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The Long View - 28/06/2007
 
Ben Bradshaw MP, a DEFRA Minister, “wants us to save the planet by slashing food production”, which means “cutting down on meat and milk and out-of-season veg – rationing that may also improve our health.”

Ben Bradshaw MP, a DEFRA Minister, “wants us to save the planet by slashing food production”, which means “cutting down on meat and milk and out-of-season veg – rationing that may also improve our health.” New Labour came in running 10 years ago with plans for a Food Standards Agency and replacement for the producer-dominated MAFF with the new consumer-friendly DEFRA, abetted by the FSA. (Unlike FSAs in most other countries the S in Britain’s FSA stands for Standards, not just for Safety, so the conjunction is a nice representation of farm-to-fork and plow-to-plate responsibilities).

Ben Bradshaw is voicing a message from a market now under the influence of ethical shopping, free-froms, and extension of cruelty-free imperatives from clothing and household goods to food. Global harvests of cereals are unlikely to satisfy the requirements even of organic feeds to maintain the organic live/deadstock industry and the government is warning subsidy-drunk farmers that it will no longer bail them out of the consequences of bad husbandry, such as BSE, foot-and-mouth disease, TB, and a range of zoonotic afflictions causing food-borne poisoning.

Ben Bradshaw’s statements a few months ago combined nicely with other trends in the Horn or Corn and Grow Food, not Feed debate that ensued upon the BSE and foot-and-mouth disasters and the need to curb the pressures of intensive farming and the greed stimulated by cheap food policies. A year ago the Economist offered its dietary advice: “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.” The British government is going into Europe with welfare warnings on eggs with a suggested scoring system based on the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s 5 Freedoms. Questionable Free Range labelling or not, customers will have to face unequivocal warnings that “Production of these eggs entails Cruelty to the Birds.”

Troubles in the live/deadstock industry continue to multiply: difficulties in the dairy/beef/veal job and the FSA’s strictures on the output of animal fats, co-products, and by-products, and the excessive use of salt needed to suppress zoonotic infections, the cost of recalls and condemnations in the interests of hygiene and health, are gloomy portents for an industry offending the constituency of ethical shoppers informed by the true costs of cheap food to the environment and wildlife and to the nation’s health and the treatment of non-human animals.

Prospects in store for farming and the countryside will dismay the green lobby with interests in traceability, provenance, and the environment. Biomass may take over as crops more profitable than cereals for feed, cattle may suffer the threats that have overtaken the poultry and pig sectors and be zero-grazed and kept in feedlots, and the problems of landfill and disposals of fallen and culled animals will intensify. Calculations of food miles, thrift with resources, and allowance for global warming will be disarrayed unless reforms in agriculture are led by well-informed example: “British” Holstein freaks of animal pharming zero-grazed in units in debadgered zones are an imminent prospect for outputs of “British” milk from animal machines stuffed with imported concentrates of soya and “prairie meal” and yielding milk at double the level expected of the herd of Ayreshires in Windsor Great Park that the Queen has been forced for economic reasons to sell off.

There is plenty to work on, from the experiences and results of a major successful project in Finland to collections of healthy eating plans in a Portfolio endorsed by international bodies of nutritionists and medics.

Wholesome food must cost more. The status and training of workers in the food industry must be raised. Poor people must enjoy the right to thrifty and well-informed choices. Extended systems of vouchers and other benefits must be introduced. Precedents exist for this political intervention, as well as for a differential imposition of VAT on animal-derived products. Meat reducers and dairy-frees rule. OK!  
 
 

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