VEGA News Item

Equality at The Food Standards Agency - 13/05/2008
VEGA comments on Food Standards Agency's Race Equality and Gender Equality Schemes
VEGA comments on Food Standards Agency's Race Equality and Gender Equality Schemes

a. Gender equality
Women and men should have equal rights, obligations and opportunities in all fields of life. This should include (not an exclusive list):

  • Prevention of sex discrimination
  • Promotion of equality between women and men
  • Improvement of women’s status, especially in working life
  • Prevention of sexuality discrimination
  • Prevention of discrimination against pregnant women, as well as women and men with family care responsibility
  • Preventing discrimination in employment – in hiring, wages, sexual harassment, supervision and termination of employment

b. Race equality
There should be equal treatment without regard to racial or ethnic origin or religious affiliation.

Diet requirements due to a religious affiliation – as well as due to allergy, intolerance or personal belief – should not be discriminated against.

c. Supply of food
Regarding the supply of food generally, whether in public institutions such as schools and hospitals or in the food service and retail industries, more support should be given to the provision and clear labelling of plant-based foods and products. Not only are plant-based diets generally healthier than the typical meat and dairy based diet, but they provide a ‘common denominator’ amongst most people having dietary preferences for religious, cultural or ethical reasons.

1. We are in the course of assessing special dietary requirements and eating plans to accommodate communities with aversions based on “ethics”, be they associated with religious or racial (genetics) rituals, lore, or myths; it becomes necessary now to include secular groups, some with codes based on firmer scientific grounds and more numerous and demanding than communities who have fared less well in the provisions of the market, catering, and service industries and their consequent ease in employment and choice. There may therefore be shuffling of priorities: where once Muslims had to put up with vegetarian meals in hospitals, schools, and prisons the importance farmers and the livestock industry now pay to the halal trade, mean that meat-eaters with “ethical” animal welfare principles may find that caterers try to appease such consumers by providing all the meat carries a halal certification (which still may not satisfy all Muslim authorities; and Muslims will consume kosher meat and fish, but strict Jews will not accept halal certifications, the objections being founded on interpretations of the stun-stick-kill (i.e. bleed-out procedures).

2. These aversions may be practised with varying vigor by Jews, Muslims, and vegetarians and animal welfarists (e.g. of the RSPCA, Soil Association, and British Veterinary Association), many of whom might not bother even to read such claims and labeling, even when they may know enough to act cautiously. Further, such niceties are not rigorously pursued over supplements or medications, in which substances of animal origin may be used in formulations and processing aids. (The ubiquitous gelatin may be derived as a 5th-quarter by-product from the slaughter of pigs; “vegetarian” gelatin may be obtained from fish). The debate over GM and cloning separates Jewish and Muslim authorities, Islamic authorities rejecting such means of husbandry more vigorously than Jewish experts; and interpretations on such matters vary among appropriate rabbis and imams even within one region of the global village.

3. The foregoing restraints may not entail refusal of observants to trade in the relevant commodities. Some regard to religious holidays may require flexibility in the food chain and employment, but these seem to be accommodated within the UK without strife. Extreme observances, e.g. on supplements, medication, and substances used to fortify foods and as processing aids, may endanger health and receive short shrift from nutritionists, dietitians, and doctors. At the moment we are seeking ways of overcoming such stresses by recruiting help from manufacturers, and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of GB in advice of general benefit, e.g. with preparations for, say, calcium and vitamin D preparations for the prevention of rickets and treatment of osteoporosis that can be used without demur by vegetarians and observant Jews and Muslims.

4. Although these special groups suffer from some disdain and lack of interest by factors in the food-industry the quiescence may be disrupted by strident manifestations of discontent prompted by events in disciplines asserted for uniforms or apparel. Our information and recipes in a Portfolio of eating plans offer positive measures and developments to serve the common good and avert offence and harm. The Church of England’s bishops were outraged by the introduction in the 1940s of artificial insemination in the breeding of food animals, but other moral matters supervened before WW2 ended and other challenges of peace, notably in famine relief and the (perverted) Green Revolution, held sway. More than a century ago British arrogance over food observances in the food-cultures of other communities provoked the Indian Mutiny when the local military refused to fight in the British interest with weaponry greased with a fat deemed unholy; and even within the EU, Britons are unusual in disdaining horse-meat, and special provisions have to be made for its production and sale. In another distinction, with dubious consequences for the animals’ welfare but more for consumers’ safety, horses destined for the meat-trade are denied some of the care and cures bestowed on those kept as pets (companion animals) and spared the butchers’ bloody attentions.

5. We would note the increasing number of groups and alliances with focused and vigorous protestations, comparable to fervor on religious or gender grounds, but with common concerns founded more on conditions of nutrition, age, and genetics. The proliferation of groups representing well-identified medical conditions with powerful claims for enterprise in the food market extend to celiacs and diabetics, and to disorders and failures associated with major organs (e.g. skin, blood, kidneys, genitals, liver, bones, brains…).

6. Some aversions accommodate common stipulations for adherence to Jewish and Muslim eating plans and are nicely covered by the meat- and dairy- – and cruelty-free – observances in the vegetarian style, which has increasing importance in the global farm-to-fork persuasions of Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming. Therefore we see the need for FSA initiatives to ban sales and production of halal and kosher meats, such as the government-appointed Farm Animal Welfare Council, British Veterinary Council, and RSPPCA unequivocally condemn and whose members and workers in the food business object to buying and consuming, even unwittingly – when labeling is inadequate.

7. Some concern may relate to both racial and gender considerations without scientific relevance or with dubious relevance in modern British conditions and tradition; they would apply to the production, assessment, and trade of commodities imported into the UK and labeled and controlled by authorities on an objective and open view of provenance and practice, which emphasize the importance of standards surpassing for some populations the demands of safety and needs for restraints based and practised on the exercise of self-discipline in consumers and of controllers of supplies. These comprise the “conscioncious objectors” in food standards and supply

8. The special responsibilities and practices of the FSA extend beyond the normal employment, catering, procurement, purchasing, and regulatory measures in the food and other industries to appreciation and example in the requirements and in anticipating and avoiding clashes, and seeking resolutions in a positive way. Since the launch of the FSA we have been able, by attendance at the Agency’s meetings and events and in consultations – and very recently with a petition on observances of procedures advocated and practised by officials of DEFRA to contribute in such activities. These reflect thinking along scientific lines, in which FSA professes to be governed.

9. At the moment the increase in adherents to the “free-from” way can be attributed to a preponderance of young females over young boys and these are a group whose requirements should be entertained especially in provisions of food and drink and of accommodation for breast-feeding and conditions of employment and status. The FSA should be an employer with a reputation for good provision of maternity (and paternity leave).

10. These provisions call for special precautions for women of child-bearing age who are expected to work with animals or handle meats or help in lambing, because of the risks of zoonotic diseases such as toxoplasmosis or enzootic abortion and others sensitive to cruel procedures in the treatment of livestock. Likewise trade unions and medical officers should alert and protect food handlers who may be revealed as carriers of zoonotic diseases (such as Typhoid Mary).

11. In our experience of the FSA since its launch these considerations of gender and “ethnic, ethical, and humane” lifestyles have not received due recognition. The FSA should set standards of employment and purpose to inspire the whole food trade – producers, controllers and consumers, as well as the array of NGOs and other bodies seeking to attract its attentions to a common good. The Board’s open meetings are dominated by the evils of the live/deadstock industry while opportunities to aid various ethnic groups and young and old, and victims of what might be regarded as mainly inherited (genetic) diseases in the nature vs. nurture challenges receive short shrift. The CVs collected now for hundreds of members chosen for the FSA’s Board contain hardly any members who are observant Muslims or vegetarians. Most of the members seem to be accomplices, as purchases and users, of the very industry they patronize. Our repeated efforts at taking members of staff representing authenticity and labeling have been blocked when trips as customers at a supermarket have been rebuffed.


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