A vegan Christmas?

December 16, 2021

10:00 am

Well, not for me. But this year’s increased focus on sustainability has made me think much more about our diet, our approach to farming and its impact on the planet. I’m personally close to the subject, growing up on a small beef farm in South-West Ireland that my father at 81 still runs. A meal was not a meal unless there was meat on the plate. I’ve cut-down the carnivorous side of my diet since learning more about the health benefits of a balanced diet, an education that’s been helped along by marrying a pescatarian. 

I’ve also been helped in my understanding of farming by my father’s experience. I have seen how it has changed over time and how the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in particular, has shaped that change. The CAP had good intentions given the pressing challenges of the day. Its policy objectives set out in the 1957  Treaty of Rome looked to “increase agricultural productivity by promoting technical progress…”, “to ensure a fair standard of living for farmers” and “to ensure reasonable prices for consumers.” Of course, back then most of Europe was still recovering from the ravages of war and there was a strong memory of food supply in jeopardy.

Food security was understandably of paramount concern. The development of industrialised farming practises in the USA provided a post-war template for technology-driven yield maximisation that promised a path to food security that also gave farmers a decent income without raising retail prices.

Unfortunately, an unseen consequence of intensive farming was significant environmental damage. In the EEC/EU, the CAP both drove and incentivised farmers to increase production by reclaiming marginal farmland (e.g., peatlands, wetlands) and removing hedgerows.  The number of farmed animals increased and environmental controls were either weak or non-existent. Chemical fertilisers and pesticides that increased yields also increased harmful emissions into the soil, water and air.

This industrial approach to farming has been a hammer-blow to natural habitats and biodiversity. It has created overgrazing, acidification of soils and waterways, harming the health and numbers of wild animals, fish and birds.

The CAP has been a main cause of these adverse environmental outcomes, but not the only one. UK farm policy supported increased production long before the UK joined the EEC and the Union itself has recognised environmental side effects of CAP since the 1990s. However, despite environmental protection schemes, reforms to CAP and policy initiatives promoting a sustainable food system, there is still a persistent decline in all-important biodiversity  and a failure to protect natural resources.

Damaging agricultural policies have been the product of our past lack of concern for environmental impact and our unsustainable production and consumption patterns.  My father who for 59 years has written a farming article in the local Christmas newsletter, now speaks of the end of “draining and reseeding” and considers schemes to “wet bogland… which would result in more plant growth that would store carbon and reduce emissions”. He is reversing the work of a lifetime. He is now looking to restore what he once removed.

This radical about-turn is often a pretty fraught and angry debate. This is understandable. The impending existential threat of global warming requires changes that will increase financial costs and reduce profitability for many firms. Sections of the food industry are trying to obstruct or delay change to protect what have become unsustainable business models. Many individual farming families also face destruction of their livelihoods and feel unfairly targeted by campaigners.

Personally, for what it is worth, I do think there continues to be a place for beef, fish and fowl in our diet, but in a much more measured and considered way. Farming is improving with awareness of regenerative methods. These promote soil health by restoring its carbon, reversing the manmade cycle of degradation and the wider damage this creates. Marginal land is being returned to nature and a new generation of farmers are turning to carbon farming, providing carbon offsets to other emitters while developing a new business in the process.

However, carbon farming is not an uncontroversial development. Significant climate change mitigation by regenerative practises may prove to be an unrealistic goal. This is in a global context where cattle are by far the biggest source of GHG emissions and are the single biggest commodity driving deforestation, 70% more than the next six commodities combined.

This highlights the complexities and uncertainties surrounding these emerging technologies and new practises.  Exploring these issues can often be more confusing than informing. The  choice of grass versus grain fed beef is an example of a more personal decision that is not straightforward.

In a blog earlier this year (Wilful Waste), I highlighted  that one-third of food is lost or wasted. In the UK household food waste accounts for 70% of total waste. Maybe this is the best issue for us all to bear in mind this Christmas. It’s a proven and uncontroversial way of reducing our environmental footprint. And it is wholly in our control. It could well be the most impactful immediate action we can take.

Most of all we need to acknowledge the complexity and challenges of the choices. We must keep thinking, stay informed and encourage discussion of these multifaceted problems, our own biases and the possible solutions.

So on that note, here’s a few suggestions for family movie time. Back to the meaty beginning of my article, I bring you  Sacred Cow, the nutritional, environmental and ethical case for better beef. While Kiss the Ground makes the case for regenerative farming. Expand the argument beyond the land with Seaspiracy, which focuses on the damage done by industrial fishing; but it is not an uncontroversial watch! David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet is certainly worth watching if you haven’t already done so.

Alternatively, take a podcast on a walk in the countryside, with The BBC Food Programme presenting the case for cattle and pigs; and when you get home, get into some fun, tasty vegan experimentation with food from Grubby giving you a break from traditional fare.

Finally, in the festive spirit, the plant-based theme could be brought into the office with a Kris-kindle gift exchange  (Dirty Vegan and other vegan cookbooks ) for your meat obsessed colleague.

A very Merry Christmas. I do hope you enjoy whatever is on your plate and that we all continue the discussion in the New Year.

The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author as of the date of publication, and do not necessarily represent the view of RWC Partners Limited.  This article does not constitute investment advice and the information shown is for illustrative purposes only.

Unless otherwise stated, all opinions within this document are those of the RWC UK Value & Income team, as at 16th December 2021.

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Disclaimer
No investment strategy or risk management technique can guarantee returns or eliminate risks in any market environment.The term “RWC” may include any one or more RWC branded entities including RWC Partners Limited and RWC Asset Management LLP, each of which is authorised and regulated by the UK Financial Conduct Authority and, in the case of RWC Asset Management LLP, the US Securities and Exchange Commission; RWC Asset Advisors (US) LLC, which is registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission; and RWC Singapore (Pte) Limited, which is licensed as a Licensed Fund Management Company by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.RWC may act as investment manager or adviser, or otherwise provide services, to more than one product pursuing a similar investment strategy or focus to the product detailed in this audio. RWC seeks to minimise any conflicts of interest, and endeavours to act at all times in accordance with its legal and regulatory obligations as well as its own policies and codes of conduct.This audio is directed only at professional, institutional, wholesale or qualified investors. The services provided by RWC are available only to such persons. It is not intended for distribution to and should not be relied on by any person who would qualify as a retail or individual investor in any jurisdiction or for distribution to, or use by, any person or entity in any jurisdiction where such distribution or use would be contrary to local law or regulation.This audio has been prepared for general information purposes only and has not been delivered for registration in any jurisdiction nor has its content been reviewed or approved by any regulatory authority in any jurisdiction. The information contained herein does not constitute: (i) a binding legal agreement; (ii) legal, regulatory, tax, accounting or other advice; (iii) an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell shares in any fund, security, commodity, financial instrument or derivative linked to, or otherwise included in a portfolio managed or advised by RWC; or(iv) an offer to enter into any other transaction whatsoever (each a “Transaction”). No representations and/or warranties are made that the information contained herein is either up to date and/or accurate and is not intended to be used or relied upon by any counterparty, investor or any other third party.RWC uses information from third party vendors, such as statistical and other data, that it believes to be reliable. However, the accuracy of this data, which may be used to calculate results or otherwise compile data that finds its way over time into RWC research data stored on its systems, is not guaranteed. If such information is not accurate, some of the conclusions reached or statements made may be adversely affected. RWC bears no responsibility for your investment research and/or investment decisions and you should consult your own lawyer, accountant, tax adviser or other professional adviser before entering into any Transaction. Any opinion expressed herein, which may be subjective in nature, may not be shared by all directors, officers, employees, or representatives of RWC and may be subject to change without notice. RWC is not liable for any decisions made or actions or in actions taken by you or others based on the contents of this audio and neither RWC nor any of its directors, officers, employees, or representatives (including affiliates) accepts any liability whatsoever for any errors and/or omissions or for any direct, indirect, special, incidental, or consequential loss, damages, or expenses of any kind howsoever arising from the use of, or reliance on, any information contained herein.Information contained in this audio should not be viewed as indicative of future results. Past performance of any Transaction is not indicative of future results. The value of investments can go down as well as up. Certain assumptions and forward looking statements may have been made either for modelling purposes, to simplify the audio and/or calculation of any projections or estimates contained herein and RWC does not represent that that any such assumptions or statements will reflect actual future events or that all assumptions have been considered or stated. Forward-looking statements are inherently uncertain, and changing factors such as those affecting the markets generally, or those affecting particular industries or issuers, may cause results to differ from those discussed. Accordingly, there can be no assurance that estimated returns or projections will be realised or that actual returns or performance results will not materially differ from those estimated herein. Some of the information contained in this audio may be aggregated data of Transactions executed by RWC that has been compiled so as not to identify the underlying Transactions of any particular customer.The information transmitted is intended only for the person or entity to which it has been given and may contain confidential and/or privileged material. In accepting receipt of the information transmitted you agree that you and/or your affiliates, partners, directors, officers and employees, as applicable, will keep all information strictly confidential. Any review, retransmission, dissemination or other use of, or taking of any action in reliance upon, this information is prohibited. The information contained herein is confidential and is intended for the exclusive use of the intended recipient(s) to which this audio has been provided. Any distribution or reproduction of this audio is not authorised and is prohibited without the express written consent of RWC or any of its affiliates.Changes in rates of exchange may cause the value of such investments to fluctuate. An investor may not be able to get back the amount invested and the loss on realisation may be very high and could result in a substantial or complete loss of the investment. In addition, an investor who realises their investment in a RWC-managed fund after a short period may not realise the amount originally invested as a result of charges made on the issue and/or redemption of such investment. The value of such interests for the purposes of purchases may differ from their value for the purpose of redemptions. No representations or warranties of any kind are intended or should be inferred with respect to the economic return from, or the tax consequences of, an investment in a RWC-managed fund. Current tax levels and reliefs may change. Depending on individual circumstances, this may affect investment returns. Nothing in this document constitutes advice on the merits of buying or selling a particular investment. This audio expresses no views as to the suitability or appropriateness of the fund or any other investments described herein to the individual circumstances of any recipient.AIFMD and Distribution in the European Economic Area (“EEA”)The Alternative Fund Managers Directive (Directive 2011/61/EU)(“AIFMD”) is a regulatory regime which came into full effect in the EEA on 22 July 2014. RWC Asset Management LLP is an Alternative Investment Fund Manager (an “AIFM”) to certain funds managed by it (each an “AIF”). The AIFM is required to make available to investors certain prescribed information prior to their investment in an AIF. The majority of the prescribed information is contained in the latest Offering Document of the AIF. The remainder of the prescribed information is contained in the relevant AIF’s annual report and accounts. All of the information is provided in accordance with the AIFMD.In relation to each member state of the EEA (each a “Member State”),this document may only be distributed and shares in a RWC fund(“Shares”) may only be offered and placed to the extent that (a) the relevant RWC fund is permitted to be marketed to professional investors in accordance with the AIFMD (as implemented into the local law/regulation of the relevant Member State); or (b) this audio may otherwise be lawfully distributed and the Shares may lawfully offered or placed in that Member State (including at the initiative of the investor).Information Required for Distribution of Foreign Collective Investment Schemes to Qualified Investors in SwitzerlandThe representative and paying agent of the RWC-managed funds in Switzerland (the “Representative in Switzerland”) FIRST INDEPENDENT FUND SERVICES LTD, Klausstrasse 33, CH-8008 Zurich. Swiss Paying Agent: Helvetische Bank AG, Seefeldstrasse 215, CH-8008 Zurich. In respect of the units of the RWC-managed funds distributed in Switzerland, the place of performance and jurisdiction is at the registered office of the Representative in Switzerland.