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Chief scientist admits British farming is bad for birds

October 27th, 2014
Farmland birds suffer steep declines © istockphoto

Farmland birds suffer steep declines © istockphoto

“We can’t have farmland birds at the level they used to be with the agricultural system we have today” claimed the UK Government’s chief scientific advisor, Professor Ian Boyd, at a meeting discussing UK agricultural strategy in London last week. His assessment came on the day the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) released new figures showing Britain’s farmland bird populations have reached their lowest level on record.

Yet, despite the growing chorus of disquiet, the government seems hell-bent on turning the screw tighter under the guise of ‘sustainable intensification’, the main topic in the room at the UK agriculture strategy session. Professor Boyd made clear his part in balancing agriculture with the environment: “I and my colleagues put the information up and ask society through their elected politicians to make that choice.” The continued decline of once-common farmland birds shows policy-makers aren’t listening.

According to DEFRA’s own latest statistics, farmland bird populations have dropped by more than half over the last forty years with the biggest dip happening between the late 1970s and early 1990s. That was when intensification really took hold, with its chemical-soaked monocultures of crops, the demise of mixed farming and increased use of pesticides. Hardest hit have been the farmland specialists like the grey partridge, turtle dove, tree sparrow and corn bunting – down by over 85 per cent in four decades. Strong downturns in more recent times have been shown by species like the skylark, lapwing, starling and kestrel.

Britain’s soils have only 100 harvests left

© Peter Zvonar

© Peter Zvonar

It’s not only birds at risk from over-intensive farming as scientists warn that Britain’s soils have only 100 harvests left. “With a growing population to feed, and the nutrients in our soil in sharp decline, we may soon see an agricultural crisis,” said Professor Nigel Dunnett of Sheffield University.

“Meanwhile we are also seeing a sharp decrease in biodiversity in the UK which has a disastrous knock-on effect on our wildlife. Lack of pollinators means reduction in food,” he told The Independent newspaper.

Threat of ‘Silent Spring’ remains

As pesticide protagonists lick wounds over recent EU action to ban the use of neonicotinoids on crops used by bees, there are fears that a ‘Silent Spring’ could still become reality: the highly respected International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warns that global use of these pesticides is responsible for ongoing threats similar to those “posed by organophosphates or DDT”.

Birds and bees have become just as much a victim of agricultural intensification as the pigs, chickens and cows crammed into factory farms. The industrial rearing of animals goes hand in hand with intensive crop production, often grown to feed incarcerated animals. Concerted action is needed to ensure that farming becomes genuinely humane and sustainable. Sadly, strong interests and blinkered thinking seem determined to stand in the way.


Why Weren’t We Told?

October 24th, 2014

My guest today is Clive Phillips, who is Professor of Animal Welfare in the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Queensland in Australia. Clive is Chair of Animal Welfare at the Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics

Clive Phillips

Clive Phillips

Can the public be excused for not knowing about the circumstances of food animal production? We were first warned about the inhumanity of using animals as machines 50 years ago, but dietary habits change slowly. Then intensive animal production was in its infancy. Now most of us live in cities and animals are crowded into sheds far away, and the public rely mostly on the media rather than first-hand knowledge for information about farming.

Just as you and I probably do not know the details of how the car that we drive works, so the public are largely ignorant of the way in which animals are kept for meat and milk production. In a recent survey researchers at the Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics at the University of Queensland found, for example, that most of the public believe that meat chickens are reared in cages, whereas the normal intensive industry practice is to rear them in huge barns on the floor.

Recently most of the massive growth of the intensive livestock production has taken place in developing countries, which is another reason that consumers are largely ignorant of the cruelty that the animals suffer. Poultry exports from Brazil are increasing exponentially, as the rain forest is decimated to produce soya and maize for the birds. Between 2001 and 2011, Brazilian chicken meat exports increased from 1 to 3.5 million tonnes per year.
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Irish lambs to the slaughter…in Singapore

October 21st, 2014

irishsingapore5When Compassion’s Investigations Unit came back from Singapore with evidence that 1,700 Irish lambs had been slaughtered there, I found it hard to believe what I was hearing.

Looking at the basic facts – that animals were flown more than 7,000 miles just to be killed on arrival, rather than being slaughtered in Ireland and their meat sent to Singapore – it is very difficult to understand the logic.

Of course, there are circumstances around the live export of these lambs over such a huge distance that will be used to explain why it was “necessary” but at its most basic level it is simply nonsensical.

Add to that the fact that these Irish lambs were slaughtered in makeshift killing tents without the mechanical restraints that are required by law in Ireland and the rest of the EU and without first being stunned, and I fail to see how the Irish government can justify it, as they attempted to in the Irish Sunday Times (£) coverage of our findings.

As our Campaigns Officer, Pru Elliott, said: “You have to seriously question whether taking animals from lush Irish fields and subjecting them to a 7,000-mile journey just so they can be slaughtered can ever be in the interests of the welfare of the animal or even for the Irish sheep industry.”

irishsingapore1We have been monitoring the situation in Ireland because animals are being shipped out from there not just to Singapore but to countries in the Middle East and in North Africa. In these Middle Eastern and North African countries, we have seen some horrific slaughter methods being used.

Animals have been beaten, dragged by the tail, limbs or even eye-sockets. We have seen them stabbed and even shot before having their throats cut. Their ordeal is not over when the knife comes down, as the slaughter can be carried out by inexperienced and inexpert people, who slash at the animals’ throats until they let enough blood for them to lose consciousness.

We’re urging Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to stop the export of Irish animals to countries outside of the EU where they face conditions that would not only be illegal in the EU, but often breach even basic internationally recognised slaughter recommendations set down by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

I don’t believe the Irish government can allow the export of live animals, recognised as sentient beings under EU law, to countries where they may face brutal slaughter and simply wash their hands of any problems.

The journeys are nonsensical, the slaughter is often brutal – these animals deserve far better.

Take action.  Help us stop the export of live animals from the EU.

Buy pork from farms not animal factories

October 17th, 2014

It’s been a momentous week for Compassion. Our patron, Joanna Lumley has supported us in our protest against Gadhimai; and our biggest, new campaign ‘End the Cage Age’ has launched and been featured in two national newspapers (Daily Mail and The Sunday Times [£]). This gathering impetus for animal welfare is wonderful to see and I wanted to put my support behind another brilliant campaign.

I am proud to support the Pig Pledge Campaign. Their 3-minute film tells the story of Tracy Worcester’s ten-year worldwide battle against animal factories. Having worked with Tracy over the years, I know how dedicated and tenacious she is. She has helped to put pig welfare on the agenda, both politically, and for consumers.

She says: “When it comes to pork, please change your shopping habits to support a better future for pigs, farmers and the planet by buying meat from real farms not animal factories. To highlight your commitment, please sign the Pig Pledge.”

I couldn’t agree more. Factory farms are bleak, outdated methods of producing meat and I ask everyone to make the conscious effort to avoid supporting them with our purchases, as Tracy has outlined in the pledge.

Hundreds of millions of pigs around the world are kept in factory farms. This is damaging, not only to the pigs themselves, but to the environment and local communities.

We need to take a stand, alongside The Pig Pledge campaign and the Soil Association, who, like Compassion, are supporting this movement.

Pigs should be able to express their natural behaviours

Pigs should be able to express their natural behaviours

Let’s move away from the dark age of pig production, in which pigs throughout the world are increasingly kept confined. I urge you all to stand up against factory farming, for the good of our own health and the environment as well as for the welfare of these pigs.




‘End the Cage Age’ – Our biggest ever campaign launched!

October 13th, 2014

© Compassion in World FarmingToday I’m incredibly excited to share with you that we are launching our biggest ever campaign. Our aim is nothing short of ending the use of cages in farming. I see cages as the ultimate cruel symbolic representation of factory farming. They embody everything that is wrong with the system. They constrict and confine animals, preventing them from turning around and displaying their most basic natural behaviours.

Despite the obvious failings of this medieval system, Europe still incarcerates around 700 million farm animals in cages every year.

Pigs, hens, duck and geese are often confined to cages for much of their lives; even tiny quail are often imprisoned in factory farm cages.

In the UK, more often than not, people think of rabbits as pets. Our recent investigation revealed that most farmed rabbits spend their entire lives in battery cages. Breeding does are often kept in solitary confinement for two years. In one farm, we filmed the crude artificial insemination process of the breeding does, showing them being roughly pulled out of their cages, inseminated and forcefully put back in.

Czech rabbit investigation 41931At Compassion, we firmly believe that all rabbits should be able to roam, hop, and express all their natural behaviours. None of the 330 million rabbits factory farmed in Europe every year are able to do these most basic of things. With dead rabbits strewn about and ammonia levels high from the waste left to pile up under the cages and lack of ventilation, it is unsurprising that these rabbit farms are breeding grounds for infection and disease. In rabbit factory farming, 5 – 7 times the amount of antibiotics are used compared with pig or poultry farming.

I’ve had enough of outdated cages still being used in modern European farming. If you feel the same, please get involved with our major new campaign. It’s time to evolve. It’s time to End the Cage Age.

cageage-no-strap-sidebarPlease, take the time to watch our film and share it with as many people as possible. And if you believe that farm animals should no longer be kept in cages, join the campaign today. Every generation must make its mind up which injustice and cruelty to animals it is going to stop. The time has come for this generation to stand up and End the Cage Age.

Thank you.


Farmageddon on film

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About Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery is Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. He is an internationally respected authority on the impact of industrial agriculture on people, animals and the planet.