This is the section where you can ask me anything you like; but I expect it to be mostly about animal welfare and Compassion in World Farming. If you have specific question fill out the form below and I will write a post about it. Check out our jargon buster and the facts and figures page for more information too.
.Here are some of the questions I have already been asked:
Q: Which countries use factory farming?
A: Various kinds of factory farming are banned in a few countries (eg Norway and Switzerland) and some kinds eg barren battery cages in Germany and Austria. There are measures being taken to phase out some factory farming systems, eg battery cages throughout Europe in 2012. However, as a general rule factory farming is practised throughout the world.
Q: Is it possible to buy cruelty-free dairy produce in the UK? My vegan friends tell me i must become a vegan but I don’t want to – whatever the health benefits – if a viable, cruelty-free option to enjoy dairy produce exists.
A: There are a range of welfare problems involved in milk production, some of which are addressed by higher welfare dairy practices. For example, cows kept in organic farms have access to pasture during the summer and most organic farms keep more robust breeds which avoid the problems of excessive production. In some areas there are also micro-dairies which provide milk direct to the consumer, at least some of which will give cows access to pasture. However, nearly all of the above will still separate calves from their mothers at birth so that people can drink the milk. There are a very few farms which avoid this, but in general we don’t have their details. The calves will in these case be reared for beef if they are not needed as dairy replacements. Additionally there are occasional farms which maintain contact between mother and calf and also avoid slaughter, eg http://www.bhaktivedantamanor.co.uk/home/?page_id=26. Long term levels of production would be very low in such systems so that to be sustainable milk consumption would also need to be very moderate if these systems were widespread, but this system in principle could answer the points you have raised. In general, we would argue that people who drink milk should look out for organic to ensure that cows get out to pasture. NB Hormones are not used legally in any EU animal production
Q: Can you help with infomition on the following, 1, inadequate agricultural extension services, 2, crude farm implememts and high cost of farming, 3, poor storage facilities
A: Dear Jude, thank you for your enquiry. Unfortunately, we do not have information on these particular topics so are unable to assist you on this occasion. Regards….
Q: I am currently trying to prevent a cow factory for the production of milk from expanding. Please could you send me references to sites and books that might help me find detailed scientific information about this type of cattle farming, with especial reference to the production of milk.
Mrs A Gardner-Medway
A. Thank you for your enquiry. The best reference for cow welfare is the EFSA report (plus 5 separate opinions) on the welfare of the dairy cow. We have written a summary (click here), which includes references to problems of high production farming and the benefits of pasture. The full report can be accessed here. We also have a briefing relating to the problems of highly productive cows here. It is highly productive cows which are most likely to be kept indoors since cows cannot produce these really large quantities of milk without severe loss of weight on a diet of grass. A report on the situation in the US has been produced by the animal protection group Farm Sanctuary at http://www.farmsanctuary.org/mediacenter/assets/reports/dairy_report.pdf. We trust this information is helpful.
Q: I live in France. I’m able to buy free range eggs as it’s clearly labelled. However, I have no real idea of where meat comes from. There is no adequate information from meat producers or French websites of how the animal is raised. Can CIWF create a leaflet/poster region by region (with foreign terms and phrases) to help the consumer when they’re out shopping?
A. There are not higher welfare schemes in France like there are in the UK, for example the RSPCA’s Freedom Food label, but there are some certifications schemes that provide better welfare for farm animals – such as organic, Label Rouge and AOC.
Label Rouge meat chickens are all free-range and from slower-growing breeds. You can visit the Synalaf poultry website which gives info on organic and Label Rouge poultry production (in English): http://www.poultrylabelrouge.com/. For other meat, look out for Label Rouge, organic or AOC which are usually more welfare-friendly than standard production
Q: How would you explain to a starving family in Africa that animal welfare is of any importance?
A: With a billion people hungry in the world, the priority is to see that they are fed. However, factory farming is not the solution for feeding the hungry. Many developing world farmers depend on their animals for their living and the production of cheap meat often undermines their livelihood. Meanwhile, the feeding of grain to factory farmed animals is hugely wasteful of food that could be put to much better use feeding people directly. Factory farming also fuels demand for grain and soya, thereby pushing up global prices for basic foodstuffs. There is a real danger from this that the poorest people will be less able to afford basic food items like bread.
The bottom line is that treating animals badly through factory farming has impacts detrimentally on our environment, public health and our ability to feed people. Therefore, animal welfare and human well-being are very much interlinked.
We need humane and sustainable solutions to solve problems of food security globally. Josphat Ngonyo, Head of the African Network for Farm Animals, puts it like this: “We must acknowledge that as human beings we share the planet together with fellow non human beings, the animals. Like us, they suffer hunger, thirst, pain, and injury. They can become fearful, suffer from diseases, be uncomfortable and feel distressed. Thus, we need to appreciate them as fellow beings that we co-exist with on earth.”
Q: What is factory farming?
A: I take factory farming to mean the close confinement of farmed animals in cages, crates or overcrowded sheds or barren outdoor feedlots. This includes, for example, chickens kept in battery cages to produce eggs, chickens confined in broiler sheds for their meat, and pigs kept in barren pens for their meat. Animals in factory farms are treated more like production machines than individual sentient beings with welfare needs. These animals are specially bred for purpose. They are fast growing or high producing breeds. They are vulnerable to painful production-related health problems. Factory farms are energy-intensive and use concentrated feed (such as soya and cereals), high mechanisation and minimal labour.
Q: Why is factory farming so bad?
A: I believe factory farming is bad for animal welfare, for the health of consumers who eat intensively-farmed meat and dairy products and for the environment because of the pollution it causes. It’s bad for animal welfare because the animals are caged or confined. Factory farms are unnatural environments to keep animals. Consequently, they cause what I call self-induced problems. For example, chickens are debeaked to stop them from pecking each other; but beak trimming is unnecessary in well managed free range systems. Factory farming is bad for consumers because we eat too much meat and dairy products, which are a major source of saturated fat in the diet. Experts recommend reducing consumption of animal products to lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Our research shows we can feed the world without factory farming and address global warming!
Q: How can I make sure that I only buy animal produce that has come from compassionately reared animals?
A: I look for free range and organic products, particularly the Soil Association’s Organic Certification as this scheme has high welfare standards. For those on a budget, the RSCPA’s Freedom Foods scheme offers higher indoor and outdoor standards than the industry norm. I’m wary of the Red Tractor as food produced on factory farms can be certified by this. I don’t automatically trust products which use words such as ‘farm assured’, ‘farm fresh’, ‘locally sourced’ and ‘produced to high animal welfare standards’. You can download a copy of Compassion’s pocket-sized Good Food Guide here.
Q: What’s the problem with cloning?
A: I believe cloning animals for food should be banned. It has no productive role to play in addressing the challenge of producing food to feed the world’s population in a humane and sustainable way. From an animal welfare perspective, cloned animals often die in the womb. Those that survive long enough to be born are often abnormally large and need caesarean deliveries. Many die in their first weeks from heart and liver failure, kidney abnormalities and respiratory problems. I recently handed a petition signed by more than 7,000 people in two days to Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron calling for an EU ban on the cloning of animals for food.
Q: Is antibiotic use in farming really such a problem?
A: I’m very concerned about this. Keeping very large numbers of chickens and pigs, for example, in close confinement creates the ideal conditions for the rapid spread of disease. Overcrowding can also lead to stress, which can weaken the animals’ ability to fight infections. This is why antibiotics are used and misused by farmers and agribusiness throughout the world. The Soil Association and Compassion co-signed a letter to then Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling on the government to act in response to a report produced by the Chief Medical Officer which detailed the problem of antimicrobial resistance being transferred from farm animals to humans.
Q: What is your view on meat grown in labs?
A: When I first heard about cultured meat I was sceptical, but as I’ve learned more about how it will be produced without causing any cruelty to animals I now believe it could provide a vitally important alternative to factory farming. Perhaps you would like to read my blog about cultured meat?
Q: Do all factory farmed chickens really have such a bad life?
A: Yes, they do. Chickens kept for meat production have been bred to grow so quickly that many of them suffer from painful lameness or die of heart failure. Their short lives are spent in overcrowded sheds where they have no option but to sit or stand in their own waste. Hens kept for laying are imprisoned in cages with less space than the area of one sheet of writing paper each. Nothing about their life is natural. They cannot fulfil their behavioural and psychological needs to, for example, forage for food, dust bathe and stretch their wings. Life in a factory farm is not anything I would wish on anyone.
Q: Is it true that many animals reared in factory farms die as a result of their conditions? How many of them actually make it to become ‘meat’?
A: The financial economies of scale in factory farming are such that it is cost effective for agribusiness to write off as an affordable expense the loss of life of a significant number of animals or birds which occurs in the time they are raised before slaughter. Mortality rates vary from one farm to another, but it is typical for around 5% of factory-farmed chickens to die before reaching slaughter weight. In a shed of 10,000 birds that means around 500 of them die or need to be culled before they even make it to six weeks of age. Chickens would naturally live for up to seven years or more.
Q: I heard it takes 20 bath-tubs full of water to make one steak, is this true, and why?
A: Researchers have calculated that it takes around 15,500 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef. This is equivalent to around 90 bath-tubs full of water. So a typical 8oz (227g) steak would indeed use around 20 bath-tubs full of water. This water is mostly used to grow the feed for the cattle. Direct consumption of plant foods by humans is a more efficient use of food and water resources and also reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Many studies have highlighted the environmental benefits of reducing meat consumption. For example, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently published a paper, Diet and the environment: does what you eat matter? Which concluded a “nonvegetarian diet exacts a higher cost on the environment relative to a vegetarian diet.”
Q: Are veal stalls legal in the US?
A: By stalls I believe you mean crates, and yes, unfortunately these are still legal in the US. However, there are plans afoot in some US states to outlaw veal crates. California has banned veal crates from 2015.
Q: What are the three main animal welfare groups in the US and what cause are they fighting for?
A: Some of the main groups working in the US are Humane Society United States (HSUS), and their companion society Humane Society International (HSI); International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW); World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA); The American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA); and Farm Sanctuary
Check out their websites for further information:
Q: I was wondering if CIWF would still consider Waitrose as a contender for their Most Compassionate Supermarket award for a further year, given their reluctance to commit to CCTV in their slaughterhouses, something which is fully supported by CIWF? Morrisons and M&S have pledged to have CCTV in all their plants in the very near future, but Waitrose surely do not deserve your endorsement if they also do not follow suit, do they?
A: Waitrose won Compassion in World Farming’s Most Compassionate Supermarket Award 2010 because their overall score for welfare was the highest, based on a very in-depth and varied survey of their standards and performance. Whilst we advocate the use of CCTV in slaughterhouses, this would not be a sole parameter on which to base the welfare standards and/or commitment of a retailer. We work very closely with Waitrose and this is an issue we raise with them in conjunction with the many welfare issues we discuss routinely.
Q: What I need to know is what the scientists use to feed the invitro cells in the laboratory. Currently massive volumes of Foetal Calf Serum are demanded by cell culture laboratories (and just imagine how this is produced). I would hope this technology uses a serum fee media?
A: In biomedical research, most cell cultures have used media made from animal blood but some scientists are beginning to use media from a variety of other sources, including plants and microorganisms. It was reported this week that:
“One alternative might be to use ground-up maitake mushrooms, which Benjaminson found works just as well as calf serum for his fish fillets. At the University of Amsterdam, researchers working on in vitro meat have been developing a cheap medium made from blue-green algae, with added growth factors made in genetically modified Escherichia coli. But no one has yet developed a way of making a cheap, animal-free growth serum in large quantities.” Click here for more information.
Q: Can you please explain to me the difference between selective breeding and Cloning cows and pigs?
A: Selective breeding can be basically natural except that people choose which animals mate. All farm animals have been selectively bred to some extent which is why we have different breeds of cattle etc. Selective breeding is the process whereby people select breeding stock in order to develop certain characteristics. For example, modern dairy cows have been selectively bred to produce lots of milk. Breeders will have repeatedly chosen cows that produce more milk when choosing which animals to breed from. The selective breeding of cows for high milk yields has led to serious welfare problems, since many are producing more milk than is good for them. See our education resource on selective breeding.
Cloning is a breeding technology that takes place in the lab and involves surgery. The DNA of a newly fertilised egg is replaced by the DNA of an adult animal. This is then surgically implanted in a series of surrogate mothers e.g. sheep. The purpose of this is to create an animal with identical DNA. Animals created in this way are often born with serious health problems or die soon after, or are abnormally large making birth difficult. Compassion in World Farming is opposed to the use of cloning because of the health and welfare problems caused to offspring and surrogate mothers in the cloning process.
Q: How can animal welfare be supported through our local church?
Rev. Dr. Evans
A: Your Church could join the ‘Faith in Food’ campaign run by Alliance for Religions and Conservation (ARC). This project promotes ‘a vision of faith communities creating a fairer, healthier and more sustainable food and farming system, and together transforming the world through the food they eat – one meal at a time’. Please visit ARC’s Faith in Food project page on their website http://www.arcworld.org/projects.asp?projectID=520 for further information. Susie Weldon, ARC’s Faith in Food Co-ordinator, can assist with joining and her contact details are supplied on the website and in their leaflet http://www.arcworld.org/downloads/FaithinFoodleaflet-final7reduced.pdf.
Compassion in World Farming has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Alliance for Religions and Conservation in relation to eating less, but better meat.
Q: Does Compassion have any sort of accreditation system which could be given to restaurants indicating to customers that their meat is only sourced from ethical sources, and if not could one be created?
A: Compassion in World Farming does not have an accreditation system for restaurants or small businesses. However, we support and signpost to both the RSPCA Freedom Food scheme as well as the Sustainable Restaurant Association (http://www.thesra.org/), both of which specialise in accreditation – either for producers or establishments. At this moment in time, we do not plan to develop our own scheme, but will continue to work closely with partners to ensure our message is spread within their networks.
Q: As an Organic beef producer I am concerned about the increase in religious slaughtering. Eblex are promoting to the Halal marketplace, but are not stating that stunning always takes place. Indeed there seems no way to be sure that as a producer one’s animals do not end being traded to, or slaughtered with non-humane methods. Killing animals is never pleasant in thought or deed, but at least we can help to prevent undue suffering. Furthermore much of the religiously slaughtered carcase can be traded on, as the religions concerned do not use that part of the animal. Are we being sold such products without consumers receiving proper explicit labelling. Another concern is the fast food trade, where outlets are using Halal products more widely; possibly without labelling as such. Sorry to be so long winded, and I do not mean to “rant”, as we all want to live harmoniously together in Society, but some rule bending or avoiding seems to be possibly happening. However I concerned that there is a promotion under way by Eblex to the meat trade without firm detailed guarantees about slaughter methods.
A: Thank you for your comment and my sincere apologies for the delay in responding. Slaughter without pre-stunning inflicts unnecessary pain and distress on animals and Compassion in World Farming believes that it should not be permitted. Whilst we respect the right to religious freedom, we do not believe this should extend to practices that inflict suffering on animals. There is currently no requirement under UK or EU law for the meat from animals slaughtered without stunning to be labelled as such. Until the current exemption permitting slaughter without pre-stunning is repealed, Compassion in World Farming believes the law should require that all animals who are not pre-stunned must at least receive an immediate post-cut stun and that all meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning must be clearly labelled as such. The European Parliament voted in June 2010 to require compulsory labelling for all meat from animals killed without stunning. In order to become law, this would require approval by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. We have been advised by EBLEX that producers/farmers need to enquire with their relevant slaughterhouse about whether pre-stunning takes place before slaughter as some slaughterhouses undertake halal stunning, but others do not. For your information, relatively little beef is sold as halal, it is mainly chicken and lamb. All meat sold under the Red Tractor label comes from animals stunned prior to slaughter. Our Food Business Department is in regular contact with the retailers about pre- stunning and have added questions to our supermarket survey covering halal and kosher produce. However, we understand that generally supermarkets insist on pre-stunning if halal. In terms of food service companies, most operators buy specific cuts of halal and kosher meats for their customers which are clearly labelled. We are having ongoing discussions with one of the large operators about sourcing higher welfare halal chicken for some of their contracts.
Q: What is done to stop halal slaughter? It should be ILLEGAL. It used to be, but now appears to be non-pc. Why are there no TV documentaries about the living conditions of cows, horses, pigs, sheep etc, their loading, transport and slaughter? They would wake people up and make them think.
Thank you for your comment. The Muslim method of slaughtering animals for food requires that the animals are alive and healthy at the time of slaughter. Stunning has been opposed by some Muslims because of concerns that the stun may kill the animal. The purpose of stunning is to make the animal unconscious rather than to kill it but some methods of stunning may induce cardiac arrest at the same time as loss of consciousness (e.g. electrical stunning methods where the electrodes span the heart as well as the brain). However, head-only electrical stunning induces unconsciousness without stopping the heart from beating so that the animal is still alive when the throat is cut. Following demonstrations of the reversible nature of electrical stunning applied to the head only, many Muslim authorities have accepted that this method of pre-stunning can be used in Halal slaughter. Data from the Meat Hygiene Service suggests that electrical stunning has now been routinely adopted in many Halal slaughterhouses in the UK and that the majority of animals (including poultry) slaughtered for Halal meat in the UK are now stunned. The Jewish method of slaughtering animals for food requires that the animals are healthy at the time of slaughter and that they must not have suffered any physical injury. For this reason, pre-slaughter stunning methods that are judged to cause physical injuries prior to cutting the throat have been considered unacceptable. Therefore, all poultry and the majority of mammals slaughtered for Kosher meat are not stunned and those that are only receive the stun after the throat has been cut. Slaughter without pre-stunning inflicts unnecessary pain and distress on animals and Compassion in World Farming believes that it should not be permitted. Whilst we respect the right to religious freedom, we do not believe this should extend to practices that inflict suffering on animals. There is currently no requirement under UK or EU law for the meat from animals slaughtered without stunning to be labelled as such. Until the current exemption permitting slaughter without pre-stunning is repealed, Compassion in World Farming believes the law should require that all animals who are not pre-stunned must at least receive an immediate post-cut stun and that all meat from animals slaughtered without pre-stunning must be clearly labelled as such. The European Parliament voted in June 2010 to require compulsory labelling for all meat from animals killed without stunning. In order to become law, this would require approval by the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.
Q: A free range chicken farmer of 25 years is having to go out of business (supermarket pricing, feed pricing) and wants to rehome as many of her hens as possible rather than have them destroyed.
A: Thanks for your message. The farmer might like to contact British Hen Welfare Trust and/or Hen Heaven. They rehome commercial laying hens, so should be able to help.