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Message to US food companies: Phase out cages for hens within 5 years and apply for a Good Egg Award

June 29th, 2015
A battery cage in the US

A battery cage in the US

When a US food company announces it is ‘moving away’ from cages for hens, there is celebration amongst consumers, the media, and advocates alike. But when years slip by and little measureable progress is made, we are left to wonder the actual impact of these announcements.

Without target dates and a publicly transparent plan of action, the meaning of such an announcement remains uncertain. However, one thing remains clear. Until the task is complete, hens continue to languish in cages so small, they cannot even spread their wings or lay their eggs in a nest.

With this in mind, I wrote a letter to the CEO of Costco. Eight years ago they committed to going cage free with their eggs. Today, the majority of the hens laying eggs for Costco still remain locked up in tiny cages. Customers are starting to notice, including celebrity Ryan Gosling.

Similarly, Starbucks, Panera, Nestlé, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Walmart and Wendy’s, have all made announcements about eggs from caged hens. However, they have not set target dates and they still sell eggs from caged hens. While it’s commendable to take a public stance, the pressure remains on these companies to step up to the plate and finish the job.
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Book review: Project Animal Farm by Sonia Faruqi

June 24th, 2015

Project Animal Farm

by Sonia Faruqi (Pegasus Books, New York, 2015)

Project Animal Farm book coverPeople love stories about people. All too often, books about how we treat animals miss this point. Not so with Project Animal Farm. Full of surprises, it charts a four year journey into the belly of industrial agriculture. New York investment banker turned investigative journalist, Faruqi, seems to have fallen into a hidden world the industry would rather you didn’t see.

Brought up with a picture-book image of farming, this self-proclaimed city girl finds herself at a loose end on a dairy farm. From there, the unexpected happens…

Haunted by the sights, sounds and smells of factory farms, Faruqi writes about getting drawn into the lives of those who run them in an intensely personal tale. She recounts characters she meets on farms in eight countries, from America to Asia and the Middle East. She meets a family farmer scared of becoming a big farm and the treadmill they seem to be on; “with all the high-volume, low margin bullshit, farmers just keep on getting bigger and bigger.” She gets laughed at uncontrollably by a psychotic abattoir worker. She sees supposedly organic dairy cows in Canada tethered and zapped with electricity for trying to defecate in the wrong place.

“You can gauge a farm’s compassion” she writes “by your family’s reaction – outsiders form the litmus test.” How true. Through Faruqi’s writing, we get to see those who open their doors and those who don’t. Green fields or barbed wire fences, the contrast couldn’t be stronger.

Her journey ends with a thoughtful set of ideas for putting things right; common sense solutions to help bring about a better future for food, animals and the people who work with them.

What I really liked about the book was how it felt like reading a story never meant to happen. How one thing led to another, driven more by fate than design. A ‘project’ born out of happenstance, not planning. And with it comes a unique and honest take on food and farming. Written in the most vivid and engaging way, this remarkable book demands to be read by anyone who cares about where their food comes from.

MRSA is in British meat – is this the wake-up call we need?

June 22nd, 2015

pig-looking-over-wooden-fencingI’ve discussed before the severe risks of “antibiotic armageddon”. Unfortunately, that day seems ever closer.

The findings of a new study into retail pork, revealed last week in the Guardian, could pose a significant threat to ongoing efforts to win the fight against antibiotic resistance.

Commissioned by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, of which my organisation, Compassion in World Farming, is a founding member and funded by the A team Foundation, the study tested British pork meat bought from British supermarkets.

The results are in – and with samples testing positive for the superbug MRSA, the news is concerning to say the least.

This is the first time MRSA of livestock origin has been found in British pig meat. The findings indicate that British consumers are already being exposed to MRSA in retail meat, with a person eating pork twice a week likely to be exposed to contaminated meat once every three months.

And this shows an alarming precedent. In the Netherlands, once MRSA was established in the pig herd, it spread with alarming alacrity. The Netherlands has since implemented strict reductions in on-farm use, meaning that the UK levels of antibiotic use in pigs and poultry are now at least 3.5 times more than Dutch levels. In short, it is very likely that MRSA will spread quickly throughout the UK pig herd, and retail pork.
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Almost 15 million farm animals set to benefit from 2015 Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards

June 19th, 2015

GFAWA EN_GFAWA non-dated logoFollowing my showcasing last month of Compassion’s ground-breaking work with food companies, I’m delighted to bring you news of the recipients of our 2015 Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards.

I was privileged to open last week’s awards ceremony held, with the kind support of the European Commission, as part of the Milan Expo 2015. The Expo’s theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” fits well with Compassion’s mission of placing farm animal welfare at the heart of the food industry so that farm animals enjoy a better quality of life.

I’m immensely grateful to chef, writer and broadcaster Allegra McEvedy MBE, for hosting the event and presenting the awards, and to Andrea Gavinelli, Head of the Animal Welfare Unit of the European Commission, for joining us as guest speaker on the occasion of his 50th birthday.

Pictured at the Awards with host Allegra McEvedy and Andrea Gavinelli (European Commission)

Pictured at the Awards with host Allegra McEvedy MBE and Andrea Gavinelli (European Commission)

In all, Allegra presented 41 awards in seven categories that are set to benefit almost 15 million farm animals each year as a result of the higher welfare policies of the winners. The winners included globally known brands including Knorr, Ferrero, McDonald’s, Pret A Manger and the Jamie Oliver Group.

First-ever Good Rabbit Awards

Rabbits took centre stage at the event with the newly launched Good Rabbit Award, conceived with the aim of freeing rabbits from appalling factory farm cages.

Five companies were recognised for improving welfare standards for rabbits.  Kaufland and Real (Germany), Colruyt (Belgium), and Terrena (France) received Good Rabbit Commendations for committing to move the rabbits in their supply chains from barren cages into open pen systems. BreFood (Germany) is to be congratulated for going even further; the company received a full Good Rabbit Award for also committing to address the welfare needs of breeding does.
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Has cheap meat had its day?

June 15th, 2015

PJL - Lundy - May 2013Artificial meat could push conventional meat into the premium luxury market as the world’s population grows and livestock production fails to keep pace with demand, according to a recent report by researchers at Murdoch University in Australia. The study by the Veterinary and Life Sciences department also said meat producers would need to find solutions to animal welfare, health and sustainability issues “in the face of competition from emerging non-traditional meat and protein products.” I went up to Billingham in the English northeast, to find out about one of these protein sources thought to be about to give meat a run for its money.

The industrial setting is said to have inspired Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’. Two huge tower blocks burst out of the warehouse below. Behind them is a mass of frames and pipes. Inside, rows of people stare at computer screens overseeing the fermentation of wheat into a source of protein promising to be the more efficient replacement for meat from farm animals. This isn’t ‘lab meat’, created from stem cells in a petri dish, but something much more here and now. In fact, it is already widely available in supermarkets in many countries including Britain.

Mycoprotein is used to make to make Quorn products

Mycoprotein is used to make Quorn products

Using a fermenting process similar to beer or yoghurt, a tiny member of the fungi family, called mycoprotein, grows explosively in each fermentation chamber, enough to produce nearly 100,000 burgers a day.

Food scientist, Dr Tim Finnigan has been working for the company behind this innovation, Quorn Foods, for the past 25 years. It’s aimed at the ‘flexitarian’ market, those who want to cut down on the amount of meat they eat, he tells me. There’s a lot of talk about eating less meat for our health and the environment. “And that’s where Quorn is really helpful in transitioning because it’s familiar” Finnigan said. “It’s not asking you to do anything weird or different, you can still have chilli, spaghetti bolognaise, all your usual foods, and just as good in the majority of cases I would argue, but without having to use meat.”
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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.