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Jeffrey Masson on learning from animals

May 27th, 2015
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is a long standing friend of Compassion’s. We last saw him as a guest in our office in Godalming, Surrey in 2009, when he spoke about his book, The Face on Your Plate: The Truth about Food. His latest book, Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About Human Natures, is a fascinating read challenging us to question ourselves: ‘What makes us so violent to one another (never mind to other species), and is there anything to be done about it?’

I took a recent chance to catch up with Jeffrey to ask him to reflect on his work as a popular and prolific author about animals.

Philip: Your books about animals and our relationship with them are essential reading. What is the most important conclusion you have come to about how we should live with animals and what we should do about it?

Jeffrey: We should live with them with as little exploitation as possible, and ensuring that any animal in a relationship with us lives his or her life as nature intended:  this means we have to consider whether our dog companions are living as full a life as possible, and even with cats, we cannot simply ignore them.  We have to think of them as family members who need us to be constantly mindful of their happiness.

Beasts by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Beasts by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Philip: Your work means you are routinely exposed to reports on animal cruelty. How do you keep yourself positive in the face of such a constant stream of suffering?

Jeffrey: To be honest, I don’t watch horrific videos of animal suffering any longer. I feel I know already and do not need to be reminded. But somebody has to be willing to get the footage and make sure those who are not convinced see them.

Philip: Your last book, Beasts, is as much about people as it is about animals. What prompted you to write it? What are you seeking to achieve?

Jeffrey: I always wanted to write a book about the holocaust but I could not think of what lesson we could take away from it: Yes, people are unbelievably cruel. But we knew this already. What we did not know is that no other animal on the planet is as cruel as us. This needed to be shown, and I think I accomplished that.

Philip: What lessons can we learn from Beasts and your work generally for animals in putting a stop to factory farming?

Jeffrey: What we need to realise after recognising our own history of cruelty is how much of an outlier we are among other animal species, even other apex predators: So for example, while we have killed 200 million of our own species in the 20th century alone, during that same period, orcas (killer whales) have killed exactly none! So we need to look at other animals, like orcas, gorillas, orangutans, giraffes, and other charismatic megafauna, and even wolves, to learn how to live in the world in a more peaceful and compassionate manner. Animals have a great deal to teach us about our own nature.

Walmart, nation’s biggest retailer, announces new position on farm animal welfare

May 22nd, 2015

Walmart_supercentre_brockvilleToday marked a historical tipping point in the United States, as retail giant Walmart published a new position paper to address farm animal welfare. The company is the leading retailer in the country, with Walmart’s largest merchandising category being groceries. It accounts for 56% of sales – or $188 billion. According to the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), Walmart was the largest seller of grocery items in the US in 2013.

The impact of such a market leader in taking farm animal welfare seriously cannot be overstated.

The highlight of the policy is Walmart’s recognition of the five freedoms of animal welfare. This is an acknowledgement that farm animals should be protected from fear, stress and pain. The principle also recognises farm animals should have their basic needs met including providing food, water and shelter and an environment that allows them to express natural behaviour.

Walmart also asks suppliers to specifically address concerns related to close confinement systems and painful procedures. These include gestation crates for mother pigs, barren battery cages for laying hens and veal crates for calves. In addition, they call out tail docking and castration as areas to be addressed. While no date was set on implementation, the clear language is a step in the right direction and will send a message to producers not to reinvest in equipment from these systems.

Walmart, as an industry leader, has helped ensure today that these inhumane cages and crates for farm animals will go the way of the dinosaur. There is no turning back when the largest retailer in the country begins to turn its back on these cruel systems.

Since 2012, Compassion in World Farming has been involved, through the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare, with benchmarking Walmart along with other global leaders for investors with regard to farm animal welfare policy. In 2012, Walmart received a less-than-favourable report, ranking in the lowest tier for its farm animal welfare policies. The company, however, continues to make meaningful strides toward continuous improvement for farm animals and with this new policy is expected to improve.

Walmart is addressing animal welfare issues, such as the battery cage for laying hens

Walmart is addressing farm animal welfare concerns, such as battery cages for laying hens

This comes in a year when retailers and restaurants across the United States are moving away from close-confinement systems such as gestation crates, battery cages and veal crates and are adopting overarching farm animal welfare policies for the first time. Recently, food service giants such as Nestlé, Starbucks and Aramark released similar policies.

Food businesses are hearing the message loud and clear. Animal welfare matters. It matters to customers, to the sustainability of the environment, to the future of the company, and last, but not least, to the animals.

Have you seen the advice from David Cameron’s best friend?

May 20th, 2015

More Human book cover 41njmo+sYxL“Banning factory farms” says Steve Hilton, “won’t just be better for animals; it will make us better humans.” That’s one of the conclusions by former adviser and friend of UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his new book, ‘More Human’.

In an explosive chapter on food, Hilton asks, “What has happened to us that we think it’s all right to throw live chicks into a mincing machine just because they are male; that piglets’ tails are chopped off and their front teeth broken to prevent ‘stress-induced cannibalism’ and chunks of their ears cut out for identification, all without painkillers; that cows are milked to breaking point so they live out just a third of their natural lives?” He rails against the take-over of our food system by factory farms which produce poorer quality food in ways which are frankly inhuman.

The chapter sits well alongside others dealing with health, childhood and poverty. The thread running throughout the book is that government, business and the lives we lead, the food we eat – everything – has become too big and distant, too industrial. “Inhuman” as Hilton puts it and its time to do something about it.

I was privileged to be at Hilton’s launch party in London last night along with heavy hitters from government past and present including George Osborne, Oliver Letwin and Michael Heseltine. We were entertained by a Hungarian gypsy band which underscored Hilton’s roots – his family fled their home during the Hungarian Revolution.

David Cameron urged to ban factory farming

David Cameron urged to ban factory farming

I had chance to chat with the guest of honour, David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, who was lucid on farm animal welfare issues. I encouraged him to read Hilton’s chapter on food and promised to send more information. I am following up our conversation today with a letter calling for government action over misleading labelling, the wasteful use of antibiotics to prop up factory farming, and the spread of factory farm dairying.

I was pleased Compassion was able to help Hilton and his team with information on factory farming. I was particularly pleased to see him call for a ban on the practices listed in our Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare. And I couldn’t but agree with Hilton’s take on factory farming: “We shouldn’t just ‘not subsidise’ them. We shouldn’t just regulate them better, or make them more transparent. We should ban them.”

Mondelēz International commits to use cage-free eggs

May 19th, 2015

I wanted to showcase some of the incredible successes for animals that Compassion has achieved by working collaboratively with food businesses. In a series of special blog posts, I’ll highlight some of the amazing things we have achieved for farm animals around the world.

Keeping hens in cages is dreadful. Imagine the scene at a typical battery cage egg farm: tiers of tiny, barren cages so small hens can’t even stretch their wings. Hens crammed into each cage, where they can do little else but lay eggs and survive.

Thankfully, visionary food companies are leading the way towards a cage-free future for hens.

You might not be familiar with the name Mondelēz, but I’m sure you’ll have heard of iconic brands like Oreo biscuits, Cadbury chocolate and Philadelphia cream cheese. Mondelēz International is the leading global manufacturer of confectionary snacks.

Mondelēz wants all the eggs they use in their biscuits and chocolate to be from cage-free hens. They already use cage-free eggs in all of their European chocolate and they are extending their support to cage-free egg production by committing to source 15% of their eggs from cage-free hens by 2016.

In a statement, Mondelēz said: “Our end goal is for all eggs to be produced without cages. We are encouraged by reports that major egg buyers have started the transition to cage-free and we hope this will lead to a general transformation in the market, so that cage-free eggs become the mainstream option.

It is fantastic to see such a major player stating that their end goal is for all eggs to be produced without cages.

Building on success

This latest move comes on top of the ground-breaking work that our Food Business Team has undertaken. Over the past three years, our Food Business Team has worked closely with Mondelēz and their suppliers to ensure the milk Philadelphia uses from dairy cows with access to pasture in the grass growing season.

In 2013, our Food Business Team awarded Philadelphia a Good Dairy Commendation for Philadelphia in the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg. This was proudly promoted on the packaging of more than 10 million packs of Philadelphia in the UK.

On receiving the award, Chrystel Barranger, President Cheese & Grocery, Mondelēz International said “Philadelphia is made with fresh milk from farms that we know and trust. The welfare of animals is a priority for Philadelphia and we are actively working with our milk suppliers to ensure the highest standards. We believe that happy and healthy cows produce the highest quality milk, and the highest quality milk means the best tasting Philadelphia cream cheese.

We are delighted to be recognised by Compassion in World Farming for our efforts to source even more milk from farms with outdoor grazing and the best welfare conditions.

I’m so delighted to see Mondelēz making crucial changes that will mean a huge difference for farm animals in Europe. I congratulate them on this huge progress and look forward to seeing what comes next for this inspirational company on their animal welfare journey. I’m hugely proud of the incredible partnership Compassion’s Food Business Team has developed with Mondelēz.

Book review: In defence of life by Julian Day Rose

May 12th, 2015

In defence of life: Essays on a radical reworking of green wisdom

by Julian Day Rose (Earth Books, 2013)

In defence of life book cover jhp51e63ee14aaefNestled along the banks of the Thames is the stately home which so inspired Kenneth Grahame to write the children’s classic, ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Ratty, Mole and Badger clubbed together to persuade the flamboyant and self-destructive Toad, fascinated by the latest shiny things, to see the error of his ways.

That same estate provided inspiration for this modern collection of essays delving into food and the latest shiny things of industrial farming. Sir Julian Day Rose presents a fast and furious x-ray view of what’s happening beneath the skin of today’s global food system. He reveals how the mantra of ‘sustainable intensification’ is wheeled out regardless of the consequences, in much the same way as Toad careering about the road in his flash motorcar.

Through the pages of this book, Rose combines personal insight, passion and directness with a lifetime of first-hand experience. What comes through is his pioneering spirit, turning his estate organic well before it was the thing to do. He took on the forces of homogenised food and opposed government plans to ban raw milk.
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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.