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”

  • It is lovely to see someone standing up for the cows. We live in rural Mid-Wales and we see our meat grazing in the fields, with animals being changed depending on the time of year. The cattle have gone to lower pastures now and will return in the spring. We know what type of beef we are eating due to the colour of the string around the butchers cuts. He can tell us which farm they come from. Some supermarkets celebrated their produce has come from within 70 miles. Ours is within 7!
    When we go out, we do have to travel a greater distance as our nearest shop is 4 miles from home but we never go out with one purpose in mind as we have to do everything whilst out. We are used to shopping once a week or even once every 2 or 3 weeks. Our vegetables stay fresh in the cold garage!
    We live in a beautiful area and do our best to help to look after it.

    Sandra Elizabeth Wheeler on 18th January 2023 at 7:52 pm

  • Yeo Valley – now you are a complete joke. Is Jayne a climate scientist? No. You are seriously damaging the fight against climate change by giving an author who has no credentials a platform. How about reading the 1000’s of books that use data and science to prove cows are a problem. Check out George Monbiot’s Regenesis and wake up to reality. You’ve joined the flat-earth, anti-vax, climate denier, group well done. Never buying your products again!

    Annie on 14th January 2023 at 1:53 pm

  • I have never believed the cows are the bad guys. Common sense really I can walk through a herd of cattle and not gasp for breath👍 Walking by along a congested road has me gasping for breath. You can taste the traffic. I will read her book, eat my steaks and enjoy my yogurt and milk, all with a clear conscience. I miss my car that gave up for another reason but do a admit a lot healthier without it.

    Anonymous on 14th January 2023 at 6:09 am

  • Disclaimer: not vegetarian or vegan but trying to cut down.
    British cows are less of a problem than deforestation of the rainforest to farm South American cows or to grow soy beans to feed cows.
    This is not intended as racism towards foreign cows.
    I think we all need to cut down and use the savings to buy better meat and dairy where we can. I also think we need to replace with whole food plants not ultraprocessed fake vegan foods. Veganuary on pizza and ice cream that’s vegan is not really taking a stand against anything or helping your body.

    Fran Aynge on 12th January 2023 at 1:42 pm

  • I get the argument that dairy may not be so bad for the environment, probably better than Oat milk if it comes from grass-fed cows. I have been buying Yeo yogurt and enjoying it, and I’ve also looked up Yeo animal welfare. I’m sure their cows are well cared for, especially compared to some very bad press about some dairy farms treatment of animals. But still there’s the issue that Yeo calves stay with their mothers for ‘a few days’ only. There is a lot of distress involved for both mothers and babies, which gives me qualms.

    Gail on 11th January 2023 at 7:16 pm

  • Apart from the last Q & A which I 100% agree with and is by far the most important point in the blog it seems that the dialogue is about countering veganism and justifying the farming of cattle. The benefits of reducing meat and dairy are I believe paramount in improving personal health and by farming sustainably/organically the output and availability of both will naturally reduce and importantly the reliance on multinational suppliers of farming chemicals and GM seeds will reduce. And this is where the agenda changes cattle are the focus for the moment we must see what is really happening, veganism will increase the reliance on chemicals for growing crops taking away sustainability. So my point is stop defending the cow and look at the bigger picture – what’s happening in Holland?, why are farmers still be paid to take land out of production?, why is farmland being purchase in huge swathes by people like Bill Gates? Start joining up the dots!

    Graeme Hume on 11th January 2023 at 10:09 am

  • I have read this blog having just woken up. There is a lot to take in and i will read it again to absorb more facts but it is fascinating and it makes me want to study the subject further. I love the sentence….I want to do something so I’ll give up meat but carry on driving, etc. That gives real food for thought.

    Pauline Stuart on 11th January 2023 at 10:04 am

  • Finally, a balanced and holistic viewpoint pokes its head above the parapets! I agree wholeheartedly with the need to see the issue more widely, think more sustainably and regenerativly: for each individual to consider the impact of each and every element of their lifestyle choices, rather than this isolated and distorted view that is propagated by big business and the media. Well done to Jayne for making this information accessible to all.

    Anonymous on 11th January 2023 at 5:10 am

  • Interesting to see this on the Yeo Valley website obliviously this dairy company has a vested interested in people not following a fully plant based/vegan diet.
    Like everything the science is complicated but the article fails to mention that animal welfare is also a major factor in people switching to a diet that removed animal products.
    The dairy industry is one of the most horrific forms of animal agriculture. It also fails to mention that methane produced by livestock is a more potent greenhouse gas than C02, While the article mentions cattle only, all livestock produce methane so should be taken into consideration.

    Andrew McAlpine on 11th January 2023 at 2:14 am

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