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A New Kinder Farming and Food - 18/05/2006
 
Applying the 3Rs – Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement in the Development of Standards Aiming at a Cruelty-Free and Wholesome Food Supply.
Applying the 3Rs – Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement in the Development of Standards Aiming at a Cruelty-Free and Wholesome Food Supply.

Britain is Fumbling the Possibilities of Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming. Finland Scores; Britain Misses Goals; National Plan Needed.

1. Rejection of VEGA’s submission to contribute a talk in the program invited for a 3-day international conference at the Royal Society, London, beginning on Wednesday, 13th September 2006, with the title ‘The Quality of Life’, prompts us to rehearse the main intended content as follows. The event has been arranged by the Universities’ Federation for animal Welfare in conjunction with the British Veterinary Association’s Animal Welfare Foundation. As the topic is highly relevant to VEGA’s aims, we submitted an abstract, as requested, but our application was turned down. The title of the intended talk was ‘ What Price Animal Welfare in Policies for Farming’.

2. All has not been lost: the BVA’s AWF is inviting a few chosen representatives to participate in its own conference in London on Wednesday, 24th May, on Farm Animal Welfare and Surveillance, followed by an evening reception at the House of Commons. DEFRA representatives will participate in these events. VEGA has accepted the invitation too.

3. Obesity in pandemic proportions denotes excessive production and consumption of food, as well as unfair distribution of supply. For developed and developing countries, the warnings apply to the excesses of supply and demand and to degenerative ills as well as obesity that undermine the quality of life, standards of production and care for farming and the environment and the consequences on non-human animals, domesticated and wild.

4. Curbs on excessive consumption tackle the flaws in falsely High Standards of Living in several nicely combining ways. Rather than devolving on governments’ protracted efforts at piecemeal reductions of the threats of ever-increasing outputs, intensification, and excessive consumption, policies of food production must engage the powers of desistance and resistance in a well-versed and discriminating population appreciating the values, resources, and standards of life. The Food Standards Agency must mobilize and inform consumer power, both in concerted and individual manifestations of salutary change.

Sweet Themes from Karelia

5. The Food Standards Agency’s latest expressions of these reforms indicate some success, but they lack the enterprise and achievements of the Finnish Karelia Project launched in the mid-1970s. The changes in farming, food, and lifestyle have seen reductions since 1975 of 75% in both coronary heart disease and strokes. It is sound testimony of what can be achieved and the Finnish enterprise is being extended. Standards from farm-to-fork, FSA-style were rigorously and enthusiastically demonstrated. If Finland can practise such standards of Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming so can the UK – can’t it? We believe the answer is a contemplative yes.

6. Several years ago, the Cabinet Office solicited consultations from many interested parties on the policies for Farming and Food. The Curry Committee emerged from the responses, among which were some like ours that presented practical solutions for reversing objectionable upward trends subverting sustainable and easily understood reforms. The power of our arguments in this Green Planning and activation of consumer power has been increased in subsequent events in medical and nutritional epidemiology and in disasters such as BSE, foot-and-mouth disease, swine fevers and other viral diseases, as well as recurrent bacterial zoonoses such as campylobacters, salmonellas, and E coli. The consequent damage, wastage, and culling of these symptoms of intensified and debased husbandry have found governments (and ultimately consumers) paying dearly for the evil consequences of cheap food policies. The culls alone, many of which are botched, may destroy many more animals than are sacrificed annually in the interests of medical research in conditions that the Royal Society claims are not cruel procedures and are rigorously monitored although it maintains the need for the 3Rs – reduction, refinement, and replacement in that context. The 3Rs can be applied with as much cogency in the supply of food.

Sour Notes in the British Live/Deadstock Industry

7. In its just-issued report, ‘British Chicken: What Price’, the National Farmers Union warns now that the £3 billion British chicken industry is not financially sustainable and will not survive the current pricing climate. The union attributes the problems to the struggle with “continuous downward price pressure, coupled with rising energy and labor costs.” Further regulatory costs threaten in the form of the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations, which aim at controlling emissions and address energy efficiency, consumption of raw materials, noise, and restoration of sites. And not to mention the mounting toll avian flu may add. Many of such problems could be rehearsed for the fishing industry too.

Endangered Cow Leaflet

8. The cattle industry’s future – an thus of a main provider of red meat and milk – is uncertain, especially in the dairy/beef/veal job, in which production, reproduction, and metabolic diseases run rife and a balance between yields of milk and output of suitable calves cannot be struck. The modern cow is a freak begotten out of genetic breeding founded on artificial insemination and tricky control of “milky” and “meaty” traits. The origins and maintenance of BSEand its corollaries bear witness to the ills of this industry and the environmental and sociological consequences. Changes in the CAP are seeing droves of dairy farmers leaving the industry and retiring early, their sons being loth to continue in the hard graft of stricken enterprises for which consumers and retailers (and their customers) are loth to pay the price of good husbandry, stockmanship, and maintenance and management of pastures, hedges, and disposals of slurries. Movements and transhipments of livestock, notably of cast (or “spent”) cows and superfluous calves, many taken deficiently furnished with colostrum and snatched only a day or two old into dealerships, add to the industry’s ill repute. TB and the badger problem and the increase in MAP (mycobacterium avian paratuberculosis, Johne’s disease) poses yet another risk. Robotic milking and zero grazing are solutions found wanting in several respects. They do not inspire much uplift in a doomed market overproducing against dwindling quotas and competing against cheap imports of beef from areas of BSE-free production (eg South America – which, however, may not be free of FMD).

9. The Finnish Karelia project relieved consumption there of a heavy load of animal fat by reducing sales of whole milks and partially replacing them with skimmed varieties. The authorities resorted to an option not now available to the dairy industry: disposal of the discarded butter fat into the #CAP’s Intervention System. The British food industry, having removed much of the fat in the milk, now returns it in many artful and value-added ways, notably in premium spreads, ice creams, cakes, bakery goods, and biscuits, which incur objections and warnings from the FSA’s profiling systems; or the fat is retained in cheese-making, whence whey results as a by-product needing to find markets other than dumping or inclusion in animal feeds. Having unburdened their diets of dairy fats, the Finns developed oilseed rape as a source of vegetable oil for many culinary and manufacturing purposes. It enjoys a “good” reputation, like olive oil, in the contexts of received wisdom on prevention of cardiovascular disease and strokes. Finland’s results strikingly endorse this interpretation. The Finn’s campaign included many agronomic reforms and attention to soil fertility, increased diversity in cereal production, and introduction of functional foods such as Benecol, a plant-based addition to the repertoire of dairy-free spreading fats. They have also scored successes in salt (sodium) reduction in lowering blood pressure with raised intakes of potassium and magnesium both by a 3-fold increase in consumption over the last 30 years of vegetables and by use, as an alternative, of the potassium-, magnesium-, and lysine-enriched Pansalt (“mineral salt”).

10. The ills of intensive production in the poultry and cattle industries are reproduced in various contexts in sheep (and goat) and pig farming (although the slaughter of swine escapes the objection to halal and kosher killing). The sheep industry violates the impressions of the psalmists and in hymns on good shepherding based thereon: the Lord certainly doesn’t temper the wind to the newborn lamb and its mother ewe in the aptly-named less favoured areas (LFAs) in the bleak north and Wales – losses through weakness, dehydration, and starvation (and attacks by ravenous vixens) are appalling. These areas are becoming despoiled by excessive populations of sheep, and movements of animals from the UK (or the Irish Republic, with the UK as a land bridge) entail long journeys and transhipments through rapid changes of climate and temperature to countries in southern Europe for slaughter in further bouts of inclemency. The seasonality of sheep production and limited value of spent ewes and tups and of wool and manufacturing applications of the meat (eg for burgers) limit the significance of this sector of farming. These reservations have been heightened by lingering doubts over the possible transmission of BSE maskerading as scrapie in sheep and goats and the emergence of atypical scrapie, a new transmissible encephalopathy (which could actually be commoner than the traditional form). “Ethnic cleansing” of the British sheep flock and results from tests on animals carrying these TSEs and their distribution leave open the present danger of a cull of the whole national flock and of all the subsequent problems of restocking.

11. Increasing intensification of livestock production and consequent demands for feedstuffs and for resources such as power, water, soil fertility, disposals of slurry and fallen stock and consequent burials, landfills, and incinerations have led to environmental stresses that must be curtailed. The UK has areas where contamination and pollution are exceptionally high and competition for living space, housing and transport facilities, and recreation has become acute. Plans for rural conservation, reduction of cereal cultivations as sources of feeds for confined livestock for ultimate – and inefficient – production of food for the human population (and their pets) are invalidated by unsustainable agronomic follies. Distributions of straw and sources of bedding continue their problems in the horn versus corn dilemmas of farming. Abuse of technology for veterinary purposes, whether as aids to production or in the containment of the threats of disease in compromised populations of animals kept in unequal conditions, has resulted in incautious resort to powerful antibiotics significant in human and non-human animal medicine and thus to common losses in therapeutic effect. Practical difficulties can make programs of mass vaccination impossible. Reduction of livestock production would bring much benefit to the countryside, its established inhabitants and wildlife.

Disharmony in the Veterinary Profession

12. The veterinary profession reflects the harm improvident and uncaring systems of livestock management have inflicted. Practices dealing with farm animals are closing and veterinarians are finding opportunities for work with companion animals pleasanter and more lucrative. Farmers on the other hand are inclined to defer call-outs to save costs until the need has reached a late stage, and the nearest suitable practitioner has a long journey to the site of trouble. Work in the Meat Hygiene Service, which is responsible for the hygiene and welfare of animals at the last stages of their lives, is not well paid and not popular with British vets, so practitioners with other training and concepts of welfare and authority have to be brought in. Some work on farm animals has been deputed to non-professionals, but skilled veterinary visits for routine purposes fulfil useful functions in the surveillance of standards of management on farms and the conditions of the animals. The trend to larger livestock enterprises and the consequently increased demands on management, paperwork etc finds more bidding by vets to be included in commercial enterprises, taking them more into offices than into hands-on practice of their vows to do their utmost for the wellbeing of the animals in their care. Front-line jobs for vets under the threat of an avian flu epidemic thrust them into the highest risk of infection. This is a hazard intensified in all modern systems of commercial poultry production, whether the birds are reared free range, organically, in small flocks or large, housed or caged, and of various species – ducks, turkeys or game. Many of these birds are sold with obvious signs in the shop or supermarket of evil husbandry, such as hock burn.

Power at the Point of Purchase

13. As an example of missed opportunities for exercise of consumer power, the EU and many officials, NGOs, and charitable organizations are bogged down for another 5 or 6 years in efforts at maintaining current and future levels of production and consumption of eggs from systems involving wretched hens in cages. Fatuous changes to free range are suggested (what can be more hostile to the descendants of jungle fowl unable to fly to the nearest tree?) If the average British consumer reduced demands for eggs by a third, say, from 3 eggs to 2 per week (or from 150 to 100 a year) and the average layer (by any commercial system, organic, free range…) yields 300 eggs per year, then 6 average consumers will relieve one hen from misery and, as a spent bird, an unpleasant killing. A nation of 60 million consumers could therefore attain an annual reduction of abuse for 10 million hens (as well as of other birds in equivalent breeder flocks and of another 10 million day-old chicks). If these thoughts were carried through to oven-ready (broiler flocks) a reduction of the cruelty to about 300 million birds a year could be achieved with no cost to the government and with benefit to the public’s health, and no detriment – and even stimulation – to all the other good works and advocacy promoted by the likes of the RSPCA, Soil Association, CIWF, RSPB, National Trust, Friends of the Earth, Royal Society, UFAW etc. And while the argy-bargy over cage sizes and alternative methods drags on, rising consumption of eggs countervails the dogged but blinkered deliberations of government officials, NGOs and animal welfare charities and rightists. Consumers can achieve more for a kinder Britain by the practice of purposeful desistance.

14. The sheer scale of these routine massacres and enormous reductions that could be easily and effectively achieved contrasts with the more intractable challenges in the sacrifice and the testing and development of substances used in medicine, agriculture, and for household purposes.

15. Similar deductions may be carried out for production, consumption, and beneficial interventions in the crop-to-cup food chain involving the dairy cow. If a human consumer of, say, 3 litres of liquid cow’s milk a week (ie 150 litres a year) reduces his/her intake by a third s/he lowers the demand by 50 litres a year. If this average consumption and reduction can be averaged further, the British herd’s output can be diminished by about 3 billion litres. Given that today’s average cow yields about 25 litres a day in a 300-day lactation (ie a yield of 7500 litres or 7.5 tonnes a year), back-of-envelope calculations furnish proof that the milk-reducing consumers could relieve ½ million cows a year from the toll of abuse that is their lot in this industry. The human consumers could enjoy exercise of their self-discipline even further by simply replacing the animal-derived proteins, fats, and calories with plant-based “cruelty free” alternatives for which soya beans are turned directly into milks and derivatives with acclaimed health benefits to the human consumer. (A cow yielding 7500 litres a year would derive about 60% from grass, grazed or conserved, the rest coming from proteinaceous concentrates such as soya and maize).

16. Another factor augments the milk-reducers’ kindness. The dairy/beef/veal industry stands to benefit from the removal of post-BSE restrictions it, will therefore be supplying about 60% of home-produced beef and, to quote an editorial in the Meat Trades Journal of 12 May 2006, “there is more good news: The 315,000 pure-bred male calves from the dairy herd slaughtered at birth every year because of so little demand for veal exists here can now be exported to properly accredited veal units on the Continent.” Reduction of cow’s milk by a third extends to a congruent lessening – by 100,000 calves a year – of this evil trade and gives added effect to the public outcry demonstrated at the ports from which the transhipments depart.

17. The cast for urgent redress of the horn-corn ratio in British farming is incontrovertible for its salutary benefits in standards of animal welfare, rural society, the environment and consideration of wildlife. We contend that the link with dietary standards for the human population has been ineptly forged, even in a country where we contend that the factors combine more cogently than those that have imbued the Finnish campaign. A growth industry has developed in the EU and UK of lacklustre observers cataloguing the problems, literally ad nauseum, but manifesting no earnests in translating the lessons from their studies into impressive personal withdrawals from complicity in the very offensive practices their researches reveal. This indifference by the experts hardly inspires robust exercise of power at the till by ordinary consumers and thence the stimulation of enterprise by manufacturers and retailers, who are beginning to feel, in the guise of the Food Standards Agency, the interests of well-informed citizens requiring objective information and labelling. Animal welfare and the environment must count as essential factors in food standards and profiling. Welfare warnings on foodstuffs are as appropriate as traffic lights at danger on some commodities and health warnings on packets of cigars. Patients show scant respect for a doctor’s advice if the practitioner offers it while puffing at a cigarette. The vet who nonchalantly pours cow’s milk over his or her breakfast cereal is blatantly betraying an animal whose dignity s/he callously defiles. It’s no go the Herriot worship these days: it’s a brazen veterinarian now who is more than a misprint away from being a vegetarian.

18. Advertisements and claims for supplies of British and Danish pigmeat are already contending with protestations based in considerations of animal welfare. Witnesses called at the BSE Inquiry were asked after they had given their testimony if they had changed their dietary practices as a result of the evidence available to them, and what advice they would offer as (grand) parents, governors of schools etc. The public’s persuasions, expressed as sales of beef, showed a steep decline at the height of the epidemic, but they have since resiled, even though doubts over BSE are likely to linger (especially in medical contexts). The industry has recovered on the back of hefty subsidies, without which it would surely have been beggared.

Sane, Salubrious, Salutary

19. The Finnish experience with dietary interventions in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, taken with ample medical and nutritional evidence for a more “Meditoriental” trend in western food policies proves that Salubrious Farming for Salutary Food connotes urgent reductions in intakes of animal-derived commodities. Sane standards for farming, food, health, and the land link up nicely. Tardiness in full-blooded adoption by animal welfarists is unforgivable: advocacy and practice of the menus, recipes, and consumption in recommendations in the portfolio of lastingly beneficial reforms must surely fire their message and practice, especially as these reforms emanate from authoritative nutritional and medical authorities.

20. The full and glorious combination of powerful strands in practible reforms in farming, food, health, and the land and recruitment of consumer participation and example have been unfortunately neglected by animal welfarists and environmentalists whose vision has been distracted by their devotion to detail from the grandeur purview. Last year The Economist (30 April 2005) proffered its dietary advice that “a healthy diet is built on a base of grains, vegetables and fruits, followed by ever-decreasing amounts of dairy-products, meat, sweets, and oils…” This harmonizes with perceived scientific wisdom and with the example set by Finland’s Karelia Project and the results, and turns of the vast commercial interest behind High Standards of Living into the thriftier enterprise of pioneers whose advocacy and initiatives drove “cruelty-free” products to dominance in the cosmetics and toiletries markets and in the availability of household goods with an environment-friendly cachet.

Hearty Appetites

21. The British Government has pledged to reduce deaths from coronary heart disease by 40% by the year 2010. Heart disease is “the most preventable health threat facing Britain today”. (The Independent 15/05/06). It “is costing the economy £29bn a year and rising rates of obesity, an aging population, and the soaring prescription bills for heart drugs such as statins mean that the bill is likely to rise in the future” continues the review of a survey just reported in the medical journal Heart. The analysis extends to comparisons for other European countries and quotes health experts lamenting facile resort to taking pills rather than changing their unhealthy lifestyles. Keith Jackson, chairman of the British Cardiac Patients Association agrees: “People could do more to manage heart conditions and prevent heart disease through having a better diet and more exercise… We need a greater emphasis on preventive measures when tackling cardiovascular disease and need to get the message across that this improves quality of life”.

22. While a National Plan should embrace all the enthusiasm and knowledge of groups who exercise their own patterns of purchases and abstentions for a variety of reasons, many of which are represented in our foregoing remarks, joined-up planning in Government departments and agencies, with vigorous leadership and example, is needed to underpin developments of these choices and a respect for all aspects of farming, food production, and the environment. These loftier earnests must give the Food Standards Agency bolder purpose than trying to assert some sort of safety as it delves into the entrails and frauds of the live/deadstock industry, which has served Britain so badly and been implicated so heavily in the erosion of respect in the production and distribution of gross excesses of meretriciously cheap food, with all the consequent abuses on the environment and squandering of natural resources. Fast food, food-to-go, food sanitized as gut-fill with no character of provenance or the facts of agronomy, and poor food-service, together with the dirty work for degrading and disgusting jobs that the public prefers not to know about, must engage concerted calls for education into the facts of life that actually embraces the birds and bees, as well as the mechanics of human procreation. These responsibilities and example must imbue our attitudes to global issues, and in the community and dignity of all species of animals and their habitat.

23. Government must interpret these factors into a National Plan that can continue present policies for redistributing subsidies and leave the farming and food industries to insure their businesses against the disasters that the excesses of intensive farming and the greed for cheap food invite. Insurers will then augment policing and monitoring over the industry and the consequences will be translated forcefully to the customer/consumer/citizen at the cash-point.

24. We present in this manifesto the basis of a National Plan integrating the functions of DEFRA and the Food Standards Agency and the enthusiasm and well-founded example of many NGOs and charity groups to embrace a wide purview of resources to the common good. We present this as a practicable footing for national endeavour, aspiration, and purpose with a reward in farming, food, health, and the land in which Britain, unfortunately no longer a pioneer, may yet earn some pride.

25. The apparent cost of food in the shop, store or restaurant must therefore rise to a decent proportion of the household outgoings. Fiscal and other measures must be overhauled in other ways e.g.

25.1 VAT could be levelled on ingredients and foods derived from animal sources. Such differential sales taxes apply in other EU countries and in the USA; there are already differences in the UK for foods and beverages under classifications that separate confectionery and pet foods from zero-rated staples. “Cruelty-free” commodities could likewise be exempted from taxes imposed on products from the live/deadstock industry.

25.2 Welfare and environmental warnings and scorings (e.g. based on the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s 5 Freedoms) should be applied to products from the farming industries, including those imported from monitored sources abroad. Such standards would fit nicely with the FSA’s attempts at profiling foods on grounds of nutrition and health.

25.3 The FSA’s attempts at increasing the availability of nutritional labelling are making advances, albeit flawed with shortcomings we have tried in consultations to explain and remedy. The subgrouping could be improved by adding data on fat, protein, and calorie/energy contents divided into source (e.g. animal- or plant-derived).

25.4 Labelling, amplified by use of IT, for full objective descriptions of products on general sale, must be much improved for the convenience of discriminating customers and researchers. The trade must be goadad into promotion and competition into the design of labels and websites that attract customers’ attentions before they buy.

25.5 The circumstances of Britain’s populations of people too poor to have much choice in today’s artificially-priced food market raise urgent attention. The gap between rich and poor is widening partly because of the inflated costs of eating out and the barrage of cookery writers stoking up demands for exotic and high-input foods prepared with costly use of fuels and culinary equipment. The poor must be able to exercise choice and to benefit from the salutary opportunities the National Plan would offer. We propose that vouchers would have to be resorted to, extending the range of commodities and supplements already available to special groups such as pregnant mothers and schoolchildren. Such actions would parallel help for the aged in the shape of contributions towards heating bills, free TV, and cheap travel. Far better, find a solution to the extreme rich-poor divide and spur providers, processors, and retailers of foodstuffs to retail thrifty choices of good-value-food; and ensure that allotments, vandal-free and capable of good rewards, are free to growers of their own produce.

Conclusion

26. The time and precedent for joined-up thinking and example and exercise of well-informed and purposeful consumer power now call for leadership and national planning. Common factors in government and voluntary effort need urgent overhauling and demonstration in necessary enhancement of the Quality of Life.


Abbreviations

AWFUniversities’ Federation for Animal Welfare
BSEBovine Spongiform Encephalopathy
BVABritish Veterinary Association
CAPCommon Agricultural Policy
FAWCFarm Animal Welfare Council
FMDFoot-and-Mouth Disease
FSAFood Standards Agency
MAPMycobacterium Avian Paratuberculosis
TBTuberculosis (bovine)
TSETransmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy
UFAWUniversities’ Federation for Animal Welfare
UKUnited Kingdom

 
 
 

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