• 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 351: A CLOSE CALL AT PSYCHO FARM

    Sep 13 2013
    Are we going into Space soon? Check out my little rocket capsule!

    Check out my little rocket capsule! Are we going into space soon? I’ve been waiting a while…

    A number of you have written comments about how awful the Spanish are at treating their pigs.

    I want to make something clear.

    I have nothing against Spain in particular (despite the bullfighting, galgo abuse, pig misery and dog chaining). This is a WORLD-WIDE issue. Many many other EU farms will be of the same quality if not worse and further afield they almost certainly are worse.

    I am in Spain because it is easier to get access here than elsewhere. Please do not boycott Spain in your hearts or in actions. Boycott intensive farming and spread these images and blog to make the case for the better treatment of pigs – and all intensively farmed animals – worldwide.

    But perhaps throw your Spanish salami out of the window.

    These cold metal bars taste divine. (pigs will chew on metal like this when bored and stressed)

    These cold metal bars taste divine. (pigs will chew on metal like this when bored and stressed)

     

    Pigs snapped through a window of another farm we passed

    Pigs snapped through a window of another farm we passed

     

    RSPCA FREEDOM FOOD?

    I want to draw your attention to an undercover video that has been sent to me that allegedly shows the reality of so called ‘FREEDOM FARM’ RSPCA assured farms.

    Please decide for yourself.

    I will be tackling the thorny issue of labeling later  but in the meantime if you want to be sure your meat is not cruel it is worth knowing exactly what organic farm it came from or it might be easier to not eat pork at all. The body movement of some of these pigs in the video  – with limp back legs – is exactly as I found some in Spanish pig farms

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzwXtvu39Js

     

    A close call at Psycho farm

    I have visited some more farms undercover and also by direct entry. I won’t bore you with too many details other than to say I’ve seen some fairly regular welfare issues including dead piglets, pigs unable to stand up, a lot of bar biting (caused by stress and boredom) and a lot of pigs stuck in stalls with sores on their side where they are forced to lie down in the same position.

    Oh look, little brother is STILL asleep. (a problem with genetically engineering large litters in a small space is that crushing is a constant threat)

    Oh look, little brother is STILL asleep. (a problem with genetically engineering large litters in a small space is that crushing is a constant threat)

    Ah, they're taking him away. At last !(mother watches as her crushed piglet is removed)

    Ah, they’re taking him away. At last !(mother watches as her crushed piglet is removed)

    sores on the sides of pigs are common in sow stalls

    sores on the sides of pigs are common in sow stalls

    But the final farm I visited was not as I expected.

    Late in the afternoon, and emboldened by a number of successful entries, I was confident I could get into a large farm high up on a hill overlooking a small town. Slightly delapitated and set against the lowering light it had the vaguely sinister air that Bate’s ‘mother’ from Psycho would have enjoyed.

    We drove up the hill. I got out and peered over the wall.

    To get inside without going through the main gate involved climbing over a huge old wall and going down a steep rough hill to join a number of metal steps that would leave me exposed in the cetnre of a large complex of buildings and a good distance from any exit.

    Why did I assume no one was there?

    I clambered over the wall and down the steep slope through long grass where I met some old metal steps. I felt I was in a video game, a first person shooter, moving through enemy territoty.

    In the first shed I saw one pig was unable to use its back legs. It dragged itself through the shit and muck on its front legs whilst others repeatedly knocked it over.

    4Y1A2492

    Ham sandwich anyone?

    4Y1A2707

    Rise and shine kids! It’s another fun day down at the farm

     

    For the sake of emotional clarity I have to say that this and the other few incidents I have described of injured pigs (the youngster with the bitten ear) are the ONLY times I have seen acute suffering. The rest of the time I am witnessing a empty existence – far more painful in the long term but without the peaks of intense misery.

    I crossed the open courtyard and saw a pair of rubber boots sat by a door. A hose pipe snaked along the floor and round the boots and then into the open door. The water was running.

    I paused, considering my options. If I went back up the steps I would be in direct view of the person that might be there. If I climbed over the main gate someone might see me. Foolishly, perhaps, I went into the next farm house. It was then that I heard the pre-arranged warning signal from Manuel

    Panic. Total panic. A car was coming into the farm. The plan was to retrace my steps and then run into the woods but in the fear I went to the nearest wall by the main gate and jumped over. I have no idea if the man who belonged in those wellies was behind me but he would not have caught me at the speed I was going. However I ran directly to where the car was coming. But I was lucky. As I went over the wall the car turned round a small corner and drove down the other side of the farm.

    I met Manuel in the car. ‘Let’s get out of here now’

     

    A dark flower is unfurling

    That evening I lay in bed looking at the small images on the back of my camera.

    Throughout this year the more suffering I have seen the more engaged I have become. It has been empowering to look and then in a small way, act to help. When people say ‘isn’t it awful for you?’ I have to explain it is often, strangely, the opposite.

    Yipee! I've been born in a farm...I  don't want to even look I'm so excited

    Yipee! I’ve been born in a farm…I don’t want to even look I’m so excited

    ...oh... that's IT?

    …oh… that’s IT?

    But now I feel something new.

    The faces of the pigs have entered the darkness of my night …. So so many animals staring silently out of the confines of the pens and me so powerless to do anything. Am I feeling guilt for all the years of meat eating or is it something elese? Is it a weird sort of mourning? The pain is muffled inside me– it is not shock, not even anger, a sort of awful realization that this is something very sinister and on a very VERY big scale.

    If you are kind enough to have read my blog from the start you will remember my rather hapless 24 hour walk around London looking for animals in distress.

    I discovered little apart from a load of men in Epping forest looking for sex (I suppose also animals in need ), a few hedgehogs (not looking for sex, or maybe they were?) and also the truth of how hard it was to find – and touch – animal suffering on the surface of a city. I ended up outside London zoo at 5am trying to listen for animal roars but in the breaking dawn I was moved by the fact I could hear nothing.

    All those captive animals but no noise.

    Going inside these small dark farms in Spain has been like going into London zoo before the gates are officially open. I find myself in a place I should not be (and yet should be) and I am witnessing a world of human power over other animals that is without pretence or marketing.

    And now I have also entered a dark place inside myself and have found something silent and compressed. A dark flower is unfurling in my heart and I am not sure if I want it to grow.

    4Y1A2654

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  • Day 183: PAWS FOR FOOD, PAWS FOR THOUGHT: a visit to a dog meat restaurant leaves me with little taste for San Miguel

    Mar 26 2013

     

    The hills around Baguio, dog meat capital of Philippines.

    The hills around Baguio, dog meat capital of Philippines.

    While we are waiting to do the undercover raid on dogs bound for slaughter we are off to visit a dog-meat restaurant in Baguio, north of Manila.

    Don’t worry,  I’m not here to shock you or show you ‘orrible pictures.

    I would rather have you here on the ride with me.

    Why are you off to visit a dog meat restaurant, Martin?  what help is that going to do? Don’t you know I’m eating a ham sandwich??

    Well…

    1)  If we can catch people serving dog meat illegally we can get help with prosecutions

    but more importanly

    2)  I’m here to confront some truths.  I still eat meat (less now than ever but still I do) and I still love dogs. How will I feel when I see dog meat? Should I…er… eat some? If I’m willing to eat pigs shouldn’t I get real and eat dog? No, no, no, no, don’t do it!!!

    It’s a seven hour car ride in the vicious heat with Andrew, from Network for Animals, and our two new companions, Frank and Rosalyn, both also in the animal rescue trade.

    These vegans, I tell you.  Not only do they avoid all eggs, meat and that other animal constitute – tasty bacon – but they have boundless energy. Is it the beans?

    Bacon is SOOO fine.

    A fine piece of Bacon

    Ahhh..doesn't that make you feel better. Bet they eat them  somewhere. China? Hmmm...

    Ahhh. a cute bear..doesn’t that make you feel better? Bet they eat them somewhere. China? Hmmm…

     

     

    Baguio – The Filipino capital 0f dog meat

    Up in Baguio, a small hill village north of Manila that tries to hide it self in the low misty clouds, dog meat is considered a cultural heritage. Although the meat is illegal many of the restuarants openly, almost proudly, sell the stuff. And the police do nothing. Why? Because they eat meat too! It’s  difficult to shift a pattern of beliefs when they grow out of the soil under your feet. There is also a Korean population here.  If you are a puppy with some meat on your legs you should always worry about hanging out near Koreans.

    On the drive up Andrew makes endless calls to try and secure the raid on the dog trucks that we are planning in the next few days.

    ‘We are waiting for help from the mayor.’ says Andrew putting down the phone with a sigh

    What’s going on? Every vicinity in Philippines is presided over by a mayor , i find out, and everything has to go past the damn mayor. He has god-like power. If he doesn’t like the colour of your socks you are DUST. One local mayor subdued drug dealing by painting vast signs on the front of a suspected dealer’s house saying ‘I DEAL DRUGS’. I think the guy got done by vigilantes. Either that or he sold loads more drugs. Either the way they Mayors are a law unto themselves.

    Unfortunately we need teh mayor’s go-ahead for the dog truck raid over the next few days.

     

    Arriving at the dog meat restaurant.

    There are 14 restuarants in Baguio that Network for Animals have identified as selling dog meat. A brisk trade, then.

    We go to one of the the restaurants.

    The welcoming sign outside the dog-meat restaurant

    The welcoming sign outside the dog-meat restaurant

    Kind of trashy. An old metal sign that leads down some sodden concrete steps.

    Frank, a passionate videographer who has filmed baby seals being clubbed to death to raise awareness and still manages to have a sense of humour, wires himself up with a hidden camera. I take mine in openly as if a tourist. Since I am with a car load of vegans, and since there isn’t much to eat at motorway service stations apart from burgers I have spent the last 7 hours in the car both meat-free and BLOODY FAMISHED. Not a good state in which to go into a dog-meat restaurant. Don’t be tempted Martin.

    The woman behind the counter- the owner –  is shifty. She sees my camera and looks at me distrustingly. I smile. Like any hungry tourist would in a dog meat restaurant. The place is dingy, low light, grotty, fairly empty. We have missed the lunch serving.

    We are late for lunch.

    We are late for lunch.

    We sit down in half darkness and a waitress comes over and immediately offers us ‘Chicken, beef or pulatan stew’  Each item is about 2 dollars but the pulatan has a 10% premium. ‘Pulatan’  is dog meat. You pay for the privilege – not much, after all dog is fairly cheap to source and kill but it does carry a cost for being illegal.

    I try to get access to the kitchen but they are clearly defensive.

    I try to get access to the kitchen but they are clearly defensive.

    We try to ask about the ‘pulutan’ but the woman behind the counter loses her cool, reprimanding her waitress for offering it us before telling us we can’t have it.  But not before we have the video footage on the sting camera.

     

    A man barks at me.

    Andrew then whispers in my ear ‘See that guy over there, he’s just ordered pulatan too, his stew will be out in a few minutes. Lets try and stay here a little longer’

    A man two tables away is having some soup , apparently a common forerunner to dog meat. While Andrew talks to the lady at the counter I hover with my camera.

    The stew comes out to the man. Guess what? The dog meat looks like….MEAT. Nothing weird about it. Course not, what would be weird?  I bumble up to him in my best naive but irritating-british-tourist kind of way and ask if i can take his picture.  Naturally he tells me to stick it and covers his food with his hand but not before I have already fired off five pictures. He gets up angrily and barks something at me (eaten too much dog have we?) and brushes past me.

    IMG_5450

    Dog meat..hmmm, kind of looks like beef.

    Dog meat..hmmm, kind of looks like beef.

    I look at the food.

    What do I feel about it?

    My reaction is predictable. I feel nothing whatsoever.

    Why?

    Because it’s just meat. Of course it is. But that is the point. We are conditioned to accept meat – whether it is roasted, fried or sliced. Thank fully I had no desire whatsoever to try some of it but you know what? I feel kind of an arsehole for NOT eating it. Why the hell shouldn’t I if I eat pig?

    But there you go. I join the legion of other irrational people that care for animals….and eat it. I’m feeling more of a fool every day.

    But here is the crazy bit…

    …the man who has strode angrily out of the shop then decides to turn back into the restaurant and ask for the illegal meat to be packed up… to go. Yes, that’s right, he wants a  DOGGY BAG to take his dog meat home.

    THAT’S HOW MUCH THEY LOVE THEIR POOCHES UP HERE.

    I can’t feel angry at him.

    We walk out hastily. When we are back in the car Andrew shifts in his seat.

    ‘See the sign for that restaurant?’  I look up.

    ‘Yep, why?’

    ‘I wonder if San Miguel know they are the sponsor of a restaurant that sells illegal dog meat? ‘

    This is how the compassionate mind must work . It’s not all about stroking cute animals.  Try and get leverage from the big brands. Mix things up a little.

    Anyone have any thoughts on how we could get this message out to San Miguel??? I’m sure those animal loving Spaniards wouldn’t want to be associated with anything as barbaric as this?

    Let’s try it.

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