Mad as March Hares. Is Their Seasonal Display Doomed?
Do They Need More Protection from Human Depredations?
“Boxing” hares are a joy to behold for ramblers and viewers of the countryside from the train traversing the arable fields of lowland Britain, with the autumn- and winter-sown crops “showing their faces to the sun.” These are brown hares but not two males boxing in a contest over a female, but a female about to come into heat repulsing the premature advances of a male. Conservationists believe that changes in EU rules over farm management may start a decline after the abolition of a scheme (the CAP) from which hares and other farmland wildlife have benefited.
The set-aside scheme, under which farmers were paid to leave some of their land uncultivated, dates back 20 years to when the EU was being troubled with overproduction of a range of foodstuffs and consequent embarrassments with “grain mountains” and “wine lakes”. An article in the Independent (13 March 2008) explains “Why the sight of brown hares boxing may become a rarity”, accompanied by a useful update of recent changes in the CAP that have significance in various aspects of wildlife and domestic environments.
Grouse More for the Sake of our Green and Pleasant Land
Three gamekeepers admitted last week that they had used baited traps to catch protected birds of prey that might attack grouse and partridges on an estate in North Yorkshire (The Guardian, 9 Feb 2008). Scarborough magistrates heard that RSPB inspectors had found 5 traps baited with live pigeons on the Snilesworth estate near Osmotherly. Such traps may be used legally, but only to catch birds such as magpies and crows, and only members of the crow family can be used as bait.
James Shuttleworth, 40, head keeper of the Snilesworth estate, pleaded guilty to 5 charges of permitting the use of traps and was fined £250 on each. Charles Woof, 23, a beat keeper of Swainby, North Yorkshire, admitted one charge of using a trap and was fined £100. David Cook, 18, an underkeeper of Ingleby, N. Yorks, admitted 2 charges of using traps and was given a 12-month conditional discharge. The 3 were also ordered to pay costs of £43 each. All the charges were brought under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
A farmer reported finding a baited trap on the estate last May and the RSPB gathered further evidence from then. The owner of the estate was not named in the report. 3. After the hearing, Guy Shorrock, an RSPB investigations officer, described the case as “a shocking indictment” of practices on the estate. “This is a disgraceful practice and is a huge problem across the whole of upland Britain. There are large areas of the country where very rare and charismatic birds are either absent or in very low numbers because of illegal trapping, shooting, and poisoning.” The upland estate offers grouse shooting as the main sport, but there is also a lot of partridge and pheasant shooting there.
All birds of prey are fully protected and have been for 50 years. The traps were intended to catch birds of prey, principally sparrowhawks and goshawks, but other birds of prey such as buzzards could go in them. Shorrock says: “You set the trap, put the pigeon in it, feed and water it a wait a few days.”
Downer Cows, Milk, Cruelty and Health Risks - Unprecedented “Recall” of US Beef, Most Already Eaten
Appalling evidence of cruelty in a big slaughterhouse (“packing plant”) has been adduced in undercover evidence obtained by the Humane Society of the USA (HSUS). It was presented last week when San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael A Ramos charged two employees of the Hallmark Meat Company with animal cruelty.
Specific evidence of cruelty, which was collected last autumn, includes:
• Cows struck repeatedly in the face and eyes when they are plainly unable to stand (and can therefore be classified as “downers”).
• Non-ambulatory cows rammed and dropped with a mechanical forklift in attempts to force them to their feet.
• Helpless animals unable to stand are dragged across ridged concrete at the end of a chain.
• A cow forced to endure simulated drowning in an attempt to make her rise. A high-pressure hose is used to force water down the mouth and nose of a non-ambulatory cow for several minutes, while an employee shouts “Up or die!”.
Hallmark principally slaughters “spent” dairy cows for Westland Meat Co, which was the nation’s number 2 supplier of ground (minced) beef for the National School Lunch Program. Cruelty charges against Hallmark employees were brought under California’s animal protection law, which prohibits maiming, mutilation, torturing, or wounding an animal. Employees were also charged with violating state law which prohibits use of a mechanical device to push or drag cows who are unable to stand or walk. Such animals must be humanely “euthanized” or removed (but where to, we ask).
The HSUS proclaims its concern on all cases involving animal cruelty. “It doesn’t matter whether the mistreated animal is a beloved family pet or a cow at a slaughterhouse. Unnecessary cruelty will not be tolerated and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent allowed by law”, states DA Michael A Ramos. “The filing of these charges marks a milestone because farm animals are normally denied – either on account of legal loopholes, cultural disregard, or by virtue of being kept out of public sight – the most basic protections afforded other creatures”, states Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS, which is the largest animal protection organization in the USA; it is backed by 10.5m Americans or 1 in 30 of the population.
Scores on Doors - Restaurants urged to put hygiene rating on their doors
Proposals for a national voluntary scheme for grading the cleanliness of all food premises in the country – including supermarkets, hotels, cafes, fast-food chains, and sandwich shops – were discussed by the Food Standards Agency’s Board last week.
In yet another – and indeed overdue – onslaught on the squalid and disastrous meat industry the FSA asserts that “every food outlet in the country – from local takeaway to the finest Michelin-starred restaurant – should publish its ratings where customers can see them”. If owners refuse to comply with this Scores on Doors scheme, the watchdog is likely to demand new laws to force them to do so.
In a 2-year pilot scheme in 84 local authorities in England almost 74,000 restaurants and food premises have already been ranked for their hygiene by Environmental Health Officers (EHOs), and scores are available on the internet. The FSA now aims at extending the scheme to the 400 councils in England and for about 400,000 outlets. Leicester City Council and Denmark have provided some useful precedents for the full FSA scheme and possibilities of raising standards.
VEGA writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury appealing for reductions in the consumption of meat and dairy products for the benefits of the world at large.
Dear Dr Rowan Williams,
Authorities in a range of persuasions concur in recommendations for reductions in the consumption of meat and dairy products for the benefits of the world at large.
However, the advocacy needs leadership, example, and self discipline in fulfilment of such worthy and thrifty objectives.
We plead that Lenten initiatives offer practicable earnests imbuing a timely and enduring episcopal Christian message in harmony with manifestations in other faiths.
Its message of altruistic self-denial also embraces a mercy to atone for the shame represented by the £2 oven-ready broiler as a convenience and fast food in what are falsely regarded as High Standards of Living.
We hope our pleas will attract specific support and endorsement from you during this Lenten period. Perhaps the hymn sheets could be interleaved with appropriate recipes, which we would be happy to supply.
Lord Haskins Urges Radical Solutions on the Meat Industry
Speaking at the annual City Food Hall lecture, Lord Haskins “suggested the only high ethical food ground, in the long run is the vegetarian one, but he stopped short of advocating people stop eating meat” (Meat Trades Journal, 15 February 2008).
Lord Haskins directed his fire at the meat industry as he tackled the future of food production and global supply. He headed his lecture “Are Malthusian chickens coming home to roost?” He has been head of Northern Foods and acts as a government advisor. His audience comprised people from across the food industry. It was organized by 7 food-related Livery Companies, including the Worshipful Company of Butchers.
Lord Haskins suggested that meat and the livestock sector were “unlikely to be the solution to any global food shortage problems.” He said: “Animals are a very inefficient form of protein conversion. Animal by-products are a major cause of global warming. The conclusion one has to come to is that the only high ethical food ground is the vegetarian one, and that livestock farmers, including the whole organic movement, are not contributing to a solution to the problem. While not suggesting that the world should go vegetarian – it’s just that we should eat less meat than we do.”
Responding to a question from the floor about what the food industry could do to encourage society to move away from eating meat, Lord Haskins pointed to price: “Meat has always been sold a little bit cheaper than it should be. If we raise prices to a proper level, it would have some impact on the amount consumed”, he said.
Beef from dairy cows, especially the forequarters, was traditionally regarded as fit only for manufacturing purposes and lower-quality mince-meat.
importance to poor cuts from steers (castrated male animals) and to the prices of beef imported from South America from steers. Hindquarter meat from these sources can be used economically for manufacturing purposes in Europe; and some meat, such as corned beef, comes already processed from South America where animals can be reared on the range or, increasingly, corralled in feedlots, North American-style. Dissatisfaction within the EU over perceived uncertainties of control on foot-and-mouth disease in the Brazilian meat chain have recently and temporarily throttled supplies from South America, but importation is beginning to pick up and trouble users of home-supplies in Europe. Some beef also comes from the Irish Republic to the UK.
Opportunities for full carcase utilization for both buyers and sellers have therefore engaged the attention of Tony Goodger, trade sector manager for the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC). Canny applications for marketing and value-adding are needed and throw light on some of the tricks in procurements for institutions such as hospitals, schools, and prisons. “The whole of the edible parts of the carcase have a value, but often that value is not fully achieved and its worth recovered”, says Tony Goodger, before putting forward suggestions on how this could be done. He asked butchers to look to see if they had surpluses of forequarter meat simply stored in the chiller or freezer. If so, he said they could find a market for this cut in the public sector (Meat Trades Journal, 14 March 2008).
Tougher regulations on the use of snares, but no outright ban were announced by Mike Russell, the Scottish environment minister on Wednesday, 20 February 2008.
Mike Russell said: “I have come to the conclusion that snaring is still necessary in some circumstances. However, it is also clear to me that we can and must do better in terms of elimination bad practice – which is responsible for some of the dreadful cases brought forward by animal rights organizations… The public are rightly concerned about what happens to the wildlife that is part of all our heritage. They need to be absolutely confident that where snaring is necessary, there is no room for any doubt about what is allowed, that the practice is undertaken by competent and responsible individuals, that we have outlawed any practices which do not match up to welfare standards – and that we are vigorously enforcing that law.”
Mike Russell claimed that proposed measures would make a “fundamental” change to the practice of snaring in Scotland. Supporters of snaring argued that it was a “regrettable but essential tool in controlling predators such as foxes” and that “it was essential to maintain the land used for grouse and pheasant shoots.” Russell pointed out that shooting was worth an estimated £240 million a year to the Scottish economy and he said that farmers “often had to rely on efficient predator control to protect the likes of lambs, while farmers and crofters might also have to protect crops from rabbits.”
Measures to be introduced include a requirement for safety stops to prevent the noose closing too far and harming animals. Snares will also need ID tags, so the authorities – but not the public – can identify their owner. Setting a snare where it could cause “unnecessary suffering” will be banned. Areas where snares are set will have to be clearly marked. Attempts were unsuccessful to ban snares under the Nature Conservation Act Scotland 2003, but powers were given to ministers to consult further on the issue.
Robin Harper, Scottish Green Party MSP and co-convenor of the Cross Party Group on Animal Welfare, says that 85% of vets support a complete ban on snares; he says that “European legislation means we must get rid of indiscriminate means of capture and killing.” Cerys Roberts, a LACS campaigner, explains that many of the game birds bought in the UK start their lives in France or Spain, bred from laying hens kept in intensive battery conditions. They are then sold on through a chain of suppliers and processors.” She points out that “many game birds are the product of industrial-scale rearing, enduring factory-farming methods as brutal as those suffered by chickens.”
Mothers in Oxford complaining that their children are having to eat halal meat in school meals are not alone in their reservations over provenance of the meat. Muslims themselves are at odds over the processes involved.
“Slaughtering methods are the subject of a fierce debate between different Muslim groups, with some scholars arguing the stunning of animals is allowed and others saying consciousness while the throat is slit is a prerequisite under Islamic law”, states the Grocer (1 March 2008). MD of Tahira Foods. Ghias El-Yafr, a major supplier of halal meat, fish, ready meals, and prepared meals, says that the arguments have been going on for 1,400 years: “Sharia is a wide spectrum. There is no one school of thought, and there are always some people who are more royalist than the king, and there are others who are far more liberal in their interpretation.”
There is no central body for regulating halal standards in the UK; instead companies are verified by “numerous halal bodies.” Tahira Foods, Europe’s largest halal food company, has been forced to deal with a barrage of emails and phone calls from concerned Muslim shoppers after a smear campaign urging customers to boycott the company. Abdul Raja is a campaigner who last year gained attention when he urged Muslims to boycott all halal meat during July as a protest against what he saw as lax standards in the halal industry generally. He claimed to have emailed about 1000 contacts, who in turn forwarded the email to many more.
He alleges that the company’s website misleads consumers in claiming animals are slaughtered by a Muslim facing Mecca. He says that an automated stunning and slaughtering line is used. Tahira Foods vehemently deny the allegations. Ghias El-Yafr defended the accuracy of the website, saying that Muslims were employed to carry out the slaughtering and “while water baths were used to stun animals or ‘put them to sleep’ before their throats were cut, this was allowed under certain halal certification systems.” Raja states that his campaign is not intended to stop the use of stunning but to ensure that the method used was declared on the label.
VEGA has found that the enthusiasm for traceability and labelling wanes among Food Standards Agency officials and trading standards officers faced with the wide spectrum of Sharia rules and the interpretation of kosher laws, which would tax the capabilities of even the most diligent archbishop.
The parents at Oxford and procurement officers generally for school, local authorities, government agencies, and other institutions may note that a halal or kosher monopoly on a communal meat supply is likely to preclude access to organically certified sources.
Portfolio Easter Recipes
Enjoy an Easter breakfast with Wholegrain Breakfast Cereal and Hot Cross Buns.
Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, and is also linked to the Jewish Passover, which celebrates the Exodus; the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.
One Easter tradition in Sweden involves dressing up as a witch. People believed that witches were especially active during Easter. On Maundy Thursday they were thought to fly off on brooms to an island called Blåkulla. On this day Swedish girls and boys dress up as witches and pay visits to their neighbours. Some leave a small decorated card, an Easter letter, and normally get some sweets in return.