Soil Association farmers must always feed their cattle at least 60% fresh or dried fodder, roughage or silage on a daily basis. Most non-organic British chickens, pigs and cows are fed with imported GM crops. GM animal feed is banned under organic standards.

No routine use of antibiotics, Use of antibiotics remains more than twice as high in animals as humans. Soil Association standards ban the routine use of antibiotics and organic, free-range systems encourage healthy animals avoiding the preventative use of antibiotics. The use of growth hormones to increase milk production is banned in the European Union, and organic farmers are permitted only to treat animals with antibiotics when they are actually sick, not as a routine, preventative measure. We also know that high welfare, pasture based systems have reduced rates of infection and so less need for antibiotics in the first place.

A better life from birth Soil Association standards have never allowed the sale of calves to continental style veal systems, and since 2010 our standards have specified that licensees must have a plan to end the practice of culling new born male calves.

Dairy calves There are some practices that are inherent aspects of dairy farming. For instance, while under normal circumstances a calf would never be removed from its mother immediately after it is born, it is true that calves and cows are separated. This is normal practice across the dairy industry in order that milk is available for us to drink.

Organic dairy calves are always kept in groups after their first week, outside when conditions allow and always with good housing and bedding. Organic farmers are permitted to house calves individually for the first seven days, provided they are able to see and hear other calves. Contented, healthy calves need companions, a healthy environment and plenty of milk, and our standards guarantee that these needs are met. Organic farmers feed their calves plenty of organic milk – preferably from their mothers – or use ‘nanny cows’ to suckle calves until they are weaned. Soil Association standards prohibit farmers from weaning calves until they are at least 12 weeks old.

Dairy farmers are often faced with a dilemma about what to do with male calves, as they cannot be used for milk production. Some dairy breeds, such as British Friesians, can also produce meat, which means that they can be reared for beef production.

Unfortunately, killing male dairy cows is something that happens on both organic and non-organic dairy farms, but it raises difficult ethical concerns. The Soil Association has long discouraged this practice, and we want to see an end to the unnecessary slaughter of male dairy calves.

CIWF have a very good page about buying dairy – https://www.ciwf.org.uk/your-food/dairy

Parting thoughts – regardless of the dairy you choose there are a few important things everyone should know and think about:

  1. Drinking milk is not natural or necessary. We don’t need to drink milk or give milk to our children for health reasons. See https://wp.me/p7RDjy-77. Milk is naturally intended for babies, human milk for baby humans and cows milk for baby calves. All of us are weaned from milk when we can digest solid food.
  2. For humans to consume another animals milk in most cases cows, the cow has to have a calf. This calf becomes a byproduct.
  3. A dairy cow has a calf a year, her gestation period is 283 days, meaning that she is pregnant 78% of her adult life, and milked whilst she is pregnant. At the rate cows are milked in modern systems, this is considered equivalent to running a marathon on a daily basis.
  4. There are currently three main methods of milk production; organic, free range and intensive (mega or zero grazing dairies). Free range milk labelling is on the increase so consumers will have further choice. I will write a separate post on this.
  5. Good alternative dairy products are available, for example read https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8U and https://wp.me/p7RDjy-8Y