woolly maggots, as Monbiot would have it are another animal blamed for environmental destruction because they were grazed on areas that were once ancient forest. As subsidies wind down and rewilding takes off, many of these areas are being allowed to return to scrub or forest.
Many of the farms in these remote upland areas are part of our heritage. The Lake District was awarded Unesco world heritage status in 2017, largely and controversially
because of the cultural value of sheep farming.
Lamb, like beef and pork, is a meat you can buy directly from the farmer, thereby supporting some of these farms. Buying mutton rather than lamb means that the sheep lived longer; such meat tends to be from smaller-scale farmers.
Unlike chicken or pork, sheep are not generally reared intensively indoors. Although ewes are brought inside for lambing and some flocks are fed indoors during harsh winters, most spend their lives in fields.
Pasture for Life is a new certification scheme that labels lamb, beef and dairy raised only on pasture. This means they are not fed any grain or manufactured feed and are kept outside throughout their lives. The farmers who set it up claim that grazing animals not only contributes to welfare and produces a healthier meat, but can also help wildlife
such as lapwings. Most Pasture for Life farmers follow the same standards as RSPCA Assured or organic to make sure sheep have been slaughtered humanely.
In Britain, about half of all sheep are slaughtered for halal meat, meaning the animal is killed according to Islamic teaching. About 80% of these are stunned, as with conventional slaughter. British Muslims are increasingly
looking to develop their own labelling schemes so that welfare standards can be guaranteed.
Labels to look out for: Pasture for Life; RSPCA Assured; organic Where to buy: Camilla and Roly; Yew Tree Farm
Visit a British farm and you will see that pigs, with their curly tails wagging, enjoy living outdoors. But much of Britains pork is imported from factory farms, where those curly tails are docked and the animals spend their whole lives indoors on slatted floors without straw. The biggest sources are Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, especially for bacon. The EU has comparable minimum standards to the UK, but British producers are beginning to meet much higher standards as consumer awareness increases. To eat high-welfare pork and support the farmers going the extra mile, look out for British pork and read the label carefully.
Outdoor bred means the animals are born outdoors, but brought inside for the rest of their lives; outdoor reared means they spend roughly half their lives outdoors; and free range means they spend all their lives outdoors. Compassion in World
Farming (CIWF) say all the systems can be humane even indoor farming can be high-welfare if the animals are kept on plenty of straw.
A good way to ensure pork is high-welfare is to look out for rare breeds such as the tamworth. Rare breeds tend to live longer and be kept outdoors, since, unlike more modern breeds, they are not bred for intensive systems.
The Rare Breeds Survival Trust encourages the eating of rare breeds, because it is the best way of ensuring these animals continue to be farmed. Farmers markets are a great place to find rare-breed meats and to meet some of the farmers keeping interesting specimens. Alternatively, try to visit farms open to the public on Open Farm Sunday on 7 June.
Labels to look out for: CIWF Good Pig award Where to buy: The Ginger Piggery; Pubbledub
Intensive chicken and pork have been cited by UN reports as lower-carbon meats because the animals can be reared quickly using relatively little energy. But this raises questions about welfare.
Most of the chicken eaten in Britain is from barn-reared birds. This can mean tens of thousands of birds in one barn, each with barely as much floor space as an A4 piece of paper. The most basic assurance scheme,
the Red Tractor label, has recently improved its standards so that sheds must at least have windows. RSPCA Assured chicken will be slightly more expensive, but will have had more room, as well as toys and straw. These chickens live longer and are less likely to suffer from health problems resulting from growing too fast.
Free-range birds must have access to the outdoors for at least some of their lives, but the label has come in for criticism because not all the birds in huge barns will go outside.
Organic chickens will have access to more space and, since they are kept in smaller flocks, it is argued that they are more likely to go outdoors. They will also not have been fed genetically modified soya, imported from South America and routinely fed to intensive chicken (and pork). They are considerably more expensive but if you learned to use less meat in Veganuary, this may be less of a problem.
Labels to look out for: RSPCA Assured; organic Where to buy: Fosse Meadows; Daylesford
Tripe and other offal
If we are going to eat meat, we should eat the whole animal. Thowing away less popular cuts is disrespectful as well as wasteful. They can also be very nutritious. Most butchers will sell liver, sweetbreads
, kidney and black pudding. For more unusual cuts, go to specialist butchers or restaurants such as St John in London that advocate nose to tail eating.
Where to buy: George Bower butchers; St John
Opt for fish labelled sustainable by the Good Fish Guide, such as herring trawled in the north Irish Sea. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto
The Marine Conservation Society has a
Good Fish Guide app that will tell you if a species is under threat, vulnerable or sustainable. The simple guide uses a traffic light system of red (avoid), amber (eat occasionally) or green (eat without second thoughts). When you are buying fish in the supermarket, look for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) badge that is given to fisheries with a sufficiently high population to take a regular catch. Many less fashionable fish are also more sustainable. Rather than cod or haddock, why not try coley or herring?
Farmed fish such as salmon have a scheme similar to the MSCs, run by the
Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC); this is based on the impact on the wider environment of keeping fish in cages. It ensures that the fish do not escape into the wild and puts limits on numbers to prevent overcrowding. However, only a handful of fish farms in Britain meet these standards. The RSPCA Assured label can be given to salmon that were slaughtered humanely, but it doesnt focus on environmental credentials.
Labels to look out for: MSC/ASC; fish labelled sustainable by the Good Fish Guide
Game birds such as pheasants and partridge are problematic, since they tend to be from managed shoots. The birds are released into the wild as chicks, only to be shot later in the season. It is difficult to know if shoots are well managed and there are questions over the impact that so many non-native birds have on the countryside.
Wild game meat such as rabbit, deer and even squirrel is more straightforward. All these species are shot as part of managing the landscape for conservation purposes, such as planting trees. They are truly free-range animals living in the wild. If you are lucky enough to live in the countryside, make friends with a gamekeeper, who will probably give you game meat for free.
Eating British venison is good for trees, since the animals are a problem in areas such as the Highlands, where they ravage new forest plantations. However, a substantial amount of venison sold in British shops is from deer farmed in New Zealand, because the meat is more consistent. Look out for UK venison or track down a reputable butcher or game dealer.
Where to buy: game dealers and independent butchers; Borough Market, London
You need to know what you are doing, but is there a more ethical meat than that of animals that have been killed anyway and will otherwise be wasted?
Technically, animals on a public highway are the property of the government, but that has not stopped advocates of roadkill recycling recommending eating pheasant, squirrel and even badger found on the road. Alison Brierly, an artist and roadkill recycler,
offers safety tips on her website. She recommends carrying surgical gloves and a good knife and butchering smaller animals on the roadside taking the breasts out of pheasants, for example, or the meaty legs from a rabbit or squirrel, and leaving the rest for the buzzards.
Mossgiel Farm, an at-foot dairy in Ayrshire, has eliminated single-use plastic packaging. Photograph: Mossgiel Farm
Unlike meat, milk is very difficult to trace back to the farm, as it tends to be mixed together at centralised bottling plants. The label free range guarantees that cows have been kept outside at least some of the time, but one of the easiest ways to make sure you are buying higher-welfare is to invest in organic. Studies at the University of Newcastle have suggested that
organic milk could be better for you, since it contains higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Look out for dairies where calves are kept at foot, ie with their mothers.
Labels to look out for: organic; Pasture for Life; free range; ethical dairy Where to buy: Cream o Galloway; the Ethical Dairy; Mossgiel Farm
Most of the fresh eggs sold in Britain are free range. This means that the hens have access to the outdoors as long as there isnt a bird flu outbreak, when all birds are kept indoors. If you want to be sure that birds have a bit more space and access to pasture, buy organic.
Eggs in a lot of processed food such as mayonnaise are likely to be from caged birds, so look out for products that state the use of free-range eggs on the label.
If you want to be really ethical, get your own hens and eat the eggs.
Rescued battery chickens are increasingly popular.
Labels to look out for: organic Where to buy: the Macs Farm; Purton House Organics
Humans and honeybees have lived alongside one another for millennia. The Vegan Society says
honey is not vegan because, among other things, it is fundamental to the wellbeing of a hive, but others consider supporting bee keepers key to maintaining traditions that benefit both species. Bee farming in the UK is very different from the industrial-scale operations found in the US, especially among local producers, where honey is taken only when it is plentiful and appropriate. There is a movement towards natural beekeeping that uses a bee-centred approach to hive farming.
Keeping bees is also good for the wider countryside, as it provides pollinators for flowers and food crops. But ethical honey doesnt have to be British. Imported Fairtrade honeys support bee farmers all over the world and can be the best way to protect forests, by providing a livelihood for local people. Read
the Ethical Consumers honey guide to find the best sources.
Labels to look out for: Fairtrade Where to buy: Wainwrights; Oxfam
The Ethical Carnivore by Louise Gray is published by Bloomsbury. To order a copy for 8.79 (RRP 9.99), go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK P&P over 15; online orders only. Phone orders minimum P&P of 1.99.
This article was amended on 4 February 2020 to change permanent pasture absorbs carbon dioxide to permanent pasture stores carbon dioxide.
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.