From the Field to Your Fork

Article excerpt

Byline: By Steve Dube Western Mail

The food supply chain has come under the most intense scrutiny in recent years, amid food scares and a growing obesity problem. Steve Dube, the Western Mail's Farming Editor, charts the life, death and consumption of one Welsh cow, and examines the ethics it raises

THEY are succulent and juicy, and a favourite of macho men everywhere. Americans have been known to have them for breakfast.

But how many of us, presented with a fillet steak with all the trimmings, pause to think of where it came from?

Vegetarians who refuse meat for ethical reasons might prefer to pass over the next couple of thousand words, although perhaps they shouldn't.

Some cultures consider that eating something is the highest compliment that you can possibly pay, whether it's a carrot that, we're told, screams as it is prised from the soil or an animal that dies noiselessly and unconsciously.

They say that eating confers a sort of immortality on the eaten, ensuring that it repays the gift of life by helping another to live.

Hard though it is for our sternly rational thought processes to grasp, there is - or perhaps was - a consciousness where even humans went willingly to death.

Even today, in cultures less divorced than ours from the elemental aspects of life and death, animals sacrificed at the kind of ceremonies that are illegal in this country are mesmerised by colour, music and movement before dying without a whisper.

In our society, where most people have no idea how to grow a carrot or kill an animal with kindness, it is no surprise that vegetarianism has become so widespread.

Interestingly, a poll of 1,000 vegetarians found that the perceived treatment of farm animals is the main reason why they choose not to eat meat.

It makes you wonder how many of them have spent a day on a farm to find out how they are treated.

The next most common reason was a moral or spiritual conviction that taking life is wrong. Then came the point of view (obviously not current in parts of the Far East) that no-one would eat a cat or dog, so it made no sense to discriminate against other animals. The fourth most common reason was a belief that animals have an innate right to life.

These are all similar ethical arguments, and all are debatable. It is obviously a case of each to his own, but even the Dalai Lama eats meat - on the advice of his doctors. It appears that humans have evolved physically, if not entirely mentally, to be carnivores.

And no one has yet been able to show how it is possible to grow food in any quantity without using good old fashioned animal manure.

And on the question of ethics, it might also be pointed out that vegans, who consider life so precious that they eat no animal produce at all, have to obtain their protein from crops like soya, grown for foreign cash in countries where children die in their thousands from malnutrition. So what now, is the price ethics?

It was noticeable in the survey that health reasons, and the taste and texture of meat, came well down the list.

But taste, texture and health are at the forefront of the tale of one particular steer, born and raised organically on the green grass of Wales.

The animal met his maker in Haverfordwest and ended up being packed into boxes for distribution by the farming family that raised him.

One small portion, a beautifully cooked fillet steak, ended up on my plate at the Ty Mawr Country Hotel and Restaurant in Brechfa, where I ate it with Angharad Evans, and a few miles from where it spent a life of unbridled and barely tamed luxury, provided with plenty of fresh Carmarthenshire grass and winter silage, and pampered with sugar beet and oats. Life, for a bovine, was never better.

All these good things came to an end when farmer John James rounded up his herd at Ty Llwyd farm, Felingwm Uchaf. …