“Saying all butchers should be shut is harsh”
- Credit: Archant
One of the country's leading butchers has taken umbrage with recent comments calling for all butcheries to be closed.
"Being a local butcher in a business which has been around for generations, I think we've had a bit of a raw deal recently in the press," says Jamie Archer, owner of Archer's Butchers (named best in the UK) in Norwich.
"We've seen the rise of vegetarianism, and reports on the impact cattle could have on the environment, and things aren't looking too rosy on the high street at the moment. We've had it from all barrels. Now, I don't want to go into a debate with vegetarians and vegans, and I'm not disputing them in any shape or form, but how can they say all butchers should close? That just leaves supermarket meat."
Jamie refers to a story published in this paper, in which Penny Franiel, founder and chairwoman of Norwich Vegans called for the butcher trade to be outlawed, saying: "I am against the people who slaughter animals for a living. I understand they have to do a job, but it's a certain type of person who can do that."
These comments caused ripples in the local farming community in a county (and country) where the welfare of animals is known to be world class.
Much has been written on the subject of eating meat and it remains a contentious issue globally. For every report condemning the keeping of livestock, you'll find a polar report. Recent studies, for example, have revealed grasslands absorb carbon, their biomes kept healthy by grazing cattle. And eating red meat and processed meat has been linked in some studies to an increased risk of cancer. But reports this week are now telling us these risks aren't as high as previously thought.
The decision to eat or not eat, to buy, or not buy meat, ultimately lies with the consumer and, says Proudly Norfolk member Jamie, if you are going to choose meat, the only way to reduce your environmental impact, is to buy local, sustainable produce.
"Saying all butchers should be shut is harsh," he says, "and it was a bit insensitive for them to say we are the same as supermarket or factory farming. What people should be doing is buying better quality meat, but less of it. All of ours is from within 25 miles of the shop, outdoor reared with good animal husbandry, and free-range. It has a low carbon footprint, and there's less stress for the animals. Animal welfare for me is really important."
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Like many butchers in Norfolk, Jamie has access to a wealth of high quality meat, from farmers who, he says, take real care to look after their animals.
William Almey from Tavistock grazes his cattle on the Gunton Estate and the surrounding area, for example. "His cattle have a whole acre per animal so they are super looked after. They have a completely natural diet and when they come into sheds in the last few weeks, are fed on old vegetables that would otherwise be waste, like potatoes which were going to be supermarket rejects. If he wasn't using them, they'd go to landfill!"
Waste is a big issue in the food industry - and in fact another contributor to greenhouse gases, with around 11% of emissions coming from waste food. Choosing a craft butcher, says Jamie, is a good way to eliminate your household's waste output. Not only can you choose the exact amount of meat you want to buy, says the butcher, but shops such as his buy in the whole animal - nothing is thrown away.
"We're also doing our best to keep up with changes in packaging. Quite a few of our customers bring in their own containers and we've started using cardboard instead of polystyrene trays.
"At the end of the day, I think Norfolk is great. We have a good selection of quality butchers and some of the best grain for animals here. We are rural compared to a lot of parts of the UK so it's a really good environment for agriculture. My grandfather started this business in 1929. Back then there were hundreds of butchers but now there's only a few. We have to protect the butchers, like us, who are doing things the right way. If people stop using butchers and buying meat from the supermarket, that's all we'll be left with!"