DAY 391 (almost done): THE BORING BUT AMAZING POWER OF LABELS
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.’
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?
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.
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.
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.