Posts Tagged ‘factory farming’

Book Review: Honourable Friends? by Caroline Lucas

Friday, May 1st, 2015

Honourable Friends?Honourable Friends?

by Caroline Lucas (Portobello Books, 2015)

Honourable Friends? Parliament and the Fight for Change, gives a real ‘of-the-moment’ and ‘from the trenches’ snapshot of life in Parliament. Caroline tells her story from the insightful perspective of an outsider, on the inside for the first time.

Honourable Friends? takes readers on a compelling journey in three parts. Firstly, we join Caroline as she arrives in Parliament and finds out that much about the way it works is either “obscure or downright weird”. In the second part Caroline starts to work to reform Parliament and to use its existing processes to represent her constituents and to campaign on key issues.  The final section offers her vision.

I shared in Caroline’s bafflement when, on arrival in Westminster, she was given a pink ribbon to hang her sword on a hook outside the Chamber but wasn’t allocated an office. Instead she, like all other MPs, was expected to camp out at a café table.

Offices, we discover, are Westminster “currency”. Having an acceptable office in which to work is a perk that is allocated by the main political parties and their whips as a reward for well-behaved MPs. Officials told Caroline that MPs would have to wait for up to a fortnight: the whips needed time to decide which MPs deserved an office with a river view and which MPs would have broom cupboards with limited ventilation.

Whilst some of Parliament’s daily workings are just strange and quirky, Caroline describes others as “actively malign; and probably kept that way deliberately.”  For example, the right for individual MPs or cliques of MPs to ‘talk out’ Private Members Bills, and the antiquated system for voting that Caroline explains works to keep power in the hands of the whips.

The story of the failed campaign by MPs from different parties to introduce electronic voting is also highlighted in the book. The challenge of reforming Westminster, warns Caroline, is that it’s a race between new MPs seeing what needs to change and those same MPs being absorbed into the prevailing culture”.

There’s a warning for all new MPs from Caroline, who advises: “If you are ready to accept it all, the place will treat you like minor royalty bringing with it the risk that you lose your sense of perspective (even of reality) and also forget who you are there to serve.”

With Honourable Friends? Caroline also signals what she sees as some of the biggest challenges for the future, including the battle against climate change and the threat presented by the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), that is under discussion. The TTIP, warns Caroline, would allow corporations to sue sovereign governments in so-called arbitration tribunals on grounds that their profits are threatened by policies or laws that protect the environment, or animal welfare, or food safety or privacy.

Importantly, throughout the book, Caroline gives hope to every campaigner, by showing how the nearly impossible can sometimes be achieved. By writing letters, visiting MPs, protesting outside Parliament change can be achieved and disasters averted. Honourable Friends? demands to be read by anyone with an interest in how politics currently works and how it could be.



Could pasture be the secret to feeding the world? Part 3

Friday, April 24th, 2015

The final in a series of three informative articles by John Meadley of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. He explains why raising animals on grass is much preferred over the intensive and unnatural way of keeping them in feedlots.

John Meadley speaking recently at Compassion's offices in Surrey.

John Meadley speaking recently at Compassion’s offices in Surrey.

Given that two-thirds of the world’s farmed land is pasture, and the unique ability of ruminants to convert this into something humans can eat, raising ruminants wholly on pasture makes a lot of sense. This is why we set up the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association (PFLA) in 2011.

PFLA promotes the raising of ruminant livestock exclusively on pasture and does so through the development and promotion of a brand — Pasture for Life — and the certification and auditing of those farmers who agree to meet the standards. The brand highlights the benefits to the animal by eating a natural diet and growing naturally along with a higher level of welfare. There are also environment benefits (e.g. lower carbon footprint, minimum use of chemicals or fossil fuels). All of these advantages help the consumer, too. Further, our tracking system links the consumer to the meat they buy with our certification. Certified meat from the animals we raise is given a bar code which consumers scan with their mobile phone thereby showing them the farm from which the animal came and information about the animal itself. There is complete transparency throughout the supply chain. Examples are available to see on our website.

Meat bearing the Pasture for Life Certification Mark comes from animals that were 100% pasture-fed.

Meat bearing the Pasture for Life Certification Mark comes from animals that were 100% pasture-fed.

The PFLA is a community interest company run largely by volunteers and whose members are predominantly farmers. Having set up the certification and tracking systems and developed the brand, we are increasing both the production of certified meat and awareness of Pasture for Life. We are currently mapping our producers, getting a better understanding of the economics of pasture-fed production, and contacting the many businesses that claim to be ‘grass-fed’ but do not have a recognised brand or standard to underwrite their claim. We are encouraging our farmers to build themselves into production hubs as the core of new and transparent supply chains. Cutting across this is our wish to ensure complete utilisation of the carcass and that certified produce is available to everyone – including those on lower incomes – whether through purchasing specific cuts or such products as pies and sausages that contain certified meat.

You can find your nearest supplier here and purchase direct from a farm or have it delivered to your door.

Can pasture-fed livestock feed the world? That many people go hungry now reflects deep failures in our economic system as well as in how we use and share the resources available to us. In broad terms, a third of the food the world produces is wasted, a third of the grain produced is fed to livestock, and a quarter of the world’s land area is pasture. There is little doubt that we can feed the world now and in the future if we cut out the waste, ate less meat raised on grain, and made better use of the world’s pastures.

To learn more about why the future is pasture, please read our booklet, ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ by Anna Bassett, which is available on line here.

To read my two earlier earlier articles, please click here and here.

Could pasture be the secret to feeding the world? – Part 2

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015
John Meadley speaking about Pasture for Life at CIWF's offices.

John Meadley speaking about Pasture for Life at CIWF’s offices.

This is the second in a three-part series of articles by John Meadley of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. He explains further why raising animals intensively is wrong from various perspectives, including harm to the environment, consumers, and the animals themselves.

As feedlot production trucks in feed from outside the pens in which the animals are kept, they produce much more manure than the surrounding area can absorb. That presents a disposal problem. The animals’ faeces and urine are frequently collected in large lagoons, which produce significant levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and pollute local waterways. In contrast, the manures from animals raised on pasture fertilise the land on which they feed, fertilise it, thereby maintaining a natural equilibrium between food production and manure disposal.

Most of the grain fed in feedlots could be eaten much more efficiently by people. Why feed it to animals? Animals raised on pasture convert a product that cannot be consumed by humans into something that they can consume and, in most cases, the farm animals are on land unsuited to producing grains.

Animals raised on pasture express their innate characteristics and tend to be healthier. They’re under less stress and often self-medicate on the diverse species in their pastures. A recent report on the Irish dairy industry demonstrated the benefits of grazing rather than confinement, including improved health, lower mortality, and lower levels of calving difficulties.

Pasture-based systems encourage the use of traditional breeds like the Hereford and preserve floriferous meadows which teem with wildlife. Photo: Pasture for Life

Pasture-based systems encourage the use of traditional breeds like the Hereford and preserve floriferous meadows which teem with wildlife. Photo: Pasture for Life

Meat from animals raised wholly on pasture is healthier for the consumer. It is lower in total fat and the saturated fats linked with heart disease. Grass-raised animals have higher levels in total omega-3 fatty acids, a healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and is higher in conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin E, B vitamins, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. But these benefits are found only in ruminants raised just on pasture. They’re lost in those animals finished on grain for the last two to three months. Butter is no longer shunned by the medical profession. The government’s Meat Advisory Panel recently emphasised the value of red meat in a balanced diet, particularly from pasture-fed cattle and sheep.

Grain is generally grown in large fields with most other flora and fauna eliminated through the use of herbicides and pesticides. In contrast, most pastures contain a variety of plant species, including herbs, wildflowers, and clovers. This mixture provides a varied diet for the animals, rich in essential vitamins and minerals drawn up from the soil below, and supporting a diverse range of wildlife.

In the third of this three-part series, John Meadley explains why the future is pasture.

Could pasture be the secret to feeding the world?

Monday, April 20th, 2015
John Meadley and Philip Lymbery

John Meadley and Philip Lymbery

I recently had the pleasure of welcoming Dr John Meadley to Compassion’s Godalming headquarters to talk about the importance of pasture to producing decent food and higher animal welfare. John runs a new organisation of farmers passionate about keeping animals on grass called the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. I last interviewed John a couple of years ago and am pleased to present this exclusive article by John on why the future is on pasture.

Ruminant livestock—particularly cattle—have been getting a pretty bad press recently. They are charged with causing global warming and consuming large amounts of grain that hungry people could eat. They destroy the rainforest in the process. Their manure pollutes the environment. Both red meat and butter take you to an early grave. Does this stand up to scrutiny? Or is it because ruminants are caught up in the emotive arguments around mega dairies and feedlots? In this three-part article, I will consider these issues and conclude with an explanation as to why the future is pasture.

Ruminants have the unique ability to convert grass and cellulose-rich foods into useable products such as milk, meat and leather. But in doing so they produce methane, one of the powerful greenhouse gases (GHGs). Feedlot cattle, raised on grain, grow more quickly than those raised on pasture. They produce less methane per pound of meat. Their lives are shorter. But this ignores the GHGs produced by the feed the animals eat (which has to be trucked in) and the manure they produce (which has to be disposed of).

Beef cattle that have only ever eaten grass and forage crops their entire life – from birth to slaughter. Photo credit: Pasture for Life

Beef cattle that have only ever eaten grass and forage crops their entire life – from birth to slaughter. Photo credit: Pasture for Life

There’s more to it than burps and farts. Grain crops are annual species. The land is cultivated for each crop, which dries out the soil, reduces the level of biological activity, and releases CO2. Manufacturing and applying the nitrogen fertiliser they need produces more than 3kg of CO2 per kg of nitrogen applied, which in turn consumes more than 1% of the world’s energy. According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, on average, over 80% of nitrogen applied ends up lost to the environment, wasting the energy used to prepare it, and causing pollution through emissions into the atmosphere and compounds into the waterways. Planting, spraying, harvesting and transporting also uses a lot of energy. A typical feedlot steer in the US will consume the equivalent of around 275 gallons of oil in its lifetime.

In contrast, most of the world’s pasture is permanent. The leys that enrich an arable rotation are replanted only occasionally. Grazed pastures require little (if any) artificial fertiliser. The animals’ manures go back directly onto the land. Nitrogen is produced naturally by legumes (typically clovers), a process which takes CO2 out of the atmosphere. The UN Environmental Programme reports that pasture also removes carbon from the atmosphere into its roots and the surrounding soil at the rate of 200-500 kg/ha/year. This helps to explain why the world’s soils are the largest terrestrial reservoir of carbon, containing three times as much as the atmosphere, and five times that of the world’s forests. There is growing evidence that ruminants raised wholly on pasture can be carbon-neutral and in some cases carbon negative.

In the second of this three-part series, John Meadley takes a look at other issues which explain why the future is pasture.

Eat your Greens for Meat Free Week

Monday, March 16th, 2015

MeatFreeWeek_UK_2015_72dpi‘Meat free week’, is a new initiative to encourage us to think about meat and where it comes from. At Compassion in World Farming, we are only too aware that most meat these days still comes from factory farms. Where animals are caged, crammed and confined. But did you know how resource intensive it can be too? A kilo of beef needs ninety bath tubs of water to produce. That’s just one example. Raising awareness about what’s involved is why I’m supporting Meat Free Week.

This is a great opportunity to spread the word about moderating our meat intake and when we do eat meat, to make informed choices about how it has been reared. It’s a simple way for every one of us to make a difference to the planet, three times a day.

And even better news; you can sign up to go meat-free for a week in aid of Compassion. Tackle some new recipes whilst raising awareness of the benefits of reducing meat consumption. If you already don’t eat meat, you can get your friends and family to take part. Sign-up on the Meat Free Week website here.

Meat Free Week encourages creativity and thoughtfulness when it comes to our food, which I think can only be a force for good. So spread the word and let’s get people talking and taking action on these issues affecting every single one of us.

Meat free week flyer

Farmageddon on film

Read the whole story

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.