How the cow became the target

Thursday 8th December 2022

Our resident writer Lizzie Rivera interviewed author Jayne Buxton whose latest book, The Great Plant-Based Con, leaves little question where she sits.

Buxton felt compelled to enter the debate having become acutely aware that many of the facts being used to support plant-based advocacy stood in contrast to the facts as she understood them. The tipping point was watching the influential documentary, The Gamechangers, which strongly advocates for a plant-based diet. She felt the film was full of misinformation and spends a huge chunk of her book debunking the type of research and studies that were used.

Inevitably, a vegan advocate could do the same when examining Buxton’s book and the studies and reports she uses to defend her arguments for a diet that includes meat and dairy – farmed regeneratively, of course. And so the cycle continues.

So, how do we know who to trust? And is there a way to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us?

We sat down over an organic milky coffee with Buxton, to discuss how we got to where we are and where we go from here…


What would you like to see more of in the debate?

Cows on the fields

For a start, I would like to see people using numbers and facts in a more honest way. The reason the book is so long is because there are so many facts to counter, whether it be about nutrition or land use or emissions. I want readers to open to the fact that perhaps there’s more nuance in this debate. I do feel this book has helped to give those in the confused middle the confidence to ask more questions. If it’s done anything valuable, it’s been that.

There is a lot of conflicting information. How do we break out of this cycle?

Unfortunately, there is the need for each individual to be sceptical, check the data and ask questions. Everybody’s data must be open to scrutiny to uphold standards of integrity.

When it comes to the environment and ecosystem health, I also think we need to go back to some very basic facts and root ourselves in reality by looking at what’s really happening on the ground, as observed by farmers working on farms day-to-day. We can get carried away with looking at complex models, which are based on a large number of debatable assumptions. There is a divide between the ‘modellers’ and the ‘experiencers’, and I think we need to start to bridge that divide and pay more attention to the experiencers.


The experiencers are saying that cows are not the climate villains they’ve been made out to be. What’s your view on this?

The Great Plant-Based Con

There are some facts that stop you in your tracks. The other day, I was reminded of this one: in 1950 there were some 10.6 million cattle in the UK, and four million cars. In 2018 there were 9.8 million cattle and more than 32 million cars.  Looking at these numbers it’s difficult to believe that cows are the key factor driving the growth in emissions.

Professor Myles Allen, from the University of Oxford is really leading the way in trying to help us understand that cattle are not the primary drivers of climate emissions. He’s gone on record to say that eliminating methane from cattle would have a small effect on global warming in the immediate decade. But, if we don’t eliminate the warming from carbon-dioxide from fossil fuels, everything else is pretty much irrelevant.

Why is this?

The emissions cows produce are part of a natural cycle, they produce methane and they help to sequester carbon [draw it back into the soil]. Fossil fuels, however, are linear – C02 is dragged out of the ground and pumped into the air. A factory never sequestered anything, right? So, we need to keep perspective.

My perspective is that cattle and livestock are not as bad for the environment as we’ve been led to believe. But, they’re also not as good as they have the potential to be. So, if we want to really capitalise on the potential of cattle to sequester carbon we need to raise them in a truly regenerative fashion where they’re doing the best for the land, not the worst. In a way where all of their actions – whether it be trampling, eating, pooping, urinating – are building the health of the soil in the land and enabling it to draw down carbon.


If cows aren’t as bad for the environment as we think then should our efforts be focused on capitalising on their potential? Or should our efforts be on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels?

I’m going to say yes and yes. I think the core of our efforts need to be focused on what drives the majority of emissions – on industrialisation and consumerism. You can eat a 4oz British steak three times a week for a year and your emissions would be 1/10th of those from a transatlantic flight. So, of course, we should be focusing elsewhere. But we should also focus on cattle in terms of their potential to actually help with global warming. Greenhouse Gases are not the only issue here – managing cows in this way is also a win for biodiversity and for land to be protected and restored.


So, out of everything that could have been chosen to be the culprit, why the cow?


I’ve been fathoming this for such a long time. I think it’s several factors. One is the animal welfare movement being so strong and once they got a glimmer of research that was on their side, boy, they’ve played that for everything it’s worth. The argument of an animal welfare activist who also cares about the environment and health is seemingly indomitable.

There is also the influence of corporations in the food industry, who have spotted an enormous profit-making opportunity in the vegan processed food market and have ramped up marketing activities that promote plant-based messaging. The media also has huge influence, pumping out headline-after-headline favouring the plant-based cause while failing to interrogate the studies on which they’re reporting, which invariably fail to provide robust evidence in favour of plants-only diets.

Now, why are people listening to this message? I think, partly, because reducing or giving up meat is the easy option. The easiest route is to say: ‘I’ll give up meat because I have to do something. But, I’ll keep flying. I’ll keep driving. I will keep living my life.’


Finally, you speak a lot about nutrition in your book. How do people navigate this?

Jayne Buxton

Nutrition is an evolving field underpinned by an imperfect research process. That process needs to be less dependent on funding from individual companies. In the meantime, eating a good variety of real, whole foods and understanding where and how they are grown, and minimising intake of ultra-processed food, will get people a long way in terms of eating for their own and the planet’s health.

I think instinctively people know that ingesting food from nutrient rich soil rather than the bi-products of artificial fertilisers and chemicals must be better for you.

We must reframe the debate so that it’s not about plants versus animal foods or veganism versus omnivores, and more about how we ensure that we are eating a nutrient rich diet full of real foods, and producing those foods in a way that restores soil and enhances environmental health.

Comments on “How the cow became the target”

  • I am so glad that finally someone stands to corporations and their mainly GM food.
    I completely agree with J. Buxton .
    Our farmers are great, having organic farming is the best thing in this country.
    All what you need to do is turn of processed pack of plant based food and read ingridients in it. Cetanly not healthy at all.
    And should I remaind the opponents to cows and CO2 -CO2 is the food for trees. Without it we will cease to exist.
    Yes and I too would use the car and fly .
    As on the climate change and data presented I have completely different data, showing that the planet Earth is just passing one of the stages and as a matter of fact started to cool down.

    Aida Veljanovsa on 11th January 2023 at 1:34 am

  • A lot of the “cows are bad” research is in relation to how cattle are managed in countries other than the UK. Most of our cattle are grass fed, in fields when suitable (their hooves destroy the grass when its wet and soft in winter) and the majority of waste is recycled back into the system as fertilizer for more grass.

    Another problem with getting rid of not just cows but most other ‘meat’ animals is what to grow in their place. The vegans would say plants, but most things don’t grow well in areas that are perfectly okay for animals.

    CO2 is plant food after all. Nothing vegans can eat will grow without it so reducing it won’t actually help anyone. The greening of the planet currently means more food is produced in more needy areas of our planet.

    As with everything though, you need to do your own research on things to form an overall picture. For instance the satellite data shows there has not been any significant warming for the past 10 years despite the amount of CO2 increasing.

    Anonymous on 10th January 2023 at 10:47 pm

  • I was having a conversation about doing veganuary with my local butcher and I mentioned that if we reduced our meat consumption to a few times a week rather than daily it would have a huge impact on the environment. I said, to him that he has nothing to worry about as his meat is ethically sourced from farms they know and trust.
    It isn’t these types of meat producers that are destroying the planet it’s the huge farms producing cheap meat for supermarkets and takeaway shops.
    These worldwide producers are destroying local ecosystems and the rain forest is being destroyed to produce the feed for their animals.
    It’s the production methods of these farms that need to change to protect the environment not the small farms that do raise their cattle in the correct way.
    I think that this blog is missing the global point about the environment and focusing on protecting uk small producers.
    I don’t think that it’s right to attack the vegans who are actually doing good by reducing their meat consumption and eating more plant based, which is going to help the planet.
    Obviously, the highly processed meat substitutes/alternatives being pushed by supermarkets and fast food sellers are not the way to fix the problem but most people I know who have become vegan actually cook their food from scratch sourcing ethical ingredients.

    I’m afraid I need to air my cynicism about this book being talked about and the attack on vegans on a website that’s livelihood is all about the cow!

    I will read to book to see if there is any merit in the title or if it is just another book trying to protect the meat/diary industry.

    Jason Hawkins on 10th January 2023 at 10:36 pm

  • The BBCs CO2 calculator at gives a figure that contradicts the assertion in this article that ‘You can eat a 4oz British steak three times a week for a year and your emissions would be 1/10th of those from a transatlantic flight.’ It says this sort of consumption of meat would be equivalent to five return flights from London to Malaga, so something like a transatlantic flight or two, not 1/10th (enter beef and say 3 to 5 times a week to get this figure). This article also makes it sound as if methane levels were steady – it just breaks down with time into negligible levels of CO2 – but unfortunately they are going up steadily, the causes seem shared between fossil fuel use, burning rain forests and agriculture. I remain persuaded of the sense of the UN climate change panel’s advice that some shift towards sustainable plant based food is wise, without moving to a completely vegan diet – to quote the 2022 report – ‘Dietary shift, in particular increased share of plant-based protein sources’. Organic dairy continues to be a delightful part of my mostly plant based diet – thanks to Yeo.

    STEVE CARR on 10th January 2023 at 9:41 pm

  • We need a natural source of fat in the diet as every cell in your body is encased in it! A varied diet makes sure that you receive all the correct nutrients. Rather than cut meat from your diet to help the Earth (a plant based diet actually uses huge resources to produce and transport!) we should be concentrating on the health and welfare of our animals and to purchase as locally as possible.

    Anonymous on 10th January 2023 at 7:32 pm

  • I believe in livestock so long as they are dealt with as well as we do in the UK. Cows living on grass lands – no problem but in some countries they are treaded terribly. I would like calves to be brought up correctly – not just killed to provide milk for humans. Plant food is in my opinion incorrect and very much being ‘shoved’ to us. Facts of the way cows are delivering should be ‘shoved’ to everyone so that they really know then the minimum amount of crush’s they are considering to the climate change

    KathrynJurin on 10th January 2023 at 6:33 pm

  • Years ago Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was pointing out that if we are going to eat meat, and most of us still do, then it is our duty to ensure that the animal that provides it leads as happy a life as possible, with as natural an environment and diet as possible, and does not endure an agonising death. Many since then have told us that food is best when as little as possible is done to it before we put it in our mouths. Why is that message still not being heard? Because it doesn’t suit the big corporations, who cannot make huge profits from those of us who think carefully about our food and decide to avoid meat produced in factory farms and anything which has been unnecessarily processed. Value added, nutrition subtracted, profits increased.
    I weep for those who buy expensive fake meat products in the mistaken belief that they are in some way helping the planet or improving their own health. I weep for all of us when people assure me that they can fly all over the world, bringing their pollution and overuse of resources to poorer countries, because they recycle their glass bottles!
    We just have to keep doing what we do and telling others why we are doing it.

    Patsy Whiteside on 10th January 2023 at 6:08 pm

  • As “Soil4Climate” says – it is not the cow its the how. You cannot compare the factory/prison style of raising cattle with the open air grass fed style. And there are far more other methane producing ruminants in the world than cattle. Plus the enormous amount of industrial methane spewed out.
    I do think it is sensible to understand that plant BASED does not mean nothing but plants, it means more green stuff, veg, et al on your plate (which is far healthier that the massive steak and “fries” common in a certain country ) Balance in all things. When we allow it, nature maintains a perfect balance, we have upset that balance, and need to restore it. And we need balance in our own lives (and diets) too.

    Mrs V Soar on 10th January 2023 at 5:29 pm


    Delighted to read this blog. Also pleased to see milk and meat being advertised for good health on the T.V

    Anonymous on 10th January 2023 at 5:00 pm

  • Good valid points being made. Like many here I enjoy food of all types, but I’m definitely an omnivore. What I find disappointing is the amount of processed food, of all types, being sold. However, what really annoys me is vegan and vegetarian processed foods being sold as what they are not, of which the most recent example I’ve seen is “vegan black pudding”!!

    Anonymous on 10th January 2023 at 4:08 pm

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