• 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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