• 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 325: INTENSIVE FARMING IS THE GREATEST CAUSE OF SUFFERING ON EARTH – DISCUSS

    Aug 18 2013

    (Don’t worry, this video  DOES NOT CONTAIN SHOCKING MATERIAL , it is rather beautiful, but is still rather…shocking. A few of you asked me to look at this. Yes, I read all your messages.)

     

    Any reaction to this statement, strongly pro or strongly against, depends almost entirely on one thing: whether you value the life of farm animals. If you do – to any degree – it is hard to deny .

    The only fact more startling than the sheer volume of meat that is butchered each year is the fact that so many caring humans don’t see it as an issue. Factory farming is both the world’s greatest tragedy and the world’s greatest vanishing act. The pain disappears in front of people’s eyes.

    It is preposterous to try and quantify the value of an animal’s against a human life –   is one man worth 1000 pigs worth 1,000,000 worms?   It’s also fairly dangerous to rate suffering in terms of numbers of beings that die –  a fire that kills three children is as much a tragedy as a school bus accident that kills twenty.

    But…let’s for a second assume we can put some sort of quantity on suffering.

    Every year well over 60 billion farm animals are killed for meat. EVERY YEAR. That’s one of those numbers that, like the fattest man on earth, suffers from being just TOO big.  No one understands it except for astrophysicists and people that kill chickens. We need a crane to lift that fat number out of the house of confusion and into the hospital of understanding.

    In simple terms it is about ten times the number of people that live on earth currently, which is about 1000 times the number of people that live in Britain (or France) which is…. a shit load….

    KILLED EVERY YEAR.

    Estimates of the proportion of animals that are in intensive farms (or factory farms…or concrete hell sheds) vary but it is something like two thirds.  Or 40 billion. Or shit loads. And don’t forget, the other third still get slaughtered. Yippee

    Aq8rghDCMAAbhaL

    Nothing in the history of human tragedy comes close in terms of numbers. No wars, no disease, no genocide.

    Hold your horses….or pigs…I’m talking numbers, not value. At least for now.

    If you question the degree of suffering in factory farms you need to do some reasearch.  The list of welfare problems is as long as Pinocchio’s nose. If you think they don’t exist IT’S A LIE: early separation from mothers, confinement, early death, excessive inbreeding, inhumane live export, poor slaughter, sickness, lack of social interaction and so it goes on.

    Did you know that each year millions of rabbits are factory farmed in France and Italy. Welfare standards are shocking and regulation is poor - see more here http://www.ciwf.org.uk/what_we_do/rabbits/

    Did you know that each year millions of rabbits are factory farmed in France and Italy. Welfare standards are shocking and regulation is poor – see more here http://www.ciwf.org.uk/what_we_do/rabbits/

    For a look at factory farming watch the video above. IT DOES NOT CONTAIN ANYTHING SHOCKING, it’s actually rather hypnotic. Perhaps too beautiful. Note how similar the man’s belly at the end is to pig fat.

    So…when you look at the number of animals killed and the degree of welfare problems associated with so many of them, then to keep eating meat (from factory farms) you either have to

    A)    rate the screams and cries of all those animals as virtually meaningless, fantastically close to zero in fact, otherwise they quickly mount up to a stack of misery that trumps our own concerns.

    Or…

    B) Do what so many people do and enjoy the magic trick. The magic trick goes like this:

    Look very closely. Look at my left hand. You’ll see a pretty watch in my left hand – see how it twinkles in the light? Watch it tick, watch it tock, watch it tick – all the while my right hand kills 60 billion animals.

    Tick. Tock.

    my, what a big watch!

    my, what a big watch!

    There is of course the option to eat meat from better farms, to support organic suppliers, to demand that welfare standards are raised by our politicians etc. But I’m coming to the conclusion that this is simply side-stepping the issue. Eating meat still supports an industry that kills beings in the billions. Ouch. Double ouch times a billion. Times 30.

    chickens-4

    The other day I spoke to Joyce D’Silva. ambassador for Compassion in World Farming, one of the world’s best farm charities, about her views on our relation to animals

    If you were president of the world what would be the one thing you would do – aside from fixing all the farms?

    “I would want schools to teach compassion for all beings…. It’s called humane education. If you took 4 hens from a battery farm and placed them in a similar cage in a school the first thing kids would say was ‘let them out”

    “But doesn’t that mean that the kids know the value of compassion already?”

    “Yes, but something is lost in the process of growing up”

    We don’t need to teach compassion so much as to stop unlearning it. Eating factory farmed animals is the culmination of our unlearning.

    I have a curious problem here.

    I want to explore factory farming but if I am too graphic, too confrontational, I will fall foul of the same magic trick. You will all turn away.

    Do you agree?

    Am I talking pig shit?

    I still eat dairy sometimes, am I a two faced idiot?

    In the next blog I’m going to do the reveal. I’m going to tell you how I’m going to tackle factory farming, what difference I can make and which animal I’m going to be looking at…from birth, all the way to death.

    It ain’t chickens.

     

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  • DAY 321: ON A MARCH AGAIN – who would have thought…

    Aug 12 2013

     

    I joined Compassion in World Farming’s march against Live Exports on the weekend. CIWF are one of the great great animal welfare organisations, check out more here

    That was my second march EVER as well as being my second march this year. Who would have thought…

    I’m going to be talking more about live exports later as its one of the BIG ways in which farm animals suffer. It only occurred to me recently  that  EVERY animal that gets slaughtered has to be transported to their end somehow. And not many get to go business class.

    But for now you can watch me stomping angrily around London and a much more informed chat with Pru Elliot from CIWF who organised the march.

     

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  • DAY 319: HOW DO I SAVE FARM ANIMALS? THOUGHTS PLEASE!

    Aug 10 2013
    animal-saving_header

    LIVE EXPORTS – a horrendous cause of animal suffering around the world.

    This morning I’m about to head off to a demo in central London against the live export of animals for slaughter. Organised by Compassion in World Farming. Sheep and cows stuck in small trucks for many hot hours. Maybe I’ll get there by going on the tube – to get into the mood so to speak.

    Excuse the lack of blog updates recently, I’m working frantically behind the scenes to start my work on farm animals whilst tying up all the wild animals. So to speak.

    Next week I’m due to travel abroad to visit some farms undercover of which I will update you soon.  Oh and I’m still due to watch Earthlings…been avoiding that a little. Its on my computer.

    There is one big question swirling in my head which I wanted to spill onto the page and get your feedback

     

    HOW DO I SAVE  FARM ANIMALS?

    60 million+ animals a year killed in farms. What possible difference can I make?

    Here are my thoughts. But feedback please before i go off in the wrong direction.

    animal-saving_diet

    ANSWER 1) WITH DIET AND CONSUMER CHOICE.

    I’ll be looking carefully at what sort of impact a vege or vegan diet has on  our bodies, soul, the environment…and of course, the animals. But as usual filtering it through my fairly small brain and loose fingers for ease of reading. Do I need to become Vegan? I’m scared. I know I shouldn’t be but I feel I’m looking over the edge of a high (and fairly unstable) tofu cliff.

     

     

    animal-saving_lib

    ANSWER 2) ANIMAL LIBERATION:

    I’ve been told that liberating farm animals almost certainly ends up in jail time and multiple escaped cows wandering on motorways – in which case one of you will have to liberate me from prison. I’ve made a decision NOT to go down this route as much as you want to read about me running away from a high security farm with a pig under each arm chased by Giles with a shotgun (actually I just spoke to someone about this who WAS chased by a captive-bolt gun weilding farmer). I will however look at rescuing battery laying hens.

     

    animal-saving_awarenes

    ANSWER 3) RAISING AWARENESS:

    One of the best things I can do is tell a story of what goes on in farms. This is not saving animals per se but its still  the most useful action I can take. The ENTIRE  industry relies on people turning a blind eye to suffering on farms. To the slaughter, live export, rearing, separation. We ignore it and believe the pretty picture on the packet of healthy cows in a green field.

    But here’s the issue: there’s no point me preaching only to vegans, and there is no point doing writing something so grim everyone turns away – like they have always done. So I’ve decided I’m going to look at ‘respectable’ EU farms – not grim siberian slaughterhouses or egyptian market places  – and tell the story of  one animal only.

    I don’t want to shock, I just want to illuminate.

     

    Which aspect of farming is most cruel?

    Which farm animal do people most relate to?

    What story should I tell?

    How can I make a difference?

     

     

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