Cheep, cheap food – E for environment -
Sunrise Poultry Farm, a unit containing 350,000 laying hens, has been embattled with Charnwood Borough Council, in Leicestershire, over a persistent problem with flies and smells. The Council is now serving a legal notice drafted by Graham Machin, a barrister specialising in environmental issues, on the egg-producers.
The Council has been issuing fly-paper to local residents and requiring construction of a muck store and means of spreading waste further away from villages in the area.
VEGA has been involved in conferences with representatives of the poultry industry, DEFRA, and retailers, including the supermarkets, and experts on animal welfare, to examine the tardy reforms (possibly becoming effective in 10 years’ time) entailed in ameliorations (enrichment and enhancement are some of the terms also bandied about) in cage systems compared with production by methods described as barn, perchery or free-range.
None of the systems promises any real expression of the Five Freedoms the government-appointed Farm Animal Welfare Council purports to honour. Animal welfarists who connive at these free-ranging shams are betraying their cause. Substantial reversal of the increasing consumption of eggs, produced in the UK or imported, will do more for the birds immediate welfare than alternative and “enhanced” conditions can offer. Common poultry can expect practised indifference from the RSPB. One deflated advocate at these exhaustive conferences and champion of “free range” was left to murmur that the descriptions sounded better. That was all.
The industry, consumer organisations and some welfarists plead that customers abandon their ideals when they cost. This is an excuse that must be countered, as it has been in other areas. Campaigns for cruelty-free foods can be successful; they just need well-informed and confident promotion, in the style of Beauty Without Cruelty and the Body Shop in their respective fields.
Undesirable products such as cigarettes have to carry a prominent health warning. Now a welfare warning is a small mercy that should be applied to commodities, some of which are also under fire in health grounds as junk food.
A 2 day conference attended by delegates of all the interested parties produced no solutions to the dilemmas facing producers, retailers, and consumers in tackling the toll of cruelty behind the commercial mass-produced egg. Silence but no voiced dissent heard the VEGA declaration that the British public should no longer duck its complicity in a lamentable and avoidable abuse. The proposed government mandatory welfare warning on packaging and at points of sale must declare the whole, inescapable truth: PRODUCTION OF THESE EGGS ENTAILS CRUELTY TO THE BIRDS.
The stenches and flies in Leicestershire remind the inhabitants of the squalor in the poultry industry. Stickers on more than fly-traps are now due for driving home the environmental warning.