Agricultural revolution contributed to many of our advances

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Perhaps it was coincidental, but I took mental note of the numerous ‘vegan-friendly’ 48-sheet posters that festooned South Belfast during the week of Balmoral Show.

I feel it is safe to conclude that vegans would not have survived had they been around a few thousand years ago, when all of mankind led a hunter-gatherer existence.

Back then it was a case of kill, or be killed, with animal products representing the only source of food that could deliver all of the nutrients needed by our early ancestors to stay alive.

But it’s all different now, of course. Vegans can afford to criticise current farming systems on the back of the modern lifestyle, which they enjoy. But they should remember that all of the great industrial and technological breakthroughs achieved by mankind have their origins in the agricultural revolution that started some 10,000 years ago.

Had it not been for the intensification in farming practises that did take place, the opportunities to achieve all of these other wonderful breakthroughs would never have happened.

Or, let me put it another way. Our forefathers only got the chance to think about the bigger picture once they, no longer, had to spend all day hunting and foraging for food. In essence, farmers took over this responsibility on their behalf.

No one can argue that modern farming practises are intensive. But this does not stop farmers from caring for their animals in a totally meaningful way. For its part, agriculture in Northern Ireland is one of the most regulated industries in the world. Farmers are subject to more inspections than any other business grouping. And, this is the way it should be. The current support system for agriculture is based on the premise that consumers should have total confidence in the way their food is produced.

Farming is also a business. And on that basis alone, it is in every producer’s interest to ensure that his or her animals remain healthy and are maintained under the highest possible welfare conditions. If this is not the case the livestock will not thrive and the businesses will be similarly affected.

So, could I suggest, that the next time vegan interests groups think about castigating the local livestock industry, they might consider spending a few days at the coal face on a dairy, beef, poultry or sheep farm.

It’s an experience that will give all concerned a true understanding of the hard work and effort that goes into keeping a modern livestock farming business afloat.