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Food security Report – a missed opportunity?

January 22nd, 2015
Parliamentary report into food a disappointment. © iStock photo

Parliamentary food report a disappointment © iStock photo

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament has today issued a Report into “Food Security: Demand, Consumption and Waste”. What a disappointment it is! (A “waste” of time itself?)

Whilst recommending that supermarkets and consumers do more to reduce food waste and making general remarks about encouraging healthier diets, the Report totally fails to deliver even one significant challenge to current government policy. With a General Election in the offing, this would have been an opportune moment to challenge ALL political parties to do more to promote healthier eating patterns.

Instead the main advice to consumers is to “buy British” with a specific nod to the Red Tractor scheme, which has singularly failed to promote and ensure high welfare standards amongst its producers (although of course some of its producers have chosen to adopt higher standards anyway). Buying British can mean higher welfare, like grass-fed beef, but it can also include factory-farmed chicken and pork! How appalling of the Committee to ignore this fact, especially when the UK, like all EU countries has, under the Lisbon Treaty, a duty “since animals are sentient beings”, to pay “full regard” to their welfare requirements.

No definition of healthy diets is given. Yet we know that DEFRA is sitting on an agreed set of Principles of a Healthy, Sustainable Diet – a result of a consultation in which Compassion in World Farming took an active role. These Principles sit on someone’s desk within DEFRA. They would have encouraged consumption of more plant-based diets and reduced meat consumption. It seems this is too challenging a prospect for our politicians!

Yet as my own book, Farmageddon, showed, factory farming is destroying life in so many ways:

  • Dislodging poor farmers from their lands in South America in order to grow vast amounts of soya – just to feed factory farmed animals
  •  Creating terrible problems of pollution from factory farm effluent and from the chemicals used to grow the crops-that-feed-the-animals
  • Destroying biodiversity globally – once common farmland birds at an all-time low in Europe
  • Using the earth’s precious resources of land and water – not to feed people, but to feed animals in factory farms
  • Forcing animals like dairy cows to produce unnaturally huge quantities of milk, resulting in serious health and welfare problems.

Reading this bland report really makes me angry. It contains plenty of useful information but no challenging recommendations. Even the fact that food banks are being used more and more by people on low incomes leads it to no great recommendations except for government to work with the charities involved in this area to “monitor trends” in food poverty. That’s reassuring to those who go to bed hungry at night in our green and pleasant land!

However, at Compassion we like nothing better than a challenge ourselves! We shall work ever harder and with even greater focus to lobby the powers-that-be, to work with farmers, retailers and the food industry to promote higher welfare methods and to encourage the adoption of healthy diets that are more plant-based and include only those animal products which have come from farms where the animals have been raised to higher welfare standards.

If politicians don’t “get it”, or refuse to get it, then we will trust our growing band of supporters to help us get the message out to every corner of the country. We know we can trust you!


The Horsemeat scandal: why did it touch a nerve?

January 22nd, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn last week’s post, I looked back to the amazing revelations two years ago this week that horse DNA had been found in beef products sold in UK supermarkets.

Some of the controversy that accompanied the horsemeat scandal was no doubt caused by the UK’s special affiliation with equines. The idea of slaughtering these animals for meat has long been disturbing to British sensibilities.

A Spring day in 1911 at the bustling Belgian port of Antwerp; an English nurse, in her early fifties, Ada Cole, stood silent by the dockside scarcely believing her eyes. A cargo ship had pulled alongside and began to unload a slow procession of tired, worn-out horses which then shuffled along on their final journey.

These were English horses, exported to Belgium and forced to walk four and a half miles from the docks to be pole-axed at the slaughterhouse. It was a distasteful sight and locals would draw their curtains in protest. It was telling that this was done out of the sight of the horse-loving British people.
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Review of my international guest posts in 2014

January 19th, 2015
David Bilchitz

David Bilchitz

The publication of Farmageddon at the beginning of 2014 opened the door to a new international audience for our message to end the cage age for farmed animals. I travelled throughout the world to places like China and Argentina researching the global impact of industrial agriculture for Farmageddon. Now my travel is very much aimed at building an international movement against factory farming. Here I look back at some of my guest postings from around the world in 2014.

I was honoured to meet Professor David Bilchitz, director of the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional Human Rights and International Law, who sees no place for factory farming in South Africa.

Factory farming is devastating for animal welfare. It treats animals ‘like units in an industrial process’, said the famous South African author J M Coetzee. It has no regard for their intrinsic value and does not respect their basic rights to bodily integrity and to live in an environment in which they can flourish. Arguably this runs counter to the essence of the new [South African] constitutional framework which requires a concern for those who are weakest and most vulnerable. And, finally, it is devastating for the environment through a range of effects it causes.

Angus McIntosh

Angus McIntosh

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Horsemeat scandal two years on – lessons learned?

January 15th, 2015
Do consumers really know what they are eating?

Do consumers really know what they are eating?

Two years ago today, the biggest food scandal in the UK since the BSE crisis, hit the headlines.

The horsemeat scandal of 2013 heightened consumer fears over not knowing the full story of what is in the food we buy. Horsemeat had been switched for beef, leaving the horse-loving nation of Britain stunned and distrustful.

Europe’s food industry became engulfed in a rapidly unfolding saga that quickly degenerated into a furious blame-game. Keen to avoid taint from the torrent of revelations, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, blamed supermarkets, who blamed their suppliers, who pointed to distant traders in far-away lands. Consumers were left baffled and angry.

The alarm was first raised by the Irish Food Safety Authority and supermarket giant Tesco was one of the first to be involved; an ‘Everyday Value’ beef burger from the store contained 29% horsemeat. The offending burger was manufactured in Ireland from meat thought to be of Polish origin.

Other supermarkets were affected, with horsemeat also being found in beef products from discount supermarkets, Aldi and Lidl. Within days, 10 million burgers – enough calories to feed a million people for a day – had been removed from shelves by worried retailers.
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Future-proof our farming

January 14th, 2015

In Cheshire, on Bickley Hall Farm, I looked into ‘future farming’ – a farming system using low levels of pesticides, with cows, kept naturally on permanent pastures. This was benefitting not only the cows, but the local wildlife too and involved the local community.

Richard Gardner, from Cheshire Wildlife Trust talked to me about the farm where the conservation herd live. They manage 350 hectares of meadow and pasture – creating the right mix of habitats. Richard also discussed this natural way to farm with other farmers and landowners.

Managing livestock in this low input way – means there is no need for artificial fertilisers, and birds and mammals thrive in the area. Richard said: “think about where your food has come from”.

The land, and the cows, were managed sympathetically at Bickley Hall Farm. Long may it continue.

For your copy of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’, click here.


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.