VEGA News Item

Farming and Food Going on a Bennder - 17/07/2007
Our explanations of Ethical Shopping, Enlightened Consumerism, and Cruelty-Free Food have hit snags with The Grocer and the RSPCA.
Our explanations of Ethical Shopping, Enlightened Consumerism, and Cruelty-Free Food have hit snags with The Grocer and the RSPCA.

1. “It’s up for grabs” said an editor at The Grocer when she explained that their weekly Second Opinion had no First Opinion to challenge and stimulate. Taking the opportunity we essayed a First Opinion of the 650 required words. After some delays we were advised that a First opinion was not for us (nor anyone else, it seems), but a letter-to-the-editor would be suitable at 150 words and the lead on the appropriate page. We then posted the original text on our website and composed a revised, shorter version. Another silence ensued. No publication, no explanation. After further enquiries we discovered that the concepts had baffled the combined editorial resources of The Grocer and the subject was aborted. Not entirely, though, because we post the latest version below.

2. Ben Bradshaw’s statement earlier this year on the need to lower consumption of meat and milk – and this from a Minister at DEFRA – prompted us to redouble our efforts at persuading the RSPCA of the enormous consequences in animal welfare that such changes would connote, setting an example that individual and corporate demonstration would nicely reinforce and stimulate initiatives trending in the same direction that nutritionists, medics, economists, and environmentalists – as well as the Food Standards Agency and organisations such as the Soil Association – were effectively pursuing.

3. This year’s AGM of the RSPCA had been arranged for Saturday, the 30th June, at Kensington Town Hall. It turned out that a few steps along High Street, Kensington, in what was once Barkers department store, an ambitious Whole Foods supermarket was to be launched a week before the RSPCA’s AGM. Publicity for the launch included reference to what could be described as Ethical Shopping and Enlightened Consumerism, and exemplification of progress in cruelty-free foods. To top all this the owner of the Whole Foods market is a vegan and the RSPCA’s members had decided at the AGM last year that all the catering this year should be real veggie, i.e. vegan.

4. The dramas kept erupting up to the eve of the RSPCA’s AGM. A couple of days before, a Cabinet shuffle and consequent changes had brought Hilary Benn, a veggie of long standing, to head DEFRA and Ben Bradshaw was switched to Ministerial responsibilities in the Dept of Health. Even if it was unwitting, Gordon Brown had thrust vegetarianism into a political significance even greater than it exhibited at the end of WW2 when Stafford Cripps was Chancellor of the Exchequer. The consequences and challenges will continue, as the following excerpt by a Times diarist (13 July 2007) illustrates.

5. Taking account of exciting developments over the last year in the food market and the changes in farming as aftermaths of BSE, foot-and-moth diseases and tuberculosis (among other zoonoses and the looming threat of avian flu), as well as effects of the CAP on modulations, diversification, and environmental corollaries, we at VEGA have striven to stimulate animal welfarists into joining the trend, expressing the full consequences of policies in lowering, year by year, consumption of and demand for meat and milk and their derivatives. Meat reducers and dairy-frees were becoming the drivers in ethical shopping and enlightened consumerism, with the means of throwing off the bonds of the falsely “cheap food” policies.

6. Alerting the RSPCA to its declared mission, we drew its attention to the possibilities at its AGM and conference for exhibition of the desired trends in the market for meat- and dairy-free commercial alternatives. Conferences of nutritionists ran stalls and stands for just such purposes. They were popular. We recommended these introductions to the RSPCA in its program and we attracted interest in manufacturers and retailers, extending to opportunities for sampling. The real possibilities can outdo in the RSPCA’s interest the Freedom Foods Monitoring System and the attendant flaws and consequent discontent and discredit even among products offering free range to outputs of the ailing dairy and poultry industries.

7. Accordingly, one of our Trustees, a longstanding member of the RSPCA, and a member of the RSPCA’s Council proposed a motion rallying the Society to the general purposes, which became fitter and fitter as the months to the last AGM went by. However, the RSPCA’s management rejected all the offers of help from the burgeoning alternative market. Delegates arrived at the AGM to see space and tables unused for these exciting developments.

8. This inauspicious obstinacy did not however prevent the motion from winning through. We quote it in full.

Motion to the RSPCA AGM 2007

Ben Bradshaw stated earlier this year that people should eat “less meat and milk”. He is a Minister at DEFRA. The Economist last year offered 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…”.

In Britain alone the intensifying sacrifice serving the appetite and greed for animal-derived food is becoming an annual massacre of nearly 1 billion ill-used animals. Last year’s Nutrition Society Annual Conference and this year’s are acting, in the plow-to-plate style of the Food Standards Agency, on practicable solutions that would relieve this appalling toll of avoidable cruelty. We move that the RSPCA meets this challenge by official and sustained interventions and example in the agronomic consequences of The New Kinder Farming and production of cruelty-free food.

9. However, VEGA moved in quickly to provide the RSPCA’s Council with a detailed program for a Conference, preferably in collaboration with the Food Standards Agency to measure in an authoritative way the consequences and implementation of this welfare policy in the common weal – for animals human and non-human and allied with care for wildlife and the environment and the associated standards for health and amenity. Such concern would nicely match the needs of courses in citizenship in the new extended curricula for schools and the educational aspects would aptly reinforce al its splendid practical work. It would also serve the FSA’s farm-to-fork commitments.

10. We now await the outcome of its deliberations. One way or another the food industry must cater for and adjust to demands harnessing its research and enterprise to a thrifty market in which “ethics” and “cruelty-free” mean something. Support and encouragement to and from the politicians might include a medal for Ben Bradshaw at a Conference and AGM demonstrating vigour in the ethical and alternative market and an opportunity for a keynote speech by Hilary Benn.

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