The Ethical Butcher Interview with Glen Burrows

The Ethical Butcher Interview with Glen Burrows
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Can the meat industry positively contribute towards the environment? That’s the mission statement of The Ethical Butcher, and a position that certainly goes against the grain of common movements in recent years.

However, as Glen Burrows, co-founder explains in this interview, The Ethical Butcher is spearheading an agricultural revolution that can benefit all of us on this planet.

Q: Glen, thanks for joining us. Please give us a brief background on the Ethical Butcher, how the entrepreneurial concept came about and how it's disrupting the food industry?

The Ethical Butcher was formed when I met Farshad Kazemian, introduced by a mutual friend. I am a photographer and filmmaker and have been working in the commercial sector for magazines and advertising for 20 years having also held the position of Photographic Director of Men's Fitness mag for 3 years. Most of my work has been in the sport / health/ fitness and food sector as this is the area that interested me the most.

I originally studied food science and nutrition with the aim of going into the food industry on the brand side but in the 1st year of my degree I learned about a process called mechanically reclaimed protein which was allowing disease to cross-mutate between species and led to the BSE scandal, essentially by products of abattoirs were being turned back into animal feed and being fed back to farm animals whose natural diet is pasture. This was enough to turn me vegetarian and as such I made the decision to choose a different career, as in 1989 being vegetarian was about as strange to people as being martian.

I followed my hobby of photography into a career and stayed vegetarian for 25 years but retained a keen interest in diet health and fitness, gleaning information from trainers and world class athletes I was meeting on my shoots. My wife was also vegetarian for over 20 years and she developed some health issues when our second child was a toddler. She developed a metabolic disorder which left her exhausted, even after 14 hours sleep and her system was not functioning well. After seeing many specialists she eventually ended up seeing a functional medicine practitioner who started working on her diet and suggested she introduced meat again and tried a paleo style diet to see what would happen. This went against everything we had told ourselves we believed in but she decided to try it. 

The results were close to miraculous and within 2 weeks her health rebounded and she was back at the gym and literally had the light back in her eyes. This whole situation made me challenge everything I thought I believed in. After 25 years of not eating meat I had formed a belief system around my dietary choice and stopped considering a few things, if i was as healthy as I could be and if my diet was the best for me. 

I got back into the books and researched this paleo diet that was curing my wife and sufficiently persuaded by the literature and books to try it. Before I changed my diet I thought I was in reasonable health. I was very active as a rock climber and had previously achieved black belt level in 2 martial arts and wasn’t fat. When I introduced meat back into my diet and cut grains, sugars and pulses everything changed for me too. I started to pack on muscle; I lost some body fat; I was sleeping better; my brain was functioning better; my digestion was better; my gut health improved and the psoriasis that I’d developed started to disappear. I also didn’t need to eat every 3 hours and regularly missed meals because I forgot to eat - this was unthinkable as a vegetarian!

One of the important parts of the Paleo idea is the provenance of meat with a focus on grass-fed red meat and slow-grown, organic pastured free range for everything. Obviously, as a new meat eater I wanted to do this properly and I spent a lot of time looking for sources of these meats and shopping only at specialist butchers and farmers markets but there didn’t seem to be one place where I could reliably get everything.

When I met Farshad he was a meat trader buying wholesale and supplying restaurants in London with the view of expanding the business through crowdfunding and selling to the public via mail order. He met me simply as a filmmaker and we started talking… We hit it off straight away and realised that I could help him to turn his new venture into something that I wanted to exist: a single place to buy high quality, ethically sourced meats online.

As we started to research what the business could be we became more and more convinced to focus on the ethics and more and more aware of the lack of transparency and ethics in the industry with many of the terms such as free-range and grass-fed being stretched to the limits allowed by law and the laws themselves are fuzzy to say the least. 

In our research we first came across an organisation called The PFLA or Pasture Fed Livestock Association. This is a think tank and certification body for farmers who are committed to feeding grazing animals only their natural diet of grass and pasture with no grains and no use of antibiotics or hormones, high welfare standards and longer lives than conventionally reared animals.

As we dug deeper we discovered that some farmers in the UK were practicing techniques which can be categorised as ‘regenerative agriculture’ including the practice of Holistic Management. This discovery was the point at which the game changed. 

Holistic Management is a complete system of thinking about land and animal management that puts the grazing animals into a natural system that mimics nature and can build new soil, repair soil and increase biodiversity but importantly for our messaging can be carbon negative meaning the farmers are producing red meat while taking more carbon out of the atmosphere than they put in. This fundamentally challenges the environmental message that is against eating meat.

The aim of The Ethical Butcher is simply to recreate this connection between the consumer and the provenance of the food they eat with trust and transparency and over time to be the gold standard for ethics across all types of meat, be it grazing animals, pork, poultry and game. We set out to open ourselves to continuous scrutiny and movement allowing us to constantly evolve and make better decisions as we learn and progress.

Q: The sustainability movement often feels like one-way traffic at the moment, with arguments becoming increasingly militant in favour of veganism for some brands with their positioning. How can the Ethical Butcher build upon the positive elements of sustainability whilst challenging this logic?

We have an information battle to wage against the unfounded sound bites such as ‘eating meat is worse than…..(fill in as applicable)’.

The plant-based movement has huge support from big agribusiness. There’s a HUGE profit in convincing people to swap out high-quality animal products for plant based substitutes that are highly processed and many are GMO grown in chemically dependent mono crop systems. Our farmers often only require sunlight and rainwater; they have managed to remove themselves from any dependence on chemicals.

My role within The Ethical Butcher is information. I’m a filmmaker, photographer and now an environmental campaigner and speaker. I’m slowly taking on a ‘guru’ role within this messaging framework and as much as I’m filming on farms I’m starting to get speaking roles at conferences and events. 

As the vegan movement gains traction and people hear the powerful unfounded message many will become vegan and will suffer from malnutrition which might be quick or might take a number of years. Reports suggest that as many as 80% of people who try to be vegan will revert back to an omnivorous diet - we see these people as future customers as consumers balance their health with ethics.

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Q: Which marketing channels have been key to launching the Ethical Butcher and what do you plan to invest time & resources into going forward?

Pre-launch, Facebook was essential to refining our messaging and it was a free space forum where I could experiment on the impact of hard-hitting controversial posts versus softer more aspirational ideas and guess what..? The combative challenging posts gained way more traction with my post suggesting that Veganuary could do more harm than good if people swap out locally sourced meats for imported meat substitutes gaining over a million impressions and many of those were direct attacks by angry vegans horrified to have their sacred notions of sanctimonious righteousness challenged. 

I saw our page on Facebook as not much more than an experimental messaging refinement outlet and as we have launched it seems to have little or no effect on sales which are largely driven by more credible print media, but this is probably also due to the fact that most people who follow us on facebook are there for the scrap and simply want to argue with others who don’t share their views and this is a meat eater vs vegan cage fight. Also, many of our followers are not UK-based and are in the USA or elsewhere.

Q: Are there any logistical challenges you've had to overcome in terms of fulfilment because of the nature of the products?

We haven’t had too many fulfilment problems. We partnered with APC who do our logistics and as orders come to our website we cut, pack and send with a very high promised fulfilment rate.

Q: Lastly, what are the goals for the Ethical Butcher in the next year, and how can people find/connect with you guys best?

Our goals are to connect more customers, more farmers, more films,  more massaging, more conferences, more press, more refined ethics and to continue to fundamentally challenge who we see ourselves in nature through food, content and ideas. In short we’re reconnecting humanity to nature.

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