Guest blog: When will pigs be treated as equals again?

Subjects: Ethical pork

Today, we’re posting a guest blog written by Hugh Collins, food journalist from our fantastic supporters at GrowEatGather (w​ww.groweatgather.co.uk) ​- an independent online publication devoted to celebrating the wealth of locally grown ingredients and honouring the good people who work hard to grow, supply and cook real food across the United Kingdom.

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Winston Churchill once quipped, doubtless between puffs on his trademark cigar, that “I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” Yet it seems, for once, that the statesman was speaking out of turn. For sadly the relationship between pigs and ourselves is anything but a partnership of equals.

The pig, perhaps the most intelligent and personable of all farmyard animals, is tragically also the one that suffers most grievously under the abuses of our current farming systems. Three quarters of the pork eaten in the UK comes from pigs that have been raised in intensive, indoor animal factories where they have led miserable lives in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions which means they have to be routinely dosed with antibiotics just to keep them alive. This reckless overuse of antibiotics, to compensate for inadequate welfare, has led to antibiotic ­resistant superbugs that will bring an end to antibiotics as a cure for human diseases. A survey completed this year found 9% of pork sampled in UK supermarkets was infected with a pig strain of MRSA that passes to humans. And the meat produced is equally as bleak. Grey, tasteless, bizarrely both flabby and flavourlessly ­lean, it is a poor reflection of this wonderful animal, and a damming indication of the cruelty with which pigs are treated in animal factories.

However, there are some farmers, passionate and emphatic, who on a small scale are trying to rebalance the scales, and treat pigs as equals once again. One such farmer is Donna Lucking, who keeps a drift of Gloucester Old Spots on Ellises Farm in the Devon countryside. Hers are happy pigs. They rootle and snuffle, curious and characterful, as pigs are meant to do. They eat well, a diet of GM­ free feed supplemented by leftover loaves and apples, helping to lower food waste in the local area. And, importantly as Donna is a farmer who is passionate about food, they taste as pork should taste. Fuller­ flavoured and with a healthy (despite what you might read) layer of fat that helps to keep the meat moist and tender.

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It is important to support the farmers, such as Donna, who rear pigs in this sympathetic way. It is better for the animals, obviously, who are allowed to express themselves and live a life of enjoyment, it is better for the environment with lower food waste and fewer harmful products entering the food chain, and better for us as we get to enjoy the taste of real meat. The decision to farm in this manner is neither an easy nor cheap and these farmers need our support. Buy your meat from a farmers’ market or from the farmer direct and talk to them about their animals, discover the provenance of your food, for it is only then that we begin to truly value it and want to make a difference.

The fight to support small­ scale pig farmers and to raise the standards of pig ­farming in the UK isn’t one that takes place on the beaches or on the landing grounds, but instead one that we can all help win by buying high welfare pork at farmers’ markets, butchers or online. In supermarkets look for the labels RSCPA Assured (previously labelled Freedom Food), Outdoor Bred, Free Range or Organic. By using our spending power wisely we can support high welfare farms where pigs are healthy and happy and don’t need antibiotics. Help Farms Not Factories’ target to spare a million pigs from miserable, frustrating and stressful lives. Take the P​ig Pledge​ today to only buy pork from real farms, not animal factories from now on. Only that way will pigs begin to be treated as equals again.

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