#RootingForRealFarms, Knepp Castle Estate
Knepp Castle Estate, Sussex produces pork in its Knepp Wild Range as a by-product of its conservation rewilding project. There are 30 Tamworth pigs at any one time free to roam year round on 1100 acres consisting of pasture, lakes and rivers. The pigs play a particularly important role for plants in the ecosystem by rooting and disturbing the soil. They eat a diverse range of food ranging from worms and grubs in the winter months to diving for swan mussels and foraging acorns in autumn. The pigs aren’t supplemented and the public are asked to keep at least 20 metres away.
Sacrificing our farmers at the altar of free trade
Like a broken record, I find myself reporting on the Tory government’s signing yet more trade treaties that will undermine our farmers with cheap substandard imports. Last week we reported on their signing the agreement with Australia and this week the Tories are restarting discussions for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that will remove the vast majority of barriers to trade including tariffs and quotas. The existing members of the trade alliance are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. WikiLeaks published the original TPP drafts in 2013, which slowed down the negotiations which were carried out in secret, and then Trump scrapped them altogether due to their undermining US jobs.
With only 3% of the UK’s GDP coming from farming, neoliberal politicians think that we can simply import food despite the risks affecting food security and quality along with the loss of our precious farmers. It’s time we stopped measuring success by GDP and started considering healthy food and a healthy society as measurements of progress – see my BBC World film ‘The Politics of Happiness in Bhutan’. Until then, politicians will continue to facilitate giant agri-industry monopolies as long as some UK businesses are part of the cabal, reaping capital growth and dividends for CEOs and rich investors, while ostensibly paying taxes (!) and, increasing GDP indicators. Meanwhile the Tories can say our invested pension funds are ‘trickling down’ to pensioners.
Open markets increase livestock suffering
What is the use of the UK Government’s Animal Welfare Action Plan if our farmers are bankrupted by substandard imports?
The Grocer reports that, in contrast to the long-held claim trotted out by ministers that the UK is a “world leader” in animal welfare, the UK is now rapidly falling behind its European counterparts, despite the claims that Brexit would allow it to strengthen its rules.
‘NFU president Minette Batters highlighted the UK’s purported superiority in this field as a key principle to be protected in free trade talks with Australia, although she also raised concerns, after the government published its Action Plan for animal welfare in May, over proposed improvements to welfare regulations. They “could raise the bar at home, without any certainty the same standards will be applied to imports”, she warned.’
The undercover investigations exposing barbaric cruelty in UK pig farms are not isolated cases but part of a race to the bottom as UK farmers compete with the cheap imports that forces them to pack ever more animals into confined barren cages with little or no care for their wellbeing.
‘There is no political will to disturb a system that produces cheap food, so the NFU, Red Tractor, and DEFRA tacitly acquiesce to the existing situation where most intensive indoor farms routinely break the law’
‘“At some point, we have to recognize that these are not just bad apples but that the entire tree is rotten”, says Ed Winters of Surge. This is about horrific revelations earlier this month from an undercover investigation on a UK pig farm… The investigation took place at Willerby Wold Piggeries in Yorkshire. The site supplied pork products to Morrisons, Tesco, Asda, and Sainsbury’s – that is, until the supermarkets saw what was happening… The footage revealed animals sick, dying, or dead amid squalid living conditions where rotting carcasses were found throughout. But this is not an isolated case.’
Further consolidation of meat production and processing
Despite multinational companies’ record of undermining jobs, suppressing prices, tax evasion and avoidance and corruption, right wing governments continue to facilitate the consolidation of these dangerous giants by allowing them to buy up competing national companies.
Presently, the acquisition by global meat giant JBS of Rivalea in Australia, (our new trading partner), is set to make JBS the world’s largest meat processor and by far the largest pork producer in Australia. What chance is there now for the small scale Australian producers to get a decent price for their animals and for UK farmers to compete when their meat reaches our shores? This merger will no doubt sail through regulators despite the widely known fact that the owners of JBS, the Batista brothers, have been convicted of multiple counts of bribery:
‘It said the Batista brothers engaged in a bribery scheme “in part to facilitate JBS’s 2009 acquisition of US issuer Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation… following that acquisition and while serving as board members of Pilgrim’s, the Batista’s made payments of approximately $US150 million in bribes at the direction of a former Brazil Finance Minister using in part funds from intercompany transfers, dividend payments, and other means obtained from JBS operating accounts containing funds from Pilgrim’s… Besides bribery scandals, its operations in the US have been cited for workplace, worker safety and environmental violations in the 10 years to 2019.’
To ensure resilience surely every country should keep a network of local farmers, abattoirs, processors and small scale shops in business. Instead neoliberal politicians the world over are following the American way and leaving our food economy in the hands of a few competing multinational corporations.
Three separate events in 2019, 2020 and 2021 highlighted the country’s (US) reliance on large beef plants run by the four biggest processors.
- First, a large Tyson Foods plant in Holcomb, Kansas, closed for four months following a fire on 9 August 2019, that reduced US beef production and removed a market where farmers could sell their cattle.
- The second disruption occurred as COVID-19 spread last year, causing slaughterhouses nationwide to close to contain outbreaks of the virus among workers.
- On 30 May, JBS had to pay out $US 11 million ransom in response to a cyberattack against its operations that had forced a shutdown of 47 locations in Australia, and sites in the United States and Canada’.
‘Prices will rise’; the false corporate rhetoric
The referendum that could have made Switzerland the second country in the world, after Bhutan, to ban the use of pesticides, was lost.
‘Voters in Switzerland on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have banned the use of artificial pesticides in Switzerland, preventing their use in farms and gardens, and prohibited the import of produce and products made using them…The rejection of the measure, which had enjoyed considerable support in recent months, reflected strong opposition from the Swiss farming sector and the government, which said approval would have meant lower farm production and higher food prices. But public support for curtailing pesticides also prompted the government to come up with a counterproposal that would halve the risks associated with the use of pesticides within six years.
No doubt giant agri-businesses cranked up their propaganda machine to spread false myths that have in the past worked wonders at turning public opinion against regulations to protect the environment.
‘Guyot turns out to be just one cog in a much bigger PR strategy – a supposedly grassroots-led campaign by farmers in defence of glyphosate, active under different names across eight European countries (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain, and the UK) in the run up to glyphosate’s renewal.
Investigations by Greenpeace, The Independent and Le Parisien, among others, exposed how the pro-glyphosate campaign had been conceived and realised by the Monsanto PR and lobbying firm Red Flag Consulting, in coordination with FleishmanHillard and Lincoln Strategy Group, which took stands at farm shows and used hostesses to entice farmers to sign up for its astroturf campaign.
After it emerged that groups like Agriculture et Liberté in France were actually led by PR people working for Monsanto, their websites and Twitter accounts got pulled – just like Vincent Guyot’s ghostwritten cri de coeur.’
Stoking false fears
In games, competitors are disqualified if they cheat but in business, they win. However, the heroic campaign, Food and Water Watch, is taking one of the corrupt corporate giants, Smithfield Foods, to court for stoking fears of a meat shortage during the pandemic.
‘Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithfield has mounted a distinctly aggressive public relations campaign geared toward leveraging the pandemic to increase its profits. Through advertisements, social media statements, and website representations, Smithfield has adopted a two-step press offensive to mislead consumers and salvage its image — and its bottom line:
- First, Smithfield has misrepresented to consumers that a countrywide meat shortage was imminent. This fear-mongering is designed to create a revenue-generating feedback loop; It stokes and exploits consumer panic, in turn causing demand for Smithfield’s meat products to surge.
- Second, Smithfield has misrepresented working conditions in its plants in an effort to allay heightened consumer concerns for worker safety. Line-level meatpacking workers, in part due to false fears of a meat shortage, have been required to work in person throughout the pandemic — often in cramped conditions on crowded production lines. Smithfield has repeatedly assured consumers through advertisements and a comprehensive social media campaign that the company is keeping its workers safe. Indeed, the company has prominently featured workplace safety as an integral part of its marketing and branding efforts during the pandemic.’
In part due to Global Justice Now’s campaign, the Inter State Dispute Mechanism (ISDM) will not form part of the Australia trade treaty, thereby depriving corporations of their license to sue either governments in a closed court if they introduce legislation that might impact their potential profits.
Use the power of your purse
To undermine corporate domination by using the power of your purse, we need clearer food labeling. Please support CLEAR that campaigns for a system of mandatory food labelling for the United Kingdom which:
- ‘functions as an overarching labelling system for all types of food, domestically produced and imported, and at all points of purchase
- includes information on the method of production – how the animals and plants have been grown, reared, and processed..extends the country of origin labelling requirements to include all raw and processed foods
- establishes a set of regulated definitions of key terms relating to the ethical or sustainable method of production
- is based on consultation with key stakeholders. A commission with diverse interest and expertise should be established to work with the government to produce a roadmap with integrated implementation strategies
The Landworkers Alliance (LWA) shapes the narrative around food sovereignty and lists the governments that have taken food sovereignty on board.
‘Five countries – Nepal, Mali, Senegal, Venezuela and Bolivia – have integrated food sovereignty into government policy in ways which empower food producers and people to govern their food systems as an alternative to the expansion of capitalist agricultural production and markets. The Constitution of Nepal, for example states that every peasant has the right to have access to lands for agricultural activities as well as the right to “select and protect local seeds and agro species which have been used and pursued traditionally”. In Venezuela, as a direct response to food sovereignty policy that affects land reform, large landholdings have been redistributed to over 200,000 farming families.’
Last week the LWA hosted a People’s Food Summit, where organisations and individuals from across the UK food justice movement got together to discuss topics including food sovereignty. During the People’s Food Summit, the UNFSS’ nature positive solutions were criticised as,
“a deeply neocolonial project designed to allow wealthy countries to offset their environmental damage to poorer countries”. In response to corporate greenwash tactics, they pointed towards the need for an agroecological approach to system transformation’
“Agroecology for food sovereignty is a framework for transformative change – it is as much about gender justice and racial justice as it is about the Right to Food.”
Dee Woods, Food Justice Policy Coordinator at the LWA said,
“We are boycotting the erosion of democracy within UN systems that excludes the participation of civil society and is legitimising the corporate capture of the UN Food Systems Summit…The UK Food Sovereignty Movement will be joining the global civil society mobilisation to challenge the UNFSS and reclaim people’s sovereignty over food systems”
? GM developers at Rothamsted Research have applied for permission to plant highly experimental gene edited wheat at their farm near St Albans. GM Freeze is asking us to send in our views before the 4th of July to the environment secretary, regarding the GMO wheat trial
‘GM wheat has a history of escaping from field trials around the world. Wheat is a staple food here in the UK, so it’s just not worth letting an experimental GM version out in the open…If people do want to reduce acrylamide in their diet, they should avoid crisps (which are high in salt and fat) and learn how to make toast without burning it.’
? If you want to learn more about GM check out this event; Can local food survive gene editing?
?? EU to lift its ban on feeding animal remains to domestic livestock
‘A ban on farm feed made of animal remains introduced during the BSE crisis is to be lifted in the EU to allow cheap pig protein to be fed to chickens over fears that European farmers are being undercut by lower standards elsewhere’.
? Poo overload: Northern Ireland could be forced to export a third of its animal waste
‘James Orr, Friends of the Earth Northern Ireland director, says transboundary pollution is the result of years of regulatory inaction either side of the border. He argues that intensive farming practices have led to: “Air pollution, chronic water pollution and also habitat degradation through the ripping out of natural and semi-natural habitats for intensification…We’re a centre for agribusiness in Northern Ireland, which means we’re now saturated with excrement,” said Orr. “And not just ourselves, but our neighbours, too, are paying the price.”
✅ Please share and send this Right to Food e-action to your MP, it’s simple and easy.
“By valuing our food as a fundamental Right we will show that we value those that work to put food on our plates, and honour their contribution to society. We can value their contribution by improving their social protection, working and housing conditions and health and safety at work, as well as ensuring workers receive a living wage.”
✒️ There’s a lot of upcoming Landworkers alliance events so we’re sharing their quick roundup so you can find all the information easily, put things in your diary and grab your tickets before it’s too late!
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