• PLEASE HELP THESE LOVELY DOGS…

    Jan 16 2014

    DO YOU KNOW ANYONE THAT CAN ADOPT ONE OF THESE GORGEOUS DOGS FROM INDIA? THEY ARE BEING FLOWN TO EUROPE IN A FEW MONTHS – ALL PAID FOR. Please pass on the word or contact me.

    As you probably know, Avis Lyons, the inspirational woman behind the ARK rescue centre in India, is  having to close her dog sanctuary. This is for various reasons including that Avis has suffered ill health for many years.

    She is left with many gorgeous rescue dogs that she refuses to abandon. These dogs were rescued from horrible conditions on the streets or  were abandoned by their owners. Avis desperately needs your help to find them homes..

    All of the below dogs have been fully tested and will be flown to Europe for rehoming in April. If you or ANYONE you know would like to give one of these gorgeous dogs a better life please write to me on:

    martinusborne[at]mac.com

     

    Trudy

    Trudy

     

    Trudy..

    is approximately 3 years old, she was dumped at the gates when she was a puppy, but sadly she was not adopted and has been at ARK all her life. Trudy is very friendly and affectionate, though a little shy at first. She is good with other dogs though can be bullied by more dominant dogs. Trudy is vaccinated and sterilised.

     

    Poppet

    Poppet

     

    Poppet…

    is female, approximately 5 years old. She is very friendly and intelligent and loves attention and going for walks!

    She has been at ARK for 4 years following tteatment for a maggot wound in a rear foot. She came from Trivandrum (where the local authorities were killing dogs) so could not be released after treatment.

    Poppet is vaccinated and sterilised.

     

     

    Rita

    Rita

    Rita…

    This little sweetheart is mild, gentle, and soft…she waits her turn but loves to get attention! She is looking for a forever home, could you give one to her?

    Rita is approximately 1 year old and is vaccinated and sterilised.

     

    Bonita

    Bonita

     

     

    Bonita…

    is a very friendly, gentle, affectionate lady who just loves attention. She was dumped over the 7 foot wall when she was just weeks old, suffering from distemper, from which she has fully recovered (apart from a very slight nervous twitch).

    She would like nothing more than to have a real home and her own people to adore her.

    Bonita is approximately 1 year old and is vaccinated and sterilised.

     

     

    xena

    xena

     

    Xena…

    is super smart, super spunky, and super fun! She is outgoing and loves everyone. Anyone visits the shelter? Xena is right there at the gate to say hello! Could you be the person for her?

    Xena is approximately a year old and is sterilised and vaccinated.

     

     

    Peanut

    Peanut

     

    Peanut..

    is very mild, but friendly. She always gives a wag but lets you approach her rather than running up to say hello. She loves to snuggle and get pet, and would love a home with someone who will give her attention and care!

    Peanut is female,approximately a year old and is sterilised and vaccinated

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  • UPDATE ON THE ARK IN INDIA – surprising news.

    Dec 18 2013

    Blog5_Keraladogs_9

    Avis Lyons, the inspirational founder of Animal Rescue Kerala, has decided to shut down her charity in India.

    This is hard to hear.

    A combination of her weakening health and the inept, inert local government that refuses to cooperate with her animal birth control programme means she can no longer do viable work.

    After  12 years of effort, she is left with a sanctuary full of rescued animals that she refuses to abandon but which she cannot sustain. She desperately needs our help to rehome the dogs she has under her care.

    dogkerala_5

    Please click here to see the animals in need of adoption

    Please write to tails@worldlywags.org if you think you might be able to help adopt a dog

    Please click here to donate money which I can pass on directly to her (mark as ‘FOR ARK’)

     

    Blog5_Keraladogs_8If there is one person over the last year that represents the fierce, mad, compassionate energy needed to work in the face of so much suffering it is Avis. Ageing, weakened by a fight with cancer, often alone in a country that was fairly alien to her,  she was driven by a selfless desire to help the misery suffered by so many dogs and other animals on the streets of India.

    blog5_keraladogs_16

    Avis wasn’t perfect. She took on too much, she could be impulsive and sometimes impatient – but she had, she still has, the most vibrant and precious spirit. I spent much of my year trying to understand what compassion really meant. Avis, I think, explained it to me. She leapt into the unknown, following her heart where her head must have warned her not to go and responded immediately and dearly to any being that needed it.

    Doing so comes with risk. Things don’t always work out. And so she finds herself in a painful position.

    blog5_keraladogs_11

    I had a conversation with Avis some time ago where she intimated, with some sadness, that she had not succeeded in her goals. She felt her ABC (animal birth control) programme was not going well, that too many dogs continued to suffer, that she was overwhelmed by legal and cultural resistance.

    What was she talking about?

    To struggle to do what is right, to fight against overwhelming cultures of cruelty and to respond to every creature with  compassion…what more can one do?

    It was almost a year ago to the very day I found myself in India. It was in the middle of the night and I watched Avis rescue a tiny puppy that was abandoned by its mother, turning circles by the side of the road as traffic passed within inches.

    Avis scooped it up and gave it a chance.

    Please now give Avis some help.

    4Y1A6917

    WHAT YOU CAN DO TO  HELP

     

     

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  • MANGO UPDATE

    Dec 04 2013
    Oliver and Gitte with Mango at her new home

    Oliver and Gitte with Mango at her new home – a wonderful couple to care for Mango.

    …sorry it’s me again. A little update.

    A wedding in the US… a honeymoon in Mexico (where I found a baby turtle stuck upside down in the sand and helped it to the sea whilst being drunk on Pina Colada) …and then a hard, cold bump back to England: my year of helping animals already seems a long way off.

    I have, inevitably, retreated somewhat into comfort: hot showers, coffee and reading books that are about anything other than animals.

    But a few days ago Mango finally arrived to remind me of what it was all about.

    Mango arrived looking extremely distressed

    Mango arrived looking extremely distressed

    It was hard to comfort her at all..

    It was hard to comfort her at all..

    After a grueling 26 hour journey from Manila she appeared at Heathrow shrunken and scared and still wearing a sun-starched, filippino collar and a hang dog look on her face that provoked a deep feeling of guilt. I had put her through this ordeal. I could touch her but only just. What was I expecting? That she woudl come bounding up to me waving a union jack and crying ‘daddy’?

    She had grown up – what must she be now, 11 months? – but she still had the same dark eyes and gentle expression that I found in the corner of that street where I first met her.

     

    Mango meets Stanley - a much bigger version of the dogs she is used to...

    Mango meets Stanley – a much bigger version of the dogs she is used to…

    The point, I reminded myself as I struggled to make a physical connection with her, picking her up awkwardly onto my lap, was that she might by now not be alive. Not that there was much meat on her bones anyway…she would hardly make a meal like this.

    As you probably know it has always been an understanding on this year that I would not bring any animals back to our home. We have two dogs already and although I had harboured hopes that Mango would be a third I find it hard enough to control a coffee in my hand when Bug and Moose are pulling at the other let alone a rescue dog.

    For a number of weeks I have been in touch with AllDogsMatter and we have found a wonderful new home for Mango just outside London, with large, beautiful grounds and another very gentle dog. Oliver and Gitte are deeply committed to animal rescue charities and Oliver works at home meaning they can give Mango the quality care she needs – it really could not be better. I’m deeply grateful to Ira and Peter at AllDogsMatter for helping on this.

    Mango is now much more relaxed in her new home thanks to Oliver and Gite

    Mango is now much more relaxed in her new home thanks to Oliver and Gitte and the amazing care they are giving.

    Mango out on a walk with Stanley.

    Mango out on a walk with Stanley.

    IMG_3931

    ..and finding a good snuggle in Oliver's lap...

    ..and finding a good snuggle in Oliver’s lap… (ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OLIVER AND GITTE)

    And so, from Manila out onto the M25 on a cold winter’s evening.

    I took Mango straight to her new home, glad that I hadn’t been able to foster her. She was in no state to be accosted by Moose and Bug only to be moved again a few days later.

    Oliver and Gitte have had mango for a few days now and they are perfect with her. They have given her patience, kindness and great chew treats and Mango seems farm more settled and confident. Oliver updates me regularly with photos and news and I will hopefully visit very soon to give you an update. I’m really very happy Mango has found two such wonderful people.

    To all those of you who supported her on this journey I am deeply grateful.

    I will keep you posted.

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  • DAY 396: THE END

    Oct 26 2013

    Martinmango

    This year is now over.

    It has been horrific, sad, inspiring and deeply transformative. I can say with hand on fast-beating heart that you readers and supporters have helped hugely on an otherwise exhausting journey.

    It may seem strange that a year of (trying) to help animals takes 396 days but to delve into the world of suffering means the earth moves around the sun ever so slightly slower.

    The days have been long, the nights, dreaming of pigs in spanish intensive farms, longer.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    In the past 396 days I have (tenuously) saved:

    16 domestic animals (dogs mainly – UK, India, Philippines)

    18 farm animals (by not eating meat)

    22 fish (as above including some interventions in Vietnam

    7 birds (it would have been more if I hadn’t killed a few. Bugger)

    12 weird and scary animals (you’ll have to read the blog)

    255 insects, slugs, snails (do these count? Well, they are sentient)

    If you want to see more about how this might not be entirely true…but actually could be, please click here

    My total haul is fairly small. I am left with a pig’s bite mark in my leg, an even larger hole in my wallet and a sadness that trails me like a winter shadow.

    But then there is Mango –  the dog who you will be glad to know is coming home from the Philippines in three weeks thanks to your support.

    Hooray!

    Mango - rescued

    Mango – rescued

    Since the beginning of this year around 65 billion animals have been consumed by humans and many many more killed by us through other means: hunting, city expansion, pollution, global warming, neglect, simple cruelty – the list goes on.

    And yet there are people working against this, so much more bravely than I ever could –  the likes of Trevor, Avis, Kartick, Gheeta, Ira, Charlotte, Liz, Julia and Alberto as well as  organisations like  Network for Animals, Compassion in World Farming and WSPA and so many more who I can’t mention here – they  show us that there is hope. I want to thank all of these people and those I can’t mention from the bottom of my heart. And then I want to thank you for your generous support – emotional and financial. But also of course Ann – who has stood by me so patiently and with so much love and who tomorrow I marry (again!) in our US wedding (her family is from America so this is where the big ceremony is)

    An ex-dancing bear at the wonderful sanctuary of Wildlife SOS in India

    An ex-dancing bear at the wonderful sanctuary of Wildlife SOS in India

     

    My efforts during this year – misguided at times, naive at others, indulgent perhaps but always heartfelt I hope – are my own small attempt to swim against a  tide. I don’t feel I have done much but then I never expected I would. But I also feel I have done what is more important than anything. I have had the opportunity to reconnect with animals. This has been a luxury but a necessity too. My guiding mantra – which will accompany me to my grave  - is E. M Forsters:  ’only connect’.

    That connection is most easy to make in the eyes of the animals I have photographed. Images of suffering speak directly to us in a way that logic and argument don’t. Many of us know that animal suffering is wrong. But most of don’t KNOW it deep down so that we act on it. Until we see it. Until we really SEE it.

    4Y1A1896

    The eyes have it

    Wildlife SOS

    Wildlife SOS rescued monkey

    Mango

    Mango

    bearraid-3

    A chained monkey in India

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk - seized contraband at the Wildlife Crime Unit

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk – seized contraband at the Wildlife Crime Unit

    Galgo against a wall

    A rescued Galgo in Southern Spain

    Many people will say – why animals? What about the starving children in Syria (you f**cking wanker)?

    But , as you know, it is neither one, nor the other. It is both. We are all animals and we all suffer. But we humans have done our best to forget this, and so have denigrated the other animals to a position where we repeatedly abuse them. For that reason my mission has been to help  those OTHER animals. While the separation between us and other human groups can be devastating, it is of a different order entirely to the rift we feel (or don’t feel) to other animals.

    It goes without saying there are a huge number of people on this planet who love and care for animals.

    Charlotte with Ete. From a hunter's hands to a carer's, thank you Charl!

    Charlotte with Ete. From a hunter’s hands to a carer’s, thank you Charl!

    Steve Trewhella and Derek Davey, two people more skilled than me at saving wildlife

    Steve Trewhella and Derek Davey, two people more skilled than me at saving wildlife

    The wonderful Avis from ARK, in Kerala, India, doing so much for street dogs.

    The wonderful Avis from ARK, in Kerala, India, doing so much for street dogs.

    The dog sanctuary in the south of Corfu. Those that don't fight each other are allowed to roam free, the others are kept in well managed enclosures.

    The dog sanctuary in the south of Corfu run by Marjorie

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    But there are too many that don’t.

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

    martinreturn_16

    The overwhelming consensus is that animals are for us to USE and it will, I fear, be many centuries before this filters down. It is NOT simply because most countries cannot afford to be compassionate. It is the new found middleclass in India, for example, who are often treating their dogs the worst.

    Cordelia - the 'cow-dog'. She was almost totally blind

    Cordelia – the ‘cow-dog’. She was almost totally blind

    Perhaps the most shocking realisation over this year, aside from understanding the sheer scale with which we humans abuse other animals, is the power of normalisation.  

    The way in which are culture tells us it is NORMAL to think of animals as separate and lower. This process is our greatest and most silent enemy. It is so NATURAL to eat meat.  The fridge with the bacon is SO NICE AND WELCOMING.

    BHEM41 / Iceland

    If you accept your culture, as we normally all do in one form or another, you have to accept that in another culture you might be a wonderfully charming sexist and racist that thought Jimmy Saville a  good TV presenter. This is neither bad nor good. We are all products of our upbringing and to generate the escape velocity to free ourselves from the gravitation pull of the norm requires considerable energy.

    shelf

    You can argue about many of my actions or opinions in this blog but you cannot argue with the transformation I have felt. At times the process has been sad, often it has been painful,  but I have felt a strangely subtle shift towards a greater connection and openness that is ultimately rewarding. I feel more content with myself in a way that I only hope will feed into my recovery from a life-long lingering depression.

    With Charlotte's wonderful galgos

    With Charlotte’s wonderful galgos

    Who knows.

    But the transformation is not complete and will probably be a lifetimes work. I am stepping onto the path of veganism but without the certainty I feel about vegetarianism.  I am ashamed to even admit it. Why? Why am I not more certain?

    I have also learnt that the process of reconnecting with animals is neither linear or logical. It is a heart unfolding, and we each have different folds made over many years. Yes, you can read Peter Singer and understand the logic, yes,  you can watch Earthlings and see the horror,  but ultimately the shift comes from a complex combination of your beliefs, your culture, your compassion, your independence, your lifestyle and many other unknown factors.

    This little pup was too terrified for me to touch it. He was found abandoned and we can only guess about his life before rescue.

    This little pup was too terrified for me to touch it. He was found abandoned and we can only guess about his life before rescue.

    What about us?

    What about us?

    Baby hedgehogs suffer too. Me holding a rescued hedgehog in the centre

    Baby hedgehogs suffer too. Me holding a rescued hedgehog in the centre

    IMG_9125

    IMG_5857 lady_08

    The purpose of this year was not to moralise or even persaude. It was certainly not to prove myself a worthy person. I had thought it was simply to tell you my story in the hope it might enlighten your own.

    But if I am being brutally honest, the purpose of this year was to save something of myself. If I had gone to my grave not trying to do something very small to help animals I would have lived an un-whole life. To connect with animals is also to connect with ourselves.

    I love animals a little bit more. I think I even love myself a little more too.

    Grrrrr!

    xmasblog_02

     

    Get moving!! Bug and moose enjoy the snow.

    Get moving!! Bug and moose enjoy the snow.

    Moosebrocolli bugfaceBug the dog

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  • DAY 395 (penultimate blog): SOME TRUTHS HIT HOME

    Oct 25 2013
    sad

    Not particularly sad but it got me going…

     

    It’s a curious sensation to be standing in Sainsbury’s holding a vast leg of pork and feeling desperately sad. It feels pathetic.

    Maybe it’s the green slime in my system.

    For the last five days I’ve been doing  a juice detox in prep for my wedding.  

    Even though I have been promised that this diet would be ‘all the gain with none of the pain’ I receive pre-written emails each morning from the company that supplied the green slime saying things like ‘Today you will feel awful and all your emotions will wash out of you. Be sure to have some one to care for you’

    Great.

    But until today I didn’t feel too awful.  But then the sadness came.

    Was it the slime? Or was it the end of this year long project?

    Here I was checking the labels on all this meat. It so utterly normal to be in these air-conditioned aisles with so many people quietly going about their shopping. The hum of conversation, the occasional squeak of a rusty trolley wheel.

    And yet I was surrounded by row upon row of the very animals I had been trying to relate to for these past months.  The LACK of drama made it all so dramatic. Pound upon pound of flesh, quietly lying before me, neatly packaged and carefully arranged.

    Meat_packages_in_a_Roman_supermarket

    These cold shelves marked an end. An end not only to my year long journey. but also to the lives of so, so many.

    Since the beginning of my year, 60 billion animals have been slaughtered, dismembered and packed and readied for consumption, many headed for shelves in shops around the world similar to this. And the people who were purchasing the meat, no doubt many of them considerate, caring people – were lifting the flesh off this invisible  finishing line and leaving both the shelves and me empty.

    What had I been doing this year for, I wondered?

    I cycled home in the rain. Summer was over. It was icy cold. Winter was fast on the heals of a very brief autumn. I got back home drenched and saw Ann. The dogs greeted me and  I sat in the kitchen.

    I then paused and started to cry properly. Not intense crying but slow tears that came from somewhere without words. I felt exhausted. Not just a physical tiredness but something I can’t quite explain.

    I suppose I had finished this year without fully allowing all the death and horror and speed and confusion to catch up with me. And now, after having stood amongst shelves of food, it did so.

    No doubt more will come.

    pig

    I wondered if this was a sort of mourning. That was guilt in there too.

    In the mundanity of life, death finds us. And in that supermarket on that cold day, the voices of so many animals, only a tiny fraction of whom I had heard on my journey, sang in silent harmony. Those clean white shelves were transformed into an anonymous graveyard of so many ghosts. Where before I seen the eyes of living creatures I now saw their body parts and the  connection between one and the other – the conection that we do so well to ignore and deny in our everyday life – was made fully felt.

    This is why it is so hard to ‘only connect’. With connection comes feeling and with feeling comes pain.

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  • DAY 394: (penultimate-but-one blog) HOW HAPPY IS YOUR SUPERMARKET?

    Oct 24 2013

    happy meat

    I find the term ‘happy meat’ fairly tricky.

    I tend to imagine pigs smiling on their way to slaughter. All meat, however high-welfare,  comes from an animal that you can reasonably assume didn’t want to die. Although suicidal pigs might be possible in the conditions I saw.

    But let us for a minute assume that some animals are genuinely happier with their lot than others. “yeh, I love this hay bedding” vs “Nah, I hate shitting on this slatted floor”

    It’s fairly reasonable to assume that pigs on open pasture are in a better mental state than those confined on slatted floors with little or no mental stimulation.

    I have just trawled through some of Britain’s main supermarket chains looking at the labels on their pig meat and, with some new-found knowledge, am loosely equipped to give a rough assessment of how ‘happy’ the pigs were that ended up on their shelves.

    This is what I found:

    coop

    THE CO-OPERATIVE

    HAPPY PIG RATING: 4/10 (not great)

    IMG_7882

    The Co-op had a lot of foreign meats from external brands with no welfare labellng. In these circumstances its reasonable to assume such meat came from the most basic EU farms (which may well be ignoring current EU minimum welfare regs)

    POSITIVES:

    * The co-operative are considered ahead of the curve with regards animal welfare as all their own-labelled products coming from outdoor reared sows.

    NEGATIVES:

    * Out of a whopping 50 different 100% pork products that I found, 24 of these were from foreign companies with no visible certification. One can reasonably assume that these will come from EU farms, many of which may well fall below legal EU limits.

    * I also could also not find a SINGLE organic pork product. This means that the vast majority of the pigs that made up the meat in this supermarket had confined lives in intensive systems.

     

    BHEM41 / Iceland

    ICELAND

    OVERALL HAPPY PIG  RATING: 0/10 (F***ING MISERABLE)

    SCARY but typical of Iceland. For this much money you wonder either how much meat is in the product and how good the welfare standards are - not much of either: no labels in sight

    SCARY but typical of Iceland. For this much money you wonder either how much meat is in the product and how good the welfare standards are – not much of either: no labels in sight

    Nice packaging but how posh are the rearing standards. Not a welfare label in sight

    Nice packaging but how posh are the rearing standards for the pigs that made up this dish. Not a welfare label in sight

    POSITIVES:

    * The meat was cold

    NEGATIVES:

    * I could not find a single pork product with ANY certification or ANY welfare assurances. This was fairly predictable but still hugely depressing. ICELAND are known for their ‘value’ so in a sense represent the worst of a food system that places production before welfare

    * Don’t go here if you like pigs.

     

    isainsburys_1618734c

    SAINSBURY’S SUPERSTORE

    OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 6/10 (not awful)

    A lot of clearly labelled outdoor bred pork

    A lot of clearly labelled outdoor bred pork

    POSITIVES:

    * A large amount of British pork that had clear assurances stating their pigs were either outdoor bred or reared indoors on deep bedding. I was pleasantly surprised

    * On the fresh meat counter about 60% of the food was ‘RSPCA freedom food’. This means about 20% of the meat has come from farms that have had thorough checks.

    NEGATIVES:

    * I could find only one organic product

    * A lot of foreign meats: Danish bacon, spanish chorizo, italian proscuitto  etc had no welfare assurances whatsoever. ‘High end’ foreign meats may look fancy but they are likely to come from EU farms with minimal welfare regulations (or sub legal conditions) unless clearly specified otherwise.

     

    Tesco08_from_DanJones.jpg

    TESCO SUPERSTORE

    OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 1/10 (awful)

    Tesco's so-called "finest" had no welfare assurance than the red tractor which says very little: intensive pigs in minimal conditions

    Tesco’s so-called “finest” had no welfare assurance than the red tractor which says very little: intensive pigs in minimal conditions

    IMG_7980

    Tesco are reportedly proud of their welfare standards. I didn't see an awful lot on the labels.

    Tesco are reportedly proud of their welfare standards. I didn’t see an awful lot on the labels.

    POSITIVES:

    * Not many. Out of a vast range of pig meat I found only three products that indicated being outdoor reared.

    NEGATIVES

    * In a vast superstore I could find no free range meats or organic meats

    * I found 22 different foreign meats with no certification and some meat from outside the EU

    * The ‘Tesco’s Finest Range’  showed the red tractor logo but no indication of the meat being bred or reared outdoors or even being kept on good bedding.

     

     

    iwaitrose

    WAITROSE

    OVERALL HAPPY PIG RATING: 8/10 (good)

    Waitrose has a lot of free-range meats, clearly labelled.

    Waitrose has a lot of free-range meats, clearly labelled.

     

    Duchy Originals has the highest organic accreditation

    Duchy Originals has the highest organic accreditation from the soil association

    Even their foreign meats has some assurance on it.

    Even their foreign meats have some assurance on it.

    But even Waitrose had some seriously dodgy looking foreign meats with no welfare assurance at all. AVOID.

    But even Waitrose had some seriously dodgy looking foreign meats with no welfare assurance at all. AVOID.

    POSITIVES:

    * Nearly all their meat was clearly marked as bred-outdoors.

    * A small but clear presence of organic and free range meats

    * Most meat at their meat counter was free-range

    * Crucially, their own label foreign meat was from ‘Waitrose assured’ foreign farms. These farms are unlikely to be as well-monitored as farms in the UK but it does give some assurance.

    NEGATIVES:

    * A considerable presence of foreign meats from external brands with no welfare labels.

     

    CONCLUSIONS

    Overall, the various supermarkets fell into an order of welfare  in line with their perceived costliness:  the ‘posher’ ones (Waitrose, Sainsbury’s) showing high welfare products and the cheaper ones showing less (Iceland, Tesco).

    This is a shame because Compassion in World Farming have done a fair amount of research to show that higher welfare needn’t be more expensive – especially when the public is willing to pay for it.

    Meat welfare labelling is in dire need of simplification and clarification. I suspect anything more complicated than a bronze, silver, gold system will risk confusing a public that is already overwhelmed with choice.

    It took me the best part of half a day trying to understand the various labels and terminology – outdoor reared vs outdoor bred, indoor reared with deep hay, red tractor  and so on – it was still NOT EASY to understand just how ‘happy’ our pork is.

    Entirely unlabelled meat is generally a bad sign from a welfare point of view – although each supermarket has it’s own stance on welfare that isn’t always obvious to the shopper.

    And what about live exports? There is no label to indicate just how far your meat has travelled.

     

    The question is – what needs to be done?

    There probably needs to be a two pronged attack – more consumer awareness about animal welfare issues and much clearer and more effective labelling. Once demand for higher welfare products increases, the price can go up and farmers will be incentivised.

    In the meantime, if you insist on eating pork but want your pigs ‘happier’ then…

    1) Eat only organic

    2) Buy British

    3) Eat less of it.

     

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  • DAY 392: WHAT DO THE LABELS ON MEAT ACTUALLY MEAN?

    Oct 21 2013
    Murder

    Murder

    For the last few days I have been on a juice-only detox to shave off the pounds before my US wedding next week to Ann (we got married in the UK but are having our celebration next week – I’m not allowed to be saving frogs or pigs as the confetti falls so this blog must end then).

    The diet is a massively upsetting endeavor which involves drinking green slime.

    ‘At least I’m being vegan’ I said to Ann

    ‘You are not vegan. You just aren’t eating anything’

    I take her point.

    The meat-eater is also not a vegetarian when they put their hamburger down to eat their chips. But at least they are temporarily abstaining.

    But I have decided, therefore, after I drink the last green slime, to be a proper vegan.

    With a heavy heart I can tell you that this decision has not come as naturally to me as being vegetarian but I feel I must at least try. Am I doing what is expected of me for the sake of this blog? I had hoped I would be throwing cheese at right wing politicians by now but I am simply not as angry about dairy as I ought to be.

    Perhaps I still have some connections to make in my own heart.

    happy pigs

    PORK HAPPINESS

    Nevertheless I’m lightheaded and vaguely angry about not eating. Which is the perfect mood with which to trawl the great British supermarkets looking at the labels on pork meat.

    I will be going to a cross section of great british supermarkets and assessing PORK HAPPINESS.

    This is not a strictly scientific measure (for that you need to ask pigs how they are feeling) rather it will be an overview of how much silent pain you might expect in each supermarket meat shelf based on the welfare quality of their products.

    But it’s a fairly accurate assessment nonetheless. I’ve been reading up a lot about pork labels and speaking to Compassion in World Farming, the absolute experts, to get all the info so you don’t have to.

    The supermarkets I’m going to are:

    WAITROSE – posh but expensive.

    SAINSBURY’S – middle class but bearable

    CO-OP – sort of in the middle??? Who knows, who cares.

    ICELAND – rubbish and cold. Full of mad old women with trolleys

    TESCO – the everyman’s behemoth that loves cheap chicken. Will sell your house as well as your soul.

    And what do the labels mean?

    I’ll be going into much more detail in my book about this but the essential information goes a little like this

     

    Highest welfare to lowest – what labels measure of happiness?

    organic-logo

    Organic -

    the gold standard, with ‘soil association’ being the best.

    Although it doesn’t necessarily follow that using good fertilizer means the pigs are happy on the whole there is a reliable connection between  meat labelled ‘organic’ and happy(ier) animals. If you must eat pig ALWAYS AND ONLY buy organic. Please.

    Free range

    the term ‘free range’ is not a legally binding definition as it is with chickens but it does denote a reliable agreement between farmers and supermarkets indicating that the pigs live outdoor, although not necessarily on rich pasture

    Outdoor bred

    The pigs are bred outdoors as opposed to in farrowing crates but then revert to being intensively reared, indoors. It’s something but not an awful lot.

    Indoor reared

    This is what I saw in Spain: intensive and not very happy. Some labels may indicate the use of deep bedding and straw. You should look for this as a minimum if you are buying indoor reared food.

     

    WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? IT LOOKS LIKE A CHILD'S TRACTOR??

    Red tractor

    This is the lowest assurance of all. Means little except that the farm is (probably) complying with the most basic EU laws, the pigs are not castrated and that some tractors are….er… red. It seems a bit like being given a losers prize for turning up to the race and falling over your laces at the start. Even though some higher welfare meat (like Organic Duchy Orginials) will have this label as well as their orgnic labels it’s not something to be impressed by. And if meat doesn’t have this label (or any other) and doesn’t come from a reputable shop you might want to see if it glows in the dark or is still writhing in the pack.

    Freedom_Food_Logo-336x236

    The RSPCA freedom food sticker – this can be applied to both indoors and outdoor reared meats. It gives a welfare approval rather than denoting a particular system of rearing. Indoor reared meat with RSPCA approval may mean the pigs are in better conditions than free range meat without it. Worth looking out for.

     

    Can we trust labels at all?

    From what I have read and the experts I have spoken to, the labeling system on pig meat is meaningful and on the whole honest if not bound in EU law.

    And yet a while back a reader on this blog pointed out a video  that showed appalling conditions on an ‘RSPCA freedom food approved’ farm of pigs covered in much and unable to walk.

    How does this square up?

    If you are generous it  means that the RSPCA can’t check every farm. They check about 1 in 3 unannounced which within the industry is very high but which is, in some instances, clearly not good enough. If you are not generous it means the RSPCA don’t care. Your call. But you might want to take labeling – as well as your bacon – with a pinch of salt even if on the whole it has good intentions.

    Who wins gold for happiest pigs?

    Who wins gold for happiest pigs?

    A simpler system?

    I asked Compassion in World Farming why the system could not be simplified. Surely it would make more sense to have three lables, like GOLD, SILVER, BRONZE, which denoted how happy the pigs were and avoided the consumer needing a PhD in pig welfare.

    They agreed this made sense but pointed out it required huge organisation and a large drive from the consumer. Perhaps it would come.

    And what would count as Gold and silver and bronze? I asked.

    ‘The obvious answer is that organic would be gold, free range silver, and indoor rearing with straw bedding and no castration would be bronze. But we would like gold to be something higher than the current standard organic level. An aspirational level that has not yet been achieved. There are always improvements to be made’

    Routine tail docking is illegal in the EU and yet still prevalent in both the UK and abroad. It is one of the main 'props' of intensive pig production. Without it, frustrated pigs would bite of each other's tails and farmers would be forced to provide more stimulating environments.

    Routine tail docking is illegal in the EU and yet still prevalent in both the UK and abroad. It is one of the main ‘props’ of intensive pig production. Without it, frustrated pigs would bite of each other’s tails and farmers would be forced to provide more stimulating environments.

    Always buy British?

    Compassion in World Farming  recently  published a shocking report on the state of EU farms.  Of 45 intensive pig farms visited from 9 EU member countries 44 were seriously flouting EU welfare regulations including the use of routine tail docking and lack of appropriate bedding and enrichment material

    This means that EVERY SINGLE pig farm that I visited in Spain, all of which had no straw bedding or any enrichment were breaking the EU law.

    This is very telling because the key reason that pigs bite each others tails  is because of intense frustration and lack of stimulation. If farmers were forced to avoid routine tail docking they would have to provide higher welfare to stop the biting.

    Looks good, tastes good, smells of pain

    Looks good, tastes good, smells of pain

    This should put you off  buying meat from an EU country without an organic label or other assurance – that means Parma Ham in fancy packing is out, expensive chorizo from spain is out (unless Iberico pork), cheap Danish bacon is out, cheap frankfurters are out.

    But what about good old British pork? Can we hold our head up any higher?

    While the conditions in British pig farms are somewhat better than in most other EU countries (we have totally banned sow stalls whereas in the EU they are allowed for limited use) in 2008 CIWF found that over half of intensive British pig farms that they visited undercover had a prevalence of tail docking and over a third had no, or ineffective, enrichment.

    This is all rather depressing isn’t it?

    The simple answer is ONLY buy organic – and if your sandwich has pork in it with no label don’t buy it. The simpler answer still is don’t buy pig meat at all.

    In the next blog: what I found in the supermarkets.

     

     

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  • DAY 391 (almost done): THE BORING BUT AMAZING POWER OF LABELS

    supermarket-meat-bacon-pork-be-inspired-ecards-someecards

    As we were driving the gazillion miles back to Barcelona I asked Alberto what the chances are that live exports will measurably improve in the near future.

    Will pigs suffer less?

    ‘It’s hard to see how it will get better. ‘ said Alberto to my dismay ‘On the one hand, I doubt there is a single European commissioner who thinks that long transport journeys are a good thing. But an 8 hour limit on transport is probably unrealistic. The economic structures are too entrenched. Countries rely on exports and imports’

    I was astonished that these two were so committed to doing so much – but essentially so little- to fight what they admitted was a largely unstoppable wave of misery.

    But then they said something else, almost as an aside:,‘Labelling would make a big difference.’

    ‘Labelling?’

    WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? IT LOOKS LIKE A CHILD'S TRACTOR??

    WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? IT LOOKS LIKE A CHILD’S TRACTOR. IS IT?

    Yes, labelling…

    It sounded a desperately dull topic. Who gives a rat’s arse about labelling? (As long as the rat in question is organic, outdoor bred and fed on corn)

    ‘If the consumer knew about this’ continued Alberto ‘and could make a choice not to eat meat that was associated with long distance transport then maybe the big supermarket chains might listen too. The supermarkets have more power than government or EU policies’

    Apparently this is true. A meat-eating, puppy-beating, middle manager at tesco could probably save more pigs than I could in a lifetime.

    But as a consumer, you and I have real power

    Do we? Really?

    How on earth am I meant to vote with my eggs? Take them to the ballot box and spoil my paper? Throw them at David Cameron’s face while he is on TV?

    Nick+Griffin+pelted+with+eggs

    The golden egg

    Eggs are often held up as the gold standard of how labeling can improve welfare. The ‘free range’ label is clear to understand, the concept of getting chickens out of dirty cages is appealing too all but the most sadistic and the extra cost bearable. The result is that the farmers are given enough economic incentive to get their chickens outdoors even if they don’t personally care about welfare.

    The result? Chickens can flap their wings.

    egg

    So can something similar be done to help improve the long distance transport of pigs?

    ‘It’s not quite as simple for pigs’ said Julia.

    She explained that there are many factors involved – some are born outdoors but then reared indoors, some are transported short distances, some longer. Explaining the various benefits in a clear labeling system is complicated – although not impossible.

    The problem is that if consumers don’t KNOW about pig transport issues then they won’t care about a label telling them about it. And if people don’t care the supermarkets won’t make the label. And if the supermarkets don’t make a label the farmers won’t be incentivized to send their pigs on shorter journeys.

    After all this travelling these are all the animals I failed to save...right on my doorstep

    After all this travelling these are all the animals I failed to save…right on my doorstep

    A depressing homecoming

    I have decided to end my year in the aisles of British supermarkets to see what is really going on and what can be improved.

    From the wilds of Laos and the plains of India this seems a depressing and yet fitting return to home soil. If farming is the greatest cause of suffering to animals on this planet (in terms of numbers) then it is in the aisles of Tesco or Waitrose that we need to understand how our choices can go someway to alleviating that suffering.

    I very much want to show you all – whether you are skeptical or already a hard core vegan – how the story I have told of pigs in Spain (and then on to Italy) has a direct relation with the meat we see on our shelves in Britain and how, if we decide to continue eating meat, we can make positive choices.

    How much meat in British supermarkets has been raised in intensive systems similar to what I saw in Spain?

    What sort of labels do exist on pig meat and what do they mean?

    Does buying organic really mean I get a happier bit of meat?

    Which supermarkets contain the most stored suffering?

    What’s that RED TRACTOR all about?

    How much pork in the UK comes from Spain or Italy or beyond?

    How good are UK pig farms anyway?

    And of course, what I tell you about pigs, can within reason be extended to the story of cows, chicken, sheep and lamb. I just don’t have the space – or strength – to look at them all.

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  • DAY 389: CHASING PIGS ACROSS SOUTHERN EUROPE

    Oct 17 2013
    Pigs look out of a truck on their way through france and Italy to slaughter

    Pigs look out of a truck on their way through france and Italy to slaughter

    As night falls we see our first pig truck.

    Excitement is entirely the WRONG emotion on seeing a vehicle stuffed with animals but after waiting ten hours for anything you’re relieved when it finally happens. Except for a firing squad lifting their guns.

    Oh, but I didn’t realise…. we then have to drive behind the vehicle until it stops.

    Bring on the firing squad.

    4Y1A3272

    For another 3 hours we trail the sorry truck, across the border into France, into the night and through the years… before we finally pull up at a lay-by.

    After doing so much undercover work I am nervous of what will happen next but the driver steps out of the vehicle and is strangely polite. Julia checks the pigs while Alberto chats amicably to the driver. I take some photos but in the dark it’s hard to make out much. The pigs seem vaguely dirty and cramped.

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    Sardinia…that’s a long way

    Apparently the driver is heading to Sardinia – at least another 24 hours away . He says he is driving through the night to catch the 9am ferry. Julia does her calculations and works out he’ll probably miss the 29 hour limit by 2-3 hours but says ‘this is totally normal’. He has no co-driver so this is also illegal.

    ‘The pigs will be in there for 32 hours, is that OK?’

    ‘They’re not in too bad condition. Not yet at least. They are probably over-crowded but it’s not awful.’

    I scan the pigs in the dark, eyes peer out at me. We decide to let this one go.

    Is that it?

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    Stranger and stranger

    The next morning we pull out at 8am to start the journey all over again and a remarkable coincidence happens. The same truck drives right past us. For the first time in my blog career a story takes a poetic turn.

    ‘He was lying about the ferry then?’ I ask

    ‘Of course’ says Julia, speeding up. ‘I have never had a coincidence like this happen. We shall wait till he gets into Italy and then we can call the police. The police in France are hopeless.’

    Julia is now deeply concerned that if the truck continues all the way to Sardinia then the pigs, who would have been left all night in the truck anyway, will be travelling well beyond the EU limit of hours. Lack of food, water and rest becomes a serious welfare threat.

    A few hours later when we reach Italy she calls up the local police and they intercept us on the motorway and pull the truck over.

    The truck loaded with hundreds of pigs

    The truck loaded with hundreds of pigs

    The police pull over the truck on the motorway just after we cross into Italy

    The police pull over the truck on the motorway just after we cross into Italy

    They take the driver (and pigs) to the police station where they summon the local vet. A woman arrives wearing hugely high heels, a sweeping silk scarf and a tight fitting dress. Is this what italian vets look like? With her consent  they slap a 9000Euro fine on the driver. It turns out he is breaking the law on the following counts:

    1) Over crowding of pigs

    2) Broken watering system

    3) Lack of food

    4) Lack of appropriate bedding

    5) No co-driver

    THIS MEANS THAT EVERY DRIVER WE HAVE STOPPED IS BREAKING THE LAW.

    And the most innocuous looking of all of them has just broken five. The driver then comes up to me and just as I’m expecting him to swing a punch he shakes my hand and smiles at me. I’m really confused now – a strangely sexy vet, some very animal-friendly police, a jovial but illegal driver who has just lost the money to build the extension to his house  being warm to me and 200 pigs waiting at a …. police station.

    Am I in a very dark comedy sketch?

    The pigs need water. The 600 litre holding tank that supplies the sprinkler system is totally empty and the driver only has a small watering can to fill it up. I watch as he pathetically tops up the system, can by can.

     

    The watering system runs out of juice

    The watering system runs out of juice

    How NOT to fill up a 600litre water tank when the pigs have run out of liquid.

    How NOT to fill up a 600litre water tank when the pigs have run out of liquid.

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    Unloading the pigs

    The problem now is how to unload the pigs. They need to be given rest and food.  This can’t be done anywhere. A dedicated, sanitised holding bay is needed. There are only a few places in Italy that can do it and we now have to drive another few million hours to find one. Give me coffee, let me buy a hat, let me read an email, sell me something, I NEED TO CONSUME. ANYTHING.

    We arrive at the unloading bay at some awful time in the night  and I watch the pigs being unloaded. I’m appalled. Even with Animals Angels watching and two policemen giving us an escort the unloading process is brutal. Pigs are pushed off the truck and a number fall at least 8 feet head first onto concrete. The unloading handler then kicks them to get up.

    Unloading the pigs late at night in a temporary rest area. The unloading is almost more stressful than the journey. 24 hours laters they are loaded up again for another journey

    Unloading the pigs late at night in a temporary rest area. The unloading is almost more stressful than the journey. 24 hours laters they are loaded up again for another journey

    Pigs in close captivity often fight. Wounds on the body are common, especially if they have to fight over limited water supplies

    Pigs in close captivity often fight. Wounds on the body are common, especially if they have to fight over limited water supplies

    And the inevitable tragic ending ... Shakespeare would have been proud. Only one pig died - either trampled to death or from sickness or stress. Transport companies are only prosecuted if it can be proved the pig was sick when loaded, not if it gets sick en route.

    And the inevitable tragic ending … Shakespeare would have been proud. Only one pig died – either trampled to death or from sickness or stress. Transport companies are only prosecuted if it can be proved the pig was sick when loaded, not if it gets sick en route.

    And then finally  there is one pig that won’t come out. Asleep? The handler climbs into the truck and drags it out. It emerges from the darkness, face contorted, its eyes already black and bulging, it’s body rigid.

    It has been dead already some hours. I’m not allowed to take a picture but when the police are not looking I snap this one. What sort of hell killed it?

    ‘Perhaps it was trampled, perhaps it fell ill’ says Julia. ‘We have no idea but this is sadly normal’

    This was the first and last pig truck I saw. It’s story told me everything: pigs that are crammed into deadly conditions, trucks that are breaking the laws at every turn and only the most dedicated of individuals able to make the slightest different to a vast trade that sees thousands of animals spend their final hours in pain.

    Don’t eat chorizo, don’t eat parma ham, don’t eat Danish bacon…unless it is certified organic.

    In the next blog I will tell you why as I go back to Britain to go to every major supermarket chain to see where their pork products come from

     

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  • DAY 387 (over-running): HITCHING WITH PIGS ALONG THE RIVEIRA

    Oct 15 2013
    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    I am sitting by the side of a hot dusty mortorway north of Barcelona watching trucks going by at high speed. I’m looking for a pig truck to follow along the south coast of france so I can  document conditions.

    I am terrifyingly bored. Is this what compassion looks like?

    This is the start of the route that many Spanish pigs take on their way to Italy and then down to Sicily for slaughter.

    The continuing pig journey. I'm following pigs that travel from Spain down to Italy for slaughter

    The continuing pig journey. I’m following pigs that travel from Spain down to Italy for slaughter

    I am spending a few days with Julian Havenstein from a charity called Animals Angels along with her colleague, Alberto Diez. They make it their job to document the live export of animals and report information to the authorities.  It’s an essential job – desperately essential – and yet devastatingly dull.

    ‘Shall we get a coffee?’ I ask.

    ‘A coffee? We can’t take our eyes off the road I’m afraid.’ says Julia.

    ‘How long might we wait?’

    ‘Ten minutes. Or it could be many many hours’

    I want sweets, I want coffee, I want digital information, I want a shit magazine, I want a phone call. I will take a sales call from a I want something to put in my mouth, to wear on my head or to put in my pocket.

    A slice of bacon perhaps?

     

    Alberto takes photos of the trucks when they stop for petrol (or their obligatory rest stop for the drivers.) Strangely the drivers are very accepting of the work Animals Angels do. Often they sympathise with their work but are forced to break some laws by their employers

    Alberto takes photos of the trucks when they stop for petrol (or their obligatory rest stop for the drivers.) Strangely the drivers are very accepting of the work Animals Angels do. Often they sympathise with their work but are forced to break some laws by their employers

    Julia and Alberto inspect a truck

    Julia and Alberto inspect a truck

    Logos and kaleidoscopes.

    Haulage trucks go by. I notice how many have logos on their sides of animals in ideal form: greyhounds sillouhetted in mid-run, bulls charging, horses galloping, icons of power, efficiency that persuade us to buy products.

    So ironic that each of these animals is so downtrodden here in Spain: the Galgo abused by the Galgueros, the bull tormented by the matador, the horses consumed for their meat. This irony is not isolated to spain. All nations have a kaleidoscope view of animals that borders on insanity – we adore them, fear them, hunt them, worship them and eat them, sometimes one at the same. All the while the animal sits at the centre of this swirling confusion, silent.

    Nothing captures the idea of animals as silent, passive units quite so well as a truck stuffed with creatures heading to their death.

    The only welfare protection afforded is that provided by EU law. These laws dictate stocking densities, the need for watering systems and most crucially limits on travel times. But when a pig can travel for 29 hours, be unloaded for 24hours and then start all over again, ad infinitum, some of those limits are unlimited.

    The questions I have on this journey are:

    How well are EU laws enforced?
    And how much does the typical pig suffer on its journey to slaughter?

    Many animals travel this route.

    Horses, chickens, cows, calves, sheep, lamb… Key welfare issues include overcrowding, lack of water, trampling, stress induced illness, excessive heat, young animals not getting appropriate food and the very real dangers involved in the loading and unloading process. Fatalities are so commonplace that a death rate of a few percent is economically factored into the cost of most transport.

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    A chicken puts it's head through the plastic grating.

    A chicken puts it’s head through the plastic grating.

    We see a number of trucks,  but no pigs. We trail them for a while till we get to a petrol station and then take photos. To my dismay every single one is breaking an EU law in one form or another.  Julia has both years of experience in dealing with this and is a trained lawyer – so I trust her judgment completey.

    ‘It’s totally normal that they break the law. The problem is enforcement’

    Julia shows me a photo of a horse with a vastly inflamed penis. Once again I’m reminded of my school bus journey to Austria, sitting behind the girl I so fancied for so many hours. I found it fairly enjoyable but Julia is making a key point.

    ‘They shouldn’t be putting male and female horses so close together, it can lead to trouble’.

     

    A horse swells up in transport.
    Horse meat, unlike in the UK is not an issue. They just eat the stuff.

    Horse meat, unlike in the UK is not an issue. They just eat the stuff.

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    A horse swells up in transport.

    A horse swells up in transport.

    The point is that laws can be broken in a multitude of ways, some subtle some more extreme, and the cumulative effect can be stressful and devastating. The problem is how can they check all the trucks and how can they enforce the law. The simple point is they can’t.

    Ten hours later, and as night falls, we see our first pig truck. We trail it into the darkness. A few snouts stick out of the railings. ‘This one doesn’t look too bad’ says Julia. But I could not have predicted what was about to happen.

     

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