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VEGA News Item

 
Agenda 2005 - 10/01/2005
 
No Misunderstanding of our Actions, continued and augmented for another busy year.
Any catalogue of misunderstandings must include the example from multicultural London of the dustman asking the person at their house.

“Where’s yer bin, mate?”
To which came the reply
“I ain’t been nowhere, man.”


VEGA has been almost everywhere at the year-end in a flurry of exciting meetings and conferences, arguing our cause-where welfare and being well assert priorities for all species and environments comprehensively (and ambitiously, it must be said)-in readiness for redoubled activities for reporting in the New Year. So, let there be no mistake, VEGA aims to be fitter than a butcher’s dog (which can be an introduction to pets, pet food, and how domestication affects us all and our capabilities in adaptation and behavior, on which more will appear).

Back in the Command Module, however, there’s always keywording to be done to augment the database we are creating for the continuing benefit of all campaigners seeking objective and referenced information relevant to the cause. The training and practice are excellent means of learning and inspiring.

A present discovered at the tree of Yuletide offerings needing the keywording and inputting treatment introduces a nice example.

It’s of international concern and goes like this:

The European Commission has just imposed fines totalling €66.34 ($88) million on 3 European pharmaceutical and chemical companies rated guilty of collision to fix the price of choline chloride used in animal feed. (We note also that choline appears as an ingredient in some food supplements, nutraceuticals, ect).

BASF of Germany have been fined €34.97 million, Akzo Nobel, a Dutch-Swedish group, €20, 99 million and UCB of Belgium, €10.38 million.

The Commission found that from 1992 until April 1994 “the producers had met in secret in order to secure an increase in world prices, monitor their competitors, and share out the market”.

Two US firms and a Canadian company “engaged in the initiative” escaped without fines because they withdrew from the operation in April 1994, more than 5 years before the Commission began its investigation; the 5-year limitation period for the imposition of fines therefore exempted the north American parties from penalties. Decisions are, however, also addressed to them, in particular to warn them not to engage in similar behaviour in the future. The EU’s new Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes emphasizes the reprimands:


“The Commission will simply not tolerate that the benefits of the EU’s single market are denied to customers by cartels and other anti-competitive practices. We will not allow the advantages of abolishing physical frontiers and creating pan-European markets to be neutralized by companies carving up the spoils amongst themselves”.

Akzo Nobel, expressing its “strong and committed policy to crack down on any potential cartel issues”, pleads that it “had fully co-operated with the Commission in its investigations”. The company is still involved in investigations by authorities in the USA, Canada, and the EU into several alleged violations of respective antitrust laws: It protested extensive cooperation with the authorities in all of these cases, “which have a tendency to be time-consuming and complicated”.

Shareholders may draw some comfort from an action in 2000 by Akzo Nobel, “which took a €200 million non-recurring charge on its balance sheet. “Based on the developments in a number of pending cases, in April this year the company adjusted its provision. The fine imposed by the Commission for chlorine chloride has therefore been provided for in full” (Animal Farm, 24th December 2004).That’s all right then.




Vietnam: Chickens being loaded for culling (Source: Reuters)



“Are we prepared for the deaths of 10 or 20 million of our fellow citizens arising from the mutation of the human and animal virus that we cannot control?” asked the European Health Commissioner David Byrne at a conference last September at the Hague in a move to create a single EU strategy for dealing with zoonotic diseases. He was addressing a new challenge, in the form of Asian bird flu, overcoming several species, in which “Europe could face a devastating pandemic”.


Millions of birds have been killed already in attempts to break the spread in countries from which Europe, including the UK, imports poultry meat. If the spread of pollen concerns objectors to genetic engineering, the mobility of bacteria and viruses and mutations in their progress through the global village and its denizens is attracting the greater immediate alarm. Memories linger of the flu epidemic that swept off more humans after WW1 than succumbed in the hostilities of the previous 5 years. Populations under stress are particularly susceptible to epidemic zoonotic disease.
Disasters such as the effects of the earth and sea movements in the Indian Ocean and the overwhelmed lands prompt the urgency of David Byrne’s amplified warnings.

Mr Byrne’s warnings added that “the disease risks posed by intensive farming also come under scrutiny” (Animal Pharm, 08 October 2004). He continued: “In the agricultural sector greater account needs to be taken of the implications of intensive husbandry. Policies need to encourage a shift away from intensive rearing. “These words resonate with a key conclusion in the Executive Summary of the Report of the BSE Inquiry, published 4 years earlier: “BSE developed into an epidemic as a consequence of an intensive farming practice-the recycling of animal protein in ruminant feed. This practice, unchallenged over decades, proved a recipe for disaster”.

VEGA was the only organisation arguing from the start to finish-and ever since-for the welfare of non-human animals, as well as of human victims, of appalling husbandry practices and of the lack of immediate remedies and alternatives to reduce this cruelty entailed-and still routinely-in experimentation and testing. Animal rightists duck these issues. We can’t, as committed, objective welfarists.

Recycling in the style of swill-feeding and the crimes in wheeling and dealing in the pig-and sheep industries pitched the UK into costs to the economy of £8 billion; the “losses” (in the words of the Farmers Weekly, 10th December 2004) of nearly 7 million animals and “untold” misery for farmers and rural communities. Just before the foot and mouth epidemic broke our VEGA NEWS analysed the routine “losses” of sheep, mainly newborn lambs and lambing ewes, running into millions of animals at this time of year, and we are again scanning the weather reports for conditions in the aptly-named less favoured areas in the north to voice sympathy and general boycotting of the cruelties imposed on sheep in these unequal conditions that make the hymned words of the 23rd Psalm blatant hypocrisy and irresponsibility.

The agitation of hunting with dogs almost ignored the particular problems with lambing ewes and famished and pregnant vixens in John Peel country, but the conditions at least taught serious animal welfarists extra respect for hefting and adjusting in the care of these intelligent and sensitive animals (in the farmers’ cruel jibe “the sheep’s mission in life is finding ways to die”), and politicians had to be told that hoggs (and hoggets) are actually sheep, but no longer spring lambs.

Although foot-and-mouth is not a zoonotic disease, culling on the scales of millions of animals continue in such outbreaks, as well as some that are zoonotic. Swine and poultry suffer particularly in these avoidable massacres.

Consultations

DEFRA, the Food Standards Agency (note Standards, not just Safety) ply NGOs and research organisations and stakeholders with urgent consultations commanded by overseers such as the Cabinet Office. We are overwhelmed. We doubt the competence or even the will of some of the consultees to respond; and we are jealous of some of the more powerful stakeholders to muscle in when the ministries and agencies protest priority for consumer interests ( for consumer one might aptly write customer or citizen). Our job in serving the full expression of responsibilities in farming, food, health and the land will entertain many exciting developments in the New Year (which will comprehend considerations of animal welfare, wildlife and the environment).

Factors

The UK will shortly assume presidency of the G8 Summit of industrialized nations.
The present government exhibits strong inclinations to exploit the possibilities in a more responsible way, taking regard to poverty, hunger, climate change, thrifty agronomic practice, and international trade in cash crops (such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton), as well as conservation of natural resources and wildlife and the environment, farming on land; and maritime schemes for carbon-neutral means of power and fuel supply will occupy the G8 group with initiatives for kinder imperatives in the global village, on a grand scale G8 may be increased in number as the enormous agricultural industries of South America and India vie with the major trading nations represented by USA and Australia and, increasingly, of China and Japan and of countries on the Pacific Rim.

Modulation and single farm payments as part of CAP reform are cutting in already; they shift subsidization from production to custody of the environment. Farmers will have to insure themselves much more from failures in husbandry and forgo appeals to the governments for compensation. Many factors are emerging and the trend is praiseworthy. We hope at last to see entry of farm sanctuaries with no productive or commercial output into eligibility for grants on the basis of environmental care. (We describe on this website Court Lodge Farm, run by owners who left the dairy/beef/veal system over 30 years ago and have kept their stock on 90 acres in East Sussex. One cow, their non-GM Dolly, died a few months ago aged 42 years; others in the heard are well into their 30s).

The government hopes to enact its Draft Bill on animal welfare in this their last session before the General Election. Separation of hunting matters will leave more opportunities to include wider aspects of the Bill, which is intended to embrace and expand the range of the Protection of Animals Act, now nearly a century old. VEGA has been much involved with this, as have the RSPCA and the farm Animal Welfare Council. We may not get all that we would like-we are certainly more radical than the RSPCA and FAWC-but the general trend for required training and licensing of all owners, keepers, handlers, hauliers, and slaughterers of non-human animals (now a comprehensive definition) will increase with greater supervision of premises (which would bring pet shops and puppy farming, as well as greater respect for pets and companion animals- even pests and humane solutions).

The State Veterinary Service and vets in general and in the Meat Hygiene Service should have extra powers and training in animal behaviour and welfare. Changes in the veterinary profession have unbalanced the attraction of large animal (i.e. farm work) practice against care for small animals (i.e. pets, with concentrations in urban and more lucrative areas).

Contingencies ( such as foot and mouth disease and a lot of routine farm work) should be dealt with by reserves of trained and supervised operators (the corollaries of the hunting ban require assurance of a national network of readily available operators to perform emergency slaughter of casualty animals -fallen stock or downers-and knackering duties. (Culling remains the main means of veterinary nursing down on the farm).

Safety- REACH
The initiatives of the FSA and Dept of Health are now taking over matters of diet, health, and advertising, claims, and labelling that have been espoused for a long time by VEGA and its forerunners. The factors comprehended in our Green Plan of 1976 and rehearsed a couple of years ago in a submission to the government’s Curry Commission are surfacing with consequent benefits inn standards of nutrition, health,, farming and the environment and in animal welfare if only by corollaries of reduced intensification and outing of meretriciously “cheap” food.

The plough-to-plate, farm –to- fork inspiration of the FSA is being realised by attentions drawn to it by organisations such as VEGA for the appropriate standards, which encompass the needs of various (and disparate) minorities with aversions and practices associated with ethnic, religious, and “organic” cultures, as well as with people with intolerances and allergies to certain foods, and maintenance of sound nutritional status.

VEGA has thus been involved with the veggie constituency and how it fares with the FSA and with its associations with other nutritional expert bodies, nationally and internationally (e.g. with the Codex Alimentarius). We have much to report on sea foods and scientific, nutritional, evolutionary, genetic and environmental factors to review on these matters; and VEGA has to shoulder the responsibilities in them all-especially in the treatment of animals exploited for food production-that this challenging “unnatural” and radical self imposed discipline can have no truck with cheesy aberrations into the world of lacto-ovo-variation.

Opportunities are there at public meetings of the FSA and nutritional organisations, but they are grievously missed. The forces of darkness may be benighted but the gloom doesn’t silence their obstruction and power of confusion. Some expert bodies allow only questions from the floor (that’s competition like us for attention). Vega is asserting the right for statements and debate from the floor, and we appeal for more support from volunteers forsaking their corteries and endless recitations among themselves of their convictions to “come out” into the real challenging world of influential debate.

Labelling is there to be ostentatiously read, Manufacturers and retailers must go much further, notably by easy-access means of IT, to provide customers with much more relevant information than will go on the label. Secrecy, reticence, and coyness must rate as value-detracting elements of commerce. We shall continue our endeavor to stimulate citizen power in these demands. As a General Election looms we urge individuals and agencies to inform themselves on the issues and to communicate these interests in debate with candidates and with the party machines. We aim at providing electors with cues and sources of objective information and questioning.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the mobilisation of well-versed and responsible citizens in public debate, impressing on the FSA and the food-industry that there is a significant demand in the market for foods of interest to customers prepared to pay and search for who would not define themselves as whey-out veggies; at least, their desistance and resistance combine in a self-discipline amounting to a boycott, as well as a spur, to the food industry. Suppliers of veggie special foods have been lamentably perverse and unimaginative-even coming up with “approved” products that VEGA and other responsible food organisations have had to consign to the junk-bin. VEGA has seen better efforts by farmers at agricultural shows presenting veggie offerings made from home-grown beans (and it hasn’t been a bad year for chickpeas) and coriander and spices. The veggie specialists have spurned suggestions to accept government aid (through LINK schemes) to combine with academics and food technologists in enterprising research and development.

For many years VEGA has tried to impress on the veggie movement that a 10 per cent reduction in the national consumption of animal-derived foods-or the even worse need for a reversal in international terms of an increase in McDonaldization and Atkinism- means far more for welfare in manifold forms than doublings of membership of inward-looking and smug veggie clubs, some entangled with dairy- and poultry industries and counting their rewards in the discounts their card may earn at the health food store, with an occasional telling of the beads of ineffectual clichés. The veggie cause must be put much more cogently for and by the FSA and by the members of many groups, some already doing excellent work in other contexts, who purport some concern, compassion, or respect for the animals enslaved in farming systems that violate all considerations of decency.

Last year plant-milks appeared in strength in supermarkets, head to head in the chiller cabinets with milks from cows and goats and competing vigorously with these and other dairy-frees. Own-brand versions are appearing; prices are reducing. VEGA has been involved in the developments and will continue to do so. It is an advance for farm animal welfare to compare with the launch on to the general market of “cruelty free” cosmetics as Body Shop overcame problems of marketing and development. This is the milk of human kindness from the lewd and naughty world of commerce, leaving plenty of credit for forerunners who demonstrated the original possibilities.

Market analysts are forecasting a rapid 5 per cent penetration of the present-dairy market, troubled by many factors. By the alternative levels similar to those attained in Australia and the USA are expected shortly. The threat now descried by the British farmers and the National Dairy Council could see a relief by reduction of 125,000 cows (and their annual calves) from the cruel wet nursing of the nation: 1 in 5 of the present herd are lame and 1 and 3 mastitic-this is the milk of human malice, yielded as a result of forced reproduction, artifices of breeding, susceptibility to production of diseases, and lamentably early exhaustion and culling- incineration while the Over Thirty Month Scheme pertains VEGA has been keeping tabs on all this and will report further. Let us rejoice with this Mite of Mighty Mercy for Marigold.

Apart from a setback due to the heavily promoted Atkins diets ( by celebrities with no claims to be nutritional experts, who greeted the testimonies with disdain) attractions have accumulated for a portfolio of diets emphasizing the benefits of menus owing far more to the fruits of the Garden of Eden- Babylon is now part of troubled Iraq, alas-than to the efforts of butchers and cowboys, Like many dietary factors, research is driven by interested parties, be they American cattlemen or Dairy Councils on the one-very heavy-hand and say, soya or peanut growers in the USA and Australia. On the other, Mediterranean-style consumption is enthusiastically endorsed by independent nutritionists, but they represent the output of farming in northern Europe that gathers few preferences or subsidies and only emphasizes the need for quotas and imposed restrictions- not to mention the consequences of epidemic diseases-applied to production of meat and dairy-products.

VEGA with other organizations with nutritional and medical interests has been urging on the government and FSA national policies for farming and food that can enterprisingly developed for salutary plough-to plate agendas. Drive for this purpose has been generated now by the concerted effort of the American and Australian soya-growers seeking to increase the proportion of their crops grown for food rather than feed. They have adduced evidence that pleases the nutritionists who have attracted further support from the cereal industry for additions to the portfolio in the form of GI menus, where GI stands for glycemic index- as well as gastrointestinal.

About 18 months ago the Journal of the American Medical Society published the culmination of research lasting many years that rated such diets from the portfolio with proof of their benefits in prevention and treatment of cardiovascular and other disorders equivalent to those attained by administration of the vaunted- but still slightly controversial statin drugs. What’s more, the examples published in JAMA and other medical journals were strictly veggie: the word vegan actually crept in. In this instance the almond growers of California had included contributions from the soya-industry.

We are doing all we can to build on this firm trend which could be usefully augmented by developments in food production from fungi (mushrooms), seaweeds, almonds and other nuts (e.g. hazel and cobnuts or filberts) that can be cultivated feasibly (if American squirrels don’t sabotage such efforts), as well as brazil nuts obtained by Fairtrade from trees in rain forests in South America; Oxfam has been selling them in this connection we have been assessing commercial muesli mixtures for content and labelling, We recommend customers to read before they digest.

Safety of foods and household goods is a demand that customers require of government advisory bodies and manufacturers. It is an illusory concept, easily whipped up by the press into scares, In the absence of absolute proof pertaining to all ages and genotypes of animals, male and female (and otherwise hormonally exceptional), as well as the cocktail effect of untoward interactions, recourse to the precautionary principle is necessary, which may amount to no more than advice that the archetypal knowing granny can dispense. However, FSA and similar agencies, especially in Europe, crave scientific evidence, Europe has now drawn up a list of about 30,000 chemicals in common use that need such scientific assessment for safety. This is the REACH project.

Foodstuffs and exposures to workers in factories are making further demands for testing. Friends of the Earth and the Women’s Environmental Network are enthusiastically supporting the European project, against doubts from the chemical industry, which questions the cost and value of the information required. The cost in tests and experimentation on animals and providing justification to the Home Office to justify the procedures vex welfarists such as VEGA. It is likely that many of the tests would be carried out on fish. Many of the proponents of this work would emphasize the well-recognised shortcomings in translating the evidence to the human condition and would then, understandably, rate the suffering unjustifiable. VEGA is continuing its vigilance on this matter; much more evidence could be adduced from epidemiology and exercise of precautionary principle-and granny’s dictum “if in doubt, leave it out” Developments in the omics-genomics, metabanomics, proteomics and economics-bid fair to complicate- and possibly clarify- these concerns.

So we are investing efforts in developments such as these by which individuals in animal welfare and environmental organisations of all sorts can show by personal and salutary example, endorsed by nutritionists and doctors, a means of supplanting the evils of live/dead stock industry. While interfering in no way with their endevors. VEGA is enlisting and informing potential participants among food-writers, “foodies”, chefs, the Heathrow Flowerdales of the kitchen and media, as well as the FSA and other government and experts on food policies, to make their own contributions to the common portfolio endevor. We have had some rebuffs from veggie cookery writers and restaurateurs, but these disappointments don’t daunt on us from putting one of our researchers on the job, and we invite offers of interest and help from readers of this message.

It is an earnest that must surely engage members of the RSPCA and similar organisations as one of the healthiest and most efficient means of reducing the toll of misery for farmed livestock.

Like many small research organisations VEGA finds the cost of information retrieval unbearably high, even when every opportunity is sought to utilise membership of professional societies or to pay for journals at reduced rates. We are dot .org not dot. ac. So our computer is limited, as we are not eligible for the right passwords, to mainly to open access sources. We are therefore keenly interested in the proceedings of the House of Commons committee, chaired by Dr Ian Gibson, on these aspects of information technology.

Misunderstanding Carried Forward from 2004.
Enlightened father talking to his 9-year-old son Jonnie who has just returned from a farm visit.

“What did you see there Johnny? Any animals?”
“Oh, yes, lots”
“Well, what were they, then?”
“Er-sheep, goats, horses, cows, pigs, chickens…..”
“Anything else?”
“Oh, there were some fuckers too”
“Mm; are you sure you’ve got that right?”
“Yes, the farmer called them effers, but we knew what he meant”.

VEGA accompanied a member, a vet, to a meeting of vets, some involved in the Meat Hygiene Service, to give a Power Point presentation on the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s report and recommendations on the treatment of animals just before and at time of slaughter. The government’s responses-acceptances and rejections- of this radical and arresting presentation were analysed. The FAWC vet and VEGA had to leave to catch their trains before the group of other vets gathered for a celebratory annual dinner in the posh venue.
In the taxi to the station our person showed the departing vet the details of the meal he was missing. His colleague in the profession were marking receipt of his message with a meal featuring foie gras. He was horrified and angered. The veterinary profession has a lot of reforming to do when it blatantly fails to exercise its informed choice at the table and in their purchases in the shop. The MHS is charged with the welfare and condition, as well as the hygiene, of food animals presented for slaughter. Their meal had a Grace for starters. May the lord make us truly grateful…..

At another gathering of vets and scientists commercial methods of rearing and slaughtering of farm animals for meat and the information given on labels and in claims for quality and value-adding were considered. Now it was the turn of a representative describing the background and advertising of Scottish Quality Lamb. (To qualify in this category locations of birth, rearing, and slaughter have to be considered). A Scottish human icon was chosen to feature in the draft ads we were invited to admire. Indeed a real Scottish athlete filled the role- a real tosser, of cabers that is. We were presented with the tosser in full kilted rig, centre-picture with truly highland scenery in the background. But where were these little woolly bundles we were likely to recognise as sheep? “The PR people thought it best to air brush them out” explained the man from the advertising agency” with a knife. Rubbing out by air brush is so deceptively kinder than finishing a life in the usual fashion.
 
 
 

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