Farming, food, health, and the environment are now hot topics with a political importance exceeding anything before.
The debate is stimulated by the new functions and activities of the Food Standards Agency and DEFRA replacing the duties of the discredited MAFF. When a DEFRA Minister, Ben Bradshaw, declares that Britons should eat less meat and milk and the FSA puts cheese and many traditionally salty meat products in its sin bin, campaigners for Green Planning and the consequences are almost overtaken by the politicians’ efforts at outdoing one another, at least in sentiments, if not in commitments in practice...
David Cameron and Home Rules
The Sunday Times Magazine a week ago offered glimpses of the Dave New World that a contender, David Cameron MP, for high office might present for the environment and health in our green and pleasant land. “Eco-warrior, champion of the family, hoodie-defender – David Cameron ticks all the boxes to woo the electorate. Is he to be trusted or is he leading us up the garden path?” asks the introduction to the article...
David Cameron, 40, “is gregarious and more confident than anyone you have met” (Sunday Times Magazine, 22/04/07). Apart from his apparent ecological fervor, he boasts other skills among which “he can castrate a lamb with a pair of pliers..."
Ray Barber has died. Ray and Sheila, his wife, who survives him, deserve special praise from campaigners in the veggy cause.They were farmers who withdrew from the dairy/meat/veal industry, because they refused further complicity in cruel processes of exploiting animals for milk and meat.
They quit over 30 years ago, rescuing their livestock and turning their Court Lodge farm in Burwash, East Sussex, into a sanctuary. They also kept a few horses, ponies, and donkeys, some of whom – notably a few Shires and Percherons – had been kept as friends occasionally shown off at agricultural shows and earning a modest trophy or two. They also had a few sheep. At the beginning they were keeping about 60 animals on their 90 acres of “granny pastures”, around which there were impressive stands of trees. The farm can be viewed to the south from trains on the London-Hastings line on the London side of Etchingham station. Hunts were banned from the farm. The bestiary included various dogs and occasional stray farm animals, some lodged there by the RSPCA or police until their owners could collect them.
The Vegetarian Society’s London office was a hotbed of research, campaigning and education in the 1960s and onwards, what with the monitoring of livestock markets, launch of the Green Plan for farming, food, health, and the land, the Symposia at London’s Commonwealth Institute elaborating the Plan, and the demonstrations each year at the Royal Smithfield Show at Earls Court and at slaughterhouses in the Home Counties linked with the Show. Out of all the consequent publicity common interests emerged, one of which resulted in communication with the Barbers’ enterprise at Court Lodge farm and the struggle to sustain, let alone increase the venture. At that time – and this was well before BSE hammered the point home – campaigning veggies were trying to alert animal welfarists to the evils of the dairy/beef/veal system. The RSPCA and the Vegetarian Society’s research Section (later disbanded but regrouping as VEGA) had worked in various ways to secure a ban in 1973 on exports of live calves for rearing and slaughter for white veal in France and the Low Countries. (A minimum value order after WW2, supported by a conglomerate of many organizations, had throttled similar exports of spent horses such as vanners and pit ponies and animals from the drifts on Exmoor and New Forest).
The Court Lodge venture has survived many vicis situdes, thanks particularly to the financial support of the Young Indian Vegetarians and Jains and other donors inspired by the example and significance of the Barbers’ deeds. Ray took on a part-time job to pay for some of the expenses, but a series of accidents progressively reduced his valiant efforts. Money has also been raised by artisanal use of the premises by craft workers. Local farmers have offered help, although they have been sceptical about the whole enterprise. The vets too take a dim view, and the McCartneys, who rear and keep farm livestock as pets, have avoided any recognition of the Barbers’ efforts. Nonetheless, the denizens of Court Lodge farm have been spared a cruel fate, have lived long lives – some surviving to this day – and have established their own culture and families. It is the sort of collection to which the new Animal Welfare Act has applied in England since 6th April. VEGA has devoted much effort to the Act. Its application and our description of the Chillingham herd of cattle are nice memorials to Ray’s commitment and care of animals ruthlessly exploited and practices obscurantism of purported animal welfarists.
Ray played a major role in a BBC Radio 4 program that was made and abruptly withdrawn 20 or 25 years ago. It was intended for the Food Program as a tribute to The Cow. It was made by Dylan Winter for Derek Cooper and Sheila Dillon, the producers, some of it recorded at Court Lodge farm. Its showing was preceded a week before by a full-page article by Colin Spencer in the Guardian and inclusion in the Radio Times lists. It was reviewed very favourably by commentators in the press who had received advance tapes but had not noticed the withdrawal. Writers in the Guardian and Daily Telegraph were particularly annoyed and animal welfarists bombarded the BBC with their complaints, for which the Corporation prepared a standard reply in defence, as well as ran some of the objections on air in another program. Dylan Winter had had farming experience with livestock and was deeply impressed by the Barbers’ sincerity. Ray, usually a quiet Yorkshireman of few words, pronounced as damning indictment of the dairy/beef/veal industry as any well-versed commentator could make. The program may have been cruelly aborted at the last moment but his message, rescued from suppression, will resonate for many animal welfarists as another nice memory of the Ray who showed such decency and respect for the animals.
While doubts remain over the future of Court Lodge farm, thoughts linger of ways to raise funding to continue its example and message in a constructive veggie way. The pastures slope down to the River Rother, which is weakly tidal and floods the lower meadows in winter, which has environmental effects, good and questionable. The slope faces north and is therefore hardly suitable for the local wine-producing industry. Hazel nuts (cobnuts, filberts) are a traditional crop in the area with a veggie flavor, but at the moment it is not vigorously cultivated – and it’s highly susceptible to predators, particularly squirrels. There are possibilities for market gardens and other horticultures and in CAP subsidies for Countryside Stewardship, but these would entail facilities for access and passage: ramblers aren’t all considerate.
Meanwhile, we send our condolences to Sheila, who has lost a noble partner and a fine man.
Re: Proposed package of measures relating to the dairy sector. Consultation on a Commission proposal for a package of measures relating to the dairy sector
1. The package of measures perpetuates minor adjustments in a system of food production and its corollaries now not fit for purpose in the light of:
(a) Statements by Ben Bradshaw MP, a DEFRA Minister, urging a reduction in the consumption of meat and (animal derived) milks, on various grounds of health and environment, and with further connotations in animal welfare. The history and sequels of the Finnish South Karelia project emphasize these conclusions and their relevance. In the UK, beef, cheese, and butter are co-products or by-products that should not be returned to the food supply or in feedstuffs – and certainly not by additions of VAT (Virtue Adding Tricks) of questionable value. Dumping lard and butter should be abandoned without causing environmental problems: they could be used as fuels in a manner consistent with the present government’s policies on gaseous agricultural emissions.
(b) Nutritional and epidemiological studies emphasize the foregoing observations, especially the FSA’s concerns over cheese and other concentrated sources of animal fat and protein accompanied by high salt contents.
(c) The Finnish experience has confirmed the need for action on these matters and has led the way with salutary agronomic reforms and developments in alternatives. The shelves and chillers of most supermarkets and grocers bear witness to progress in a market meeting increasing demand from the population of meat-reducers and dairy-frees. Accordingly, the word milk as a trade or nutritional needs definition: cow’s milk, soya milk, human milk etc. Labelling should be appropriate. This would return British practice to the situation when MAFF ceded control to the EU; some uses, eg peanut butter, have survived this change.
2. Such developments are already being implemented by some education authorities in pursuing policies of “healthy” foods in the contents of school meals and lunch boxes and availability of fresh fruit and veg and of fortification with nutrients in a manner unacceptable in animal-derived milks (eg in vitamin D). Products such as Benecol resulted from Finnish experience in this context. The British dairy/beef/veal industry cannot match the promise shown by such innovators; and it is lumbered with risks of costly zoonotic disease and environmental damage – BSE originated and has been maintained in dairy herds and their output.
3. We therefore recommend fundamental changes in the package of proposals. Now is the time to act. Initiatives to these ends surpass the need for more tinkering in a forlorn industry suckling a cowed nation of milksops.
Easter Message by the Slovenian President Dr Janez Drnovšek
“The Easter Holidays are near. Let’s spend them in peace and good company. You can also renounce the ham, chocolate-eggs should be sufficient for an Easter atmosphere.
“Would it not be more harmonious if we did not associate religious celebrations directly with ham and other non-spiritual symbols? Do really so many animals have to die when we celebrate higher consciousness and try to develop spiritually? The answer is clear: of course not.
“Feasts don’t have much to do with spirituality, just the opposite. Even considering that we can try to understand that in some eras, in which food was scarce, religious events were celebrated with banquets, we can now leave such material remnants behind us. True spirituality does not need them, just the opposite, because they show us that religions demanding such identifications got stuck at a relatively low level of consciousness.
“That’s why we’ll try to celebrate the occasion differently this time. We use the opportunity for a walk in nature, for a cleansing of the spirit, for the search for internal peace. We are friendly to our family, our neighbours and all those suffering in this world. Also to animals. We spare them this time from our lust for meat and we try to overcome historical behavior patterns.
“We will do something good for our spirit and our body.”
We acknowledge this message received by VEGA for the Easter celebrations; and we rejoice in this sign of significant support in European affairs.
Dr Drnovšek is the current President of Slovenia and former President of Yugoslavia. He is also founder and first President of the Movement for Justice and Development, which is not a political movement, but may become a political party. Its aim is “to raise human consciousness and make the world a better place.”
He was born in Celjo, then part of Yugoslavia, today in Slovenia, in 1950. He assumed office in 2002. From 1992 to 2002 he was President of the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia, a successor of the Slovenian Association of Socialist Youth. He left the party in January 2006. In June last year, he announced that he will not be running for a second term of office’
Janez Drnovšek has been suffering for a long time from cancer. A cancerous kidney was removed in 1999; further cancerous growths were discovered in 2001. He subsequently abandoned conventional treatment for his disease and changed his lifestyle. He moved from Ljubljana to a remote village (Zaplana); and recently became a vegan after “a few years” as a lacto-ovo veggie.
Remonstrating last Christmas at an eviction of a family from the city in which they dwelled, Janez scolded the locals: “We can’t leave them out in the cold. We have to help them like people. Are you people? Your Christianity is nothing. It’s just a word.”
The supermarket has been fined £18,000 for selling a “meat-free” ravioli product that had been wrongly labelled as “suitable for vegetarians”.
The major multiple store based in Bradford received fines totalling £18,000 and was ordered to pay costs of £1,981 at Northampton magistrate’s court after pleading guilty to 2 charges of contravening the Food Safety Act 1990. (The Grocer, 24 March 2007; Online Meat Trades Journal 21 March 2007).
A complaint made by a man who bought 2 tins of Morrisons own-brand Meat-free Ravioli in Tomato Sauce – Suitable for Vegetarians from a store in Northampton prompted an investigation led by the trading standards team of Northamptonshire County Council that resulted in the prosecution. A spokesman for the Council reported that the complainant had been a veggy for 23 years and was “unimpressed, disgusted, and disappointed” to find meat in the product.
Challenging Big Pharma is Kids’ Stuff to Anzacs. GSK Surrender over Ribena
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), one of the biggest food and drugs companies, has been fined NZ$ 227,500 (£83,333) for making misleading claims over vitamin C levels in Ribena.
GSK had claimed that Ribena syrup contained 4 times more vitamin C than oranges, but in 2004 two high-school students carried out tests in a science lesson and found that levels of the nutrient in the product were “much lower” (The Grocer 31 March 2007).
The 14-year-old students had tested the blackcurrant cordial in 2004 against rival brands in school experiments and comparisons. They found “almost no vitamin C” (The Guardian 28 March 2007) in ready-to-drink Ribena, whereas another brands orange juice contained “almost 4 times more”. The students, Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo were studying at Packuranga College in Auckland, New Zealand.