A CARLISLE farmer has backed the campaign for mandatory labelling of grass-fed meat.

Susan’s Farm, nestling in the quiet countryside surrounding the village of Houghton on the edge of Carlisle, was the first in the county officially to go back to the traditional way of producing meat.

The farm itself, owned and run by 74-year-old Susan Aglionby, prides itself on its high welfare standards and is now certified by the Pasture Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) and accredited as meeting Pasture for Life standards.

Susan is just one of a handful of livestock farmers across the UK with PFLA certification, with many more working towards the same goal.

The PFLA encourages a system where livestock are fed a 100 per cent grass-based diet, rather than diets based around cereals.

Susan says she is very keen on the move by a group of farmers raising livestock purely on pasture who want the government to introduce mandatory grass-fed labelling for beef, lamb and dairy products in the UK.

The regulations would mean the term “grass-fed” needed to identify exactly what percentage of the animal’s diet was grass.

The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) said this would help consumers make informed decisions based on accurate information.

Susan’s chosen beef cow is the English longhorn, a rarity in Cumbria. She explains the vital roles that herbal leys, or mixed species planting, and grazing techniques play in raising her cattle sustainably and in improving the land.

“The mixture is important. We have to get it right for Cumbria," she said. "Our summers are shorter than those in the south. But this way we don’t lose any livers from fluke because of the chicory and herbal lays. But we are only at the start of our journey. It is a learning curve.”

The cows are fed only on pasture, rather than cereals; are kept outside; and the calves are raised by their mothers. “Pasture feeding is not only good for the animal, but creates good food and also enhances the local environment.”

Susan moves cattle to a fresh paddock of grass at least every three days. This is so that the grass is never shorter than four inches, ensuring the pasture is rested and regrows as fast as possible.

“Clearer labelling is vital to show consumers that pasture-fed animals have a much higher nutrient content, compared with products from grain-finished animals,” said Susan. "I welcome the move by PFLA to lobby Government.”.

Currently in the UK, the term grass-fed can be used on any products that are “predominantly” grass-fed, which could be as low as 51 per cent.

The association points to scientific evidence that meat and milk from animals that have only ever eaten grass and pasture is different in nutritional quality – lower in saturated fat, a much healthier ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids, and more vitamins and minerals.

The PFLA welcomed the government’s intention to introduce regulations around labelling of specific terms and methods of production in the Agriculture Bill, which is on its second reading in the House of Lords before it is due back in the Commons in July.

The majority of farmers who are members of the association already use a Pasture for Life certification label, which verifies their products are 100 per cent grass-fed. There is a rigorous process to become certified.The PFLA sent out a letter template to its 600 members, as well as the briefing paper, so they can lobby their MPs.

Susan moved to Houghton in 1989, starting with three cows and 19 acres while also working full time. She increased the farm’s acreage, then in 2009 gifted adjoining woodland and wetland areas to Cumbria Wildlife Trust. She created Susan’s Farm as a community interest company in 2015.