I attended the Farmageddon event organised by the charity Compassion in World Farming (CWF) at the Royal Geographical Society yesterday, 12th July, with my daughter. It focused on the evils of factory farming….
Around 65 billion animals reared globally every year, they argue, most of whom spend their lives in conditions which are confined and cruel.
[For info on the extraordinary Farmageddon book see end of this post.]
CWF has real achievements it can be proud of over the last 45 years: ending the use of veal crates, battery cages for egg-laying hens, the close confinement of pregnant sows. They’ve also been instrumental in persuading the EU to consider animals as ‘sentient beings’, so the idea that animals don’t have feelings and so can’t suffer cruelty has been consigned to the wilder crueller corners of the human psyche.
But has it? Maybe in Europe, or in western Europe, and among some people, but what of factory farming USA, with its vast mega-dairies.
Animals are taken off the land and confined, and the land is given over to growing the food that feeds them, or to cash crops, while the grain that feeds them is imported. An irrational and crazy system. It allows animal farming to be carried out on a vast scale, but the grain loses much of its nutritional value converted into cattle feed. And the farms generate a vast amount of toxic waste. Proximity to mega-dairies is no place to be. In addition keeping animals in unhygienic conditions requires the use of vast quantities of antibiotics, radically increasing the chances that infections becoming antibiotic-resistant, in humans as well as animals. Witness David Cameron’s concerns about the development of drug-resistant superbugs early this week.
Mapping out the food chain. Tracing the path from the emptying of the land and the construction of mega-dairies, piggeries and chicken farms, to our supermarkets and tables, and demonstrate where the diseconomies appear, and the damage the system does to animals, to humans (not least by pollution) and the environment.
Lining up with other charities, including environment and development charities, focusing on the implications of a big-company, corporatist, factory-based approach for poverty, pollution and the environment.
How can a charity combat the muscle, marketing, mega-bucks and self-promotion of big farming companies, for whom an animal is simply a unit of production?
Politics… CWF is considered to be political by the TV companies so it can’t advertise. How can it get its message across? Raising public consciousness has always been central to its work, but then as now it cannot be propagandist. It has to allow both sides of the picture to be presented, the factory owner and the dairy cow, and let the public makes up their own mind, as they did in previous campaigns over veal crates. We have to be thankful for TV programmes like Countryfile, which will talk to traditional dairy farmers – but also a farmer planning a more factory-based approach, but nothing on the scale (yet) of the USA.
Mega-dairies in the UK. We came so close to having our own mega-dairy at Nocton in Lincolnshire. [See http://www.countryfile.com/news/news-plans-lincolnshire-mega-dairy-withdrawn] The outcry was intense, and the application was rejected. What of the future – can we be sure that similar mega-businesses won’t get planning permission in other parts of our green and pleasant land?
But… it’s one thing to take on British and European farmers. To take on American agri-business is something else. Vast sums of money, a deep-rooted lack of sympathy for animals and the environment, bred in from the days of the early settlers, and now with a big-money expression, where once it was settlers fighting for their livelihoods.
How to get supermarkets on board? There are regular conversations, forums where the issues are discussed, but it’s only public opinion that will really drives changes, as they did after ‘Horsegate’ last year. And how do we get the wider public involved, so they bring their influence to bear on farmers, and the politicians who could legislate? The public would rather not know about the farms or abattoirs.
What of education? CWF sends speakers into schools, but even in geography lessons factory farming itself isn’t major focus. Today’s kids are very much aware of the environment and recycling. The arguments are presented in a non-controversial way. In the case of factory farming, the CWF can’t engage in propaganda. It has to present the arguments and let students decide. Climate change is a similar issue in this respect. Good economic arguments and powerful science maybe should carry the day. But vested interests insist they be listened to, and in that, protest as we may, CWF and all supporters have to acquiesce.
Food waste and cheap offers on food. Both need to be outlawed, by supermarkets and in the public mind. If costs employing traditional methods are higher, then better we reduce our meat consumption and make up for the reduction by wise consumption of fruit and veg. Easy to say but…
Poverty is a major issue, cheap food keeps people alive, so how do we address these issues without impacting on the diet and welfare of the poorest amongst us? That’s a balance we have always to keep in mind.
And, thinking crops, Monsanto genetically modify grains, and drought-resistant strains might, for example, bring areas of the Sahel into production. But the seed would be supplied by the seed companies, and farmers would be tied to the company seed, and in time big companies would buy them out. Monopoly rules again.
Don’t let being a vegetarian or vegan cloud the argument. That’s not what Compassion is about. It is not opposed to meat-eating, but the lives and deaths of animals need to be humane. Animals must be allowed to live as nature intended them, ruminate or snuffle, and die, as our position higher up the food chain has always dictated (that is a brute fact of life) – but by the civilised humane methods that characterise modern society at its best.
Compassion… it is Compassion in World Farming. We are focusing on animals as well as human beings. We are all sentient beings. Compassion for animals can’t be a substitute for compassion for humans. It’s an attitude to the world – our world. Meeting the people from CWF was impressive. They aren’t as I saw them an angry charity (though anger has its place) – they are passionate.
THE BOOK Farmageddon: Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat, by Philip Lymbery (CDEO CWF) with Isabel Oakeshott, Bloomsbury, £12.99.