New Animal Welfare Action Plan
As the UK Government sets out its plans to raise welfare standards with a new Animal Welfare Action Plan, we fully support the National Farmers Union’s (NFU) and National Pig Association’s (NPA) call for import equivalence. Frankly, there is no point in the government setting out new measures to ‘strengthen animal welfare standards and reinforce the UK’s position as a global champion of animal rights’, if our market is not protected from cheap, substandard imports.
In our present globalised food system, cruelty is simply outsourced abroad as supermarkets source cheaper meat from giants that externalise their true costs onto their broader community. We must avoid repeating the mistake of 2003 when the UK unilaterally banned sow stalls, the cruel cages that the sow can only stand, sit or lie but not move around in, for her entire pregnancy. The supermarkets simply imported cheaper meat from the EU where sow stalls were still permitted and consequently the UK lost half of its breeding sows.
To prevent a repeat, this time due to neo-liberal trade treaties orchestrated with countries that have even worse animal welfare standards than both the EU and the UK, even the big ag lobbies are demanding protection.
Some words of wisdom from NFU President Minette Batters; “If the government is to raise the welfare bar here, it must do so for food imports. It would simply be hypocritical to do otherwise. We cannot have a situation where British farmers adhere to some of the highest standards in the world, only to be undercut by imports that barely meet the lowest rung on the ladder.”
The National Pig Association (NPA) has also called for import equivalence if the Government is going to introduce new legislation that will have a profound impact on pig producers. NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said:
“The impact of any new legislation on the competitiveness of the industry must be taken into account. This includes ensuring that equivalent standards apply to pork imports.”
The Market selects cheap
There are some serious omissions in the Animal Welfare Action plan, not least it has no commitment, nor timeline laid out, to ban farrowing crates.
Farrowing crates are perhaps the cruellest aspect of the UK’s factory pig farming where, while feeding her piglets, mother pigs are confined for five weeks in a steel cage too narrow for them to even turn around, or engage with their piglets. The Action Plan only says they will ‘examine their use’; is this to avoid adding yet another cost to farmer’s present nightmare of global trade with export hold-ups, feed price increases and cheaper imports? Further, the Action Plan does not mention the UK Farrowing Bill which is currently in its second reading phase, representing a lack of joined up approach from DEFRA, the already live Private Members Bills and the Government as a whole. It is time to use the power of our purse to only buy food directly from farmers we approve of and trust.
Toys are not enough
An opinion piece in the industry’s rag, Pig World, speaks volumes about the dysfunctional values around pig welfare in an industry run from an office rather than a farm. The author, a vet, ignores the fact that to relieve the incarcerated pigs boredom and stress, there are laws that require pigs to have access to manipulable materials like straw, and that forbid routine tail docking. Instead he is promoting the use of ropes, chains and plastic and rubber toys to help fulfil one of the five freedoms – freedom to express normal behaviour.
For decades, the industry has been avoiding giving pigs proper manipulable materials as the law requires because apart from the cost, straw blocks the slats in fully-slatted systems commonly installed in new-build farms.
The reality is that the DEFRA code for the welfare of pigs, which has been law since 1 March 2020, specifies that,
“Objects such as footballs and chains can satisfy some of the pigs’ behavioural needs, but can quickly lose their novelty factor. The use of such items is unacceptable, unless they are complemented by materials that meet the requirements of a suitable enrichment material…which provide pigs with the opportunity to enable proper investigation, manipulation and foraging activities.”
It is time for the government to enforce their laws.
Opposing planning permission for mega processing plant
However much the public wants their food to come from a network of local small-scale family farms, slaughterhouses, processors and retailers, our neo-liberal government facilitates the consolidation of farming to compete globally. Without the supportive legislation, councils lack the power to block planning consent, so ever more, ever larger animal factories and slaughterhouses/processing industries will continue to blight the UK countryside.
As property values plummet due to noxious smells, contaminated water and lorries clogging roads and villages, local opposition is high and needs our support. Right now there are plans for a new £75m sow cull slaughterhouse/processing plant in Ballymoney (Baile Monaidh), Northern Ireland, that will have the capacity to kill 7,000 thousand sows per week.
The proposers of the packinghouse development, JMW Farms, published offences include: being prosecuted for keeping too many pigs; being fined for a forklift death, a fine for breaching environmental regulation,were exposed by Viva! undercover activists who filmed unspeakably cruel practices at their Lambrook farm in Somerset in 2017 and in 2020 they were denied their subsidy accreditation for cheating the renable energy system. JMW Farms has an annual turnover of £64 million and sales include Tesco and ASDA as well as exporting meat products worldwide, including an expanding Asian market. They follow the US model aka Smithfield Food Inc, where giant slaughterhouse/packing sheds capture the retail market, monopolised by a few giant supermarkets, and thereby dictate the price paid to independent farmers.
Struggling to survive in this vertically integrated system, once independent farmers are taking the life-line offered by a giant processor to be under contract to grow pigs for them in massive sheds. The pigs and the feed are provided by the processor but the building, manure and vets bills are the responsibility of the farmer. Slowly but surely, prices paid for the finished pigs decrease until profits don’t even service the loan to build the sheds demanded by the super wealthy processor. The enslaved farmer is now bankrupted by a system facilitated by neo-liberal policies.
Please support the neighbours opposing planning permission for this vast new JMW Farms slaughter and processing plant in Ballymoney by signing their petition.
Apart from being incredibly cruel to the pigs, mass scale slaughterhouses provide the worst sorts of jobs where workers have to kill hundreds of pigs a day.
‘The psychological toll this takes on a person cannot be underestimated. Slaughterhouse work has been linked to a variety of disorders, including PTSD and the lesser-known PITS (perpetration-induced traumatic stress). It has also been connected to an increase in crime rates, including higher incidents of domestic abuse, as well as alcohol and drug abuse.’
McDonald’s must ban meat from farms that use antibiotics
With enough support from conscientious consumers, pressure on retail and restaurant chains can change their practices. Presently McDonald’s, the world’s largest beef purchaser, is deciding on its new antibiotics policies, so please sign the petition;
‘To McDonald’s CEO, Chris Kempczinski, all major beef purchasers and suppliers, and national industry regulators:
Coronavirus could be just a taste of the terrifying threat we face from superbugs — and you have a crucial responsibility to protect society. We call on you to urgently pass new policies banning the routine use of all antibiotics in global beef supply chains. You have the power to help prevent the next pandemic — or keep jeopardising millions of lives in the pursuit of profit.’
? Free tickets for the on-line Food Power Festival 17-20th May 2021
“Food Power Festival will be a four-day celebration of the Food Power network filled with workshops, panels, films and performances. Food poverty alliances, partnerships, local authorities, food banks, academics and anyone else working to tackle the root causes of food insecurity are welcome to sign up.”
? Free Farming for Climate Justice Event Wed 19th May @ 15.00-17.00 (GMT+1)
“Whether you are a researcher, activist or a practitioner (or all of these) passionate about transforming food and farming systems, we welcome you to these webinars in which we’ll be discussing a series of interlinking themes and challenges to collectively think about what is required for transformative action toward a more just food system for all”
? We Need To Hold ‘Big Meat’ Accountable.
“The problem with cheap meat is not that it should cost the consumer more (though it probably should). It is that what looks cheap to the consumer is in fact costing the public all the way down the production line. From unchecked pollution to uninsured workers, cheap meat makes a lot of money for a very few, while costing the earth—quite literally—for all of us.”
? China’s pig population expected to rise by 21% in 2020
“The aggressive capacity expansion of large-scale farms in 2020 has driven an estimated increase in slaughter pigs for China. In 2021, the number is expected to grow by 19.2%, reaching 613 million head.”
? US Regenerative farmer calls for the end of industrial farming
“I’d like to see, in my lifetime, that commercial, industrial, herbicide-dependent type of agriculture go extinct. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But if we don’t start making the changes on a ground level, it’ll definitely never happen.”
? US Carbon markets are not as green as they seem
“If farms are small or have more diverse operations that bring in other benefits around biodiversity and water, but not narrowly only about carbon, they’re closed out,” says Ben Lilliston, director of rural strategies and climate change at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), which has published a report on carbon markets. “It’s yet another market that tilts the playing field against [these] operations.”
? Is the US doing enough to tackle antibiotic resistance?
“Although ag sales of antibiotics had been steadily dropping since a peak in 2015, the report showed that for the second year in a row, the trend had reversed. Overall sales were ticking up, driven by the pork and beef industries.”
Forgive me for pointing out that, while we receive some one-off donations, I am funding Farms Not Factories myself, and if we are to continue to fight the cruel, antibiotic-led factory farm system, we will need some regular donations from like-minded people. Please consider a monthly subscription of £2/month and help us support a network of smaller scale, humane and healthy UK pig farms, local abattoirs and butchers.
“Our message is simple, we want to help bring an end to this dangerous, inhumane system. Vote for real farming over factory farming.”
– Tracy Worcester, Director