Britain’s rare animal breeds could be saved from extinction if we start eating them, activists say

Vegan activists have ridiculed the idea, saying that farming animals is a leading cause of species extinction, habitat loss, water consumption and pollution

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 8:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 8:59pm

When you think about Britain’s endangered animals, hedgehogs, small tortoiseshell butterflies and puffins may spring to mind. But rare breeds of farm animals and horses face extinction, too.

The Rare Breed Survival Trust (RBST) published a list of endangered breeds this week. At a critical point are vaynol cattle, with only 12 breeding females remaining. The suffolk horse is similarly threatened, with 80 breeding females left. Many breeds of cow, sheep and pig make the list. The solution? According to the RBST, we should eat them.

“The only reason farmers will keep them is if we start eating them,” says Tom Beeston, the head of the RBST and a farmer. High consumer demand for cheap meat has led to the agricultural industry choosing breeds that fatten quickly through intensive feeding. Rare breeds take more time to grow and therefore cost more to feed.

The iconic Chinese animals heading for extinction

The Vegan Society has ridiculed the idea, arguing that farming animals is a leading cause of species extinction, habitat loss, water consumption and pollution. Spokesperson Dominika Piasecka says the animals should be left alone in a sanctuary setting.

Here are the struggling breeds that the RBST suggest meat-eaters should munch to save them.

Whitebred shorthorn cows

While the vaynol is the rarest breed in the UK, there are too few of the cows for the idea of asking for them at the butcher to work. The RBST suggests instead asking for whitebred shorthorn. Other rare cow breeds include traditional hereford and shetland.

Soay and boreray sheep

Sheep from the island of Soay in the St Kilda archipelago in Scotland are small, with spiralled horns. Boreray are a similar breed from a neighbouring island. Although their meat is popular with foodies – boreray lamb sausages have won food competitions – they are not in demand. But, according to Beeston: “It’s easy to get hold of good sheep. If your butcher doesn’t know the name, I wouldn’t eat it.”

Back from the brink: 8 endangered species inching away from extinction in China

British lop and landrace pigs

Both breeds are in the “danger zone” (161 and 138 breeding females respectively). Since becoming popular on menus, the gloucester old spot and the middle white have become less rare. Pigs are more suited to outdoor farming and just 40 per cent of pigs in Britain are free range. Of course, rare breed meat is more expensive. Beeston’s answer? “We should eat a lot less and better.”

Cleveland bay horse

Hang on, don’t leave! The RBST doesn’t suggest we start eating horsemeat, but it thinks the subject should be debated. “If you’ve got wild horse on Dartmoor and you have to cull them because there are too many of them, is it ethical not to eat them?” asks Beeston. He also suggests people think about riding breeds that are under threat.