Humane milk is a myth

An interesting development took place last week. The Advertising Standards Agency approved an ad stating that ‘humane milk is a myth’. They were, of course right to make this decision because, as the advert says, humane milk is a myth.

There had been complaints from the dairy industry that the ad was misleading and inaccurate. To their credit the ASA were adamant that it was not.

Defra recommends that calves should be kept with their mothers for at least 12 and preferably 24 hours after birth. Quite rightly the ASA defended the ad as in their view there was not much difference between taking the newborn away after 25 hours or 24 hours.

Although a seemingly small and insignificant judgement, this decision represents a paradigm shift, because until the moment that decision was taken, no challenge had been made to the ethics of dairy farming.

So many people still see the countryside as a nursery rhyme tale of Old MacDonald Had A Farm with happy animals and a cosy farmyard. They could not be more wrong. Farming is a multimillion pound business and it has become an industry like no other.

Animals are not machines. They are sentient beings like us. The grief of having your baby wrenched away from you at birth speaks only of the trade -off between morality and money. In other words, where making money is concerned there is precious little morality.

Farming has to change. Farmers need to make money to survive, but they have to balance that with a humane level of care. Our farmers are obviously vital to the food supply of the nation, but they have been sucked into the vicious circle of subsidies, supermarkets driving prices down, and politics.

When I was a kid, the Milk Marketing Board did a very good job of persuading a whole generation of families that milk was essential to our diet. It is simply not true. Good nutrition is essential to a long and active life, and that does not necessarily include eating animals or animal products, and it most certainly does not prescribe cruelty.

The UK already has more than 800 livestock mega farms, and that’s the point. The ‘stock’ is alive. I am wholly opposed to keeping animals unnaturally, pumping them with hormones and antibiotics to try and mitigate the effects of overcrowding. I am wholly opposed to tearing baby calves away from their mothers at less than one day old just so that we can drink their milk.

If Brexit is to make this worse, (many believe there will be an increase in megafarms as the competition for ever cheaper foodstuffs increases), I think that more people will think about the utter cruelty forced on these harmless creatures, and eat fewer animal products.

The link between nutrition and animal products has to end. There is 3.4 grams of protein in 100 grams of milk and 20 grams in the same weight of beans.

More and better calcium actually comes from plants. Better sources than milk include dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, cabbage and watercress. Dried fruits, nuts, seeds, pulses (peas, beans and lentils) are also excellent sources of calcium.

Not only is humane milk a cruel and ugly myth, but the whole nutritional argument about milk is a myth.

I want our farmers to be happy, but not at the expense of the animals we entrust them to rear. The challenge is to educate ourselves away from stone age tradition, and into a healthier, kinder way of eating. That way the farmers are kept in business, and the rest of us turn away from illness and obesity – with a very clear conscience.

Fox Turning Chicken – poor animal welfare coming to a supermarket near you.

Pippa’s rescue chickens

Liam Fox is currently trying to establish a basis for a trade deal with the US. He’s already extolling the virtues of chlorine washed chicken. Ok, this makes it safe to eat (we think) but what of the chickens? They are not machines, they are sentient beings, crammed into cages and crowded barns with poor sanitation and frighteningly bad husbandry. Their welfare should be just as important to us as the meat on their dead bones.

Who really wants to eat diseased food – even if the disease has been posthumously neutralised?

The US have for years condoned poor animal welfare standards, GM crops and ridiculous amounts of heavily subsidised corn syrup in almost everything Americans eat.

Lets think of what a US style diet would mean to the UK:

More than two-thirds (68.8 percent) of adults in America are considered to be overweight or obese. More than one-third (35.7 percent) of adults are considered to be obese. More than 1 in 20 (6.3 percent) have extreme obesity. Almost 3 in 4 men (74 percent) are considered to be overweight or obese.

Obesity  rates in the US are among the highest in the world, yet Americans spend over $20billion annually on weight loss schemes from diet books and pills all the way up to last-resort surgeries like lap-bands and liposuction.

The US Department of Agriculture are spending more than $1.28 billion annually to subsidize the crops that are used as additives in manufacturing cakes, biscuits, confectionary, fizzy drinks and other highly popular junk food that are arguably the primary contributors to childhood obesity. The sweet, fatty and calorie-rich Hostess Twinkies alone contain 14 ingredients made with highly subsidized processed ingredients, including corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and vegetable shortening.

Horrifyingly, the USDA refers to fresh fruits and vegetables as “specialty crops.” Specialty crops do not receive subsidies. In fact, farmers who participate in agricultural subsidy programs are generally prohibited from growing fruits and vegetables on the so-called “base acres” of land for which they receive subsidies.

Is this the society we want to trade with? Worse, is this the mentality we are going to adopt in order to make trade with the US palatable to our own citizens?

In the final analysis it all comes down to price rather than cost. Bad animal welfare is cheaper than good, but who knows what does not get washed out with the chlorine. The increasingly marginalised poor of our own country will not have the choice. They have to buy cheap, yet the cost to human health of this is astronomical. The cost to the environment in terms of transport pollution is also high. America is a long way away.

And what of our own farmers, who cheerfully voted Brexit. Increasing competition from a bad trading partner will force then to lower our already insufficient standards of welfare. Trust in food will be diminished, ‘the market’ will force them to either stoop to the lowest common denominator, or go out of business.

The US has long pushed a general dilution of health and environment regulation, with hormone-treated beef and poultry processed with chlorine both currently banned under EU regulation. Food industry lobbyists in the US have also resisted products processed with chemicals from being clearly labelled.

It’s not a pretty story. Fox is turning chicken in the face of US pressure to sign up to a trade deal which favours US farmers and not our own.


Saying the Unsayable – Cut Meat Out.

orang-utangToday, at a WWF event in Cardiff, I stood up and said the unsayable. I talked about diet. Gasp! The room was quiet – is she really saying out loud that a population heading for 9 billion humans has to learn to eat sustainably? Is she really saying out loud that eating less meat is the only way to live kindly on this one single planet? Is she really saying that compassion and sustainability turn out to be two sides of the same coin?
Well yes she is. I’m not attacking anyone for eating meat, but asking that they think about where it comes from and how it is treated. I’m asking you to think about the fact that the 95% of non-human animals on this planet are those we breed to eat. I’m asking you to think about just how much land is required to feed them all. Above all I’m asking you to think about how our intensive farming practices are a huge part of the decimation of wildlife in this sorry world. Is it really fair to kill hundreds of orangutans just so that we can have a bit of cheap palm oil in our Ginger Nuts?
So lets not have this conversation in hushed tones lest we offend anybody. Let’s get it out in the open. Either we cut our own numbers, or we change our daily menu.
If you feel your eating habits are in question you are probably right. I’m not saying everyone should go vegan (though think how much help that would be !), I am saying that if you are eating meat 3 times a day you are not only living on a planet 3 times the size of the one we have actually got, you are contributing to suffering and hunger, because the grain used to feed the animals is grain which should rightly be feeding people.
58% of our wildlife is under dire threat. Wildlife populations  have more than halved in 40 years. The fish population has declined 36%. If you are eating meat simply because you like the taste, then either save it for a special treat or take a smaller portion. If you are eating it out of tradition, then think how many traditions have not stood the test of time and have been abandoned. Should animal sacrifice go the way of human sacrifice?
If you are going to eat it, always check that the meat comes from an approved RSPCA supplier ( if it doesn’t, you shouldn’t touch it anyway) and the fish is MSC approved. Those of us in the UK who can afford to buy Fairtrade and Organic, should do so whenever possible (and that’s most of us).
So much of our beloved wildlife is under real and imminent threat of extinction, yet we can do something, but it has to be now. So try a meat-free Monday, or a dairy-free Friday. Every single action in the right direction is going to help.
Once the hedgehogs, the turtle doves, the crickets and the butterflies have gone it will be too late. We only have now.

Eat or Beef?

The farming of animals is classed as a production line, and we slaughter, or kill, more than 155,000 cows a year, and that’s just in Wales. There are 19 abattoirs in Wales, 2 in Gwent. Worldwide 95% of all the mammals on the planet are the animals we keep to eat.

The overall environmental impact of beef is disproportionately higher than every other foodstuff. Cows reared for beef need 28 times more land than pigs, chickens, or lamb, and 11 times more water.

The UK imports 236,000 tonnes of beef, which is equivalent to 790,000 cows, most of which are bought in little pieces, wrapped in plastic, from Tesco.

The head of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who has openly identified eating less meat as an important step in combatting climate change, says “ Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.” A study of tens of thousands of British people’s daily eating habits shows that meat lovers’ diets cause double the climate-warming emissions of vegetarian diets.

Now I am not at all trying to ‘have a go’ at our farmers, I am in fact asking them to farm in a different way, because not only can they help in the battle against climate change, but they can prepare themselves for a changing marketplace in preparation for our changing eating habits.

According to Google, the search interest for “vegan” spiked in 2015, increasing 32 percent from the previous year.

In 2015, millennials surpassed baby boomers as the world’s largest generation. With millennials comes an increase in plant-based eating, as 12 percent of them identify as committed vegetarians.

A rough count shows there are 59 dedicated vegetarian restaurants in Wales, and every restaurant and café I know of has a good selection of veggie food – and I’m not talking about the ubiquitous pre-frozen veggie lasagna either.

In Gwent the internet tells me there are 127 vegetarian- friendly restaurants in Gwent, and 64 vegan- friendly ones – which was a pleasant surprise. Times are changing.

Farmers can grow more food on less land if they cut out beef. When compared to staples like potatoes, grains, and vegetables, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases. It is expected that the population will increase by another 2 billion people by 2050, so it makes sense to free up the land to feed us all.

Compared to beef, 78 times more vegetables and grain can be grown on a single hectare of land. That will feed a lot of people.

We don’t really have a choice whether to abandon our fossil-fuel driven cars or to eat less red meat if we truly want to leave a pleasant and habitable world for the future, but the biggest single intervention we can make is to eat less beef.

And don’t tell me vegan food is boring.  Try it!