ADVANCING ANIMAL WELFARE IN THE U.K.
"Animal welfare across the next couple of years will become a mass topic of discussion in the general public," Steve Easterbrook, chief executive officer of McDonald's Restaurants told attendees of the Oxford [University] Farming Conference. Easterbrook said McDonald’s wants its suppliers to improve standards. In Britain, the company has served only free-range eggs for the last 10 years, and is now investigating providing canopy cover for hens to encourage them to range more. McDonald’s is also looking into improving pig rearing practices to eliminate routine tail amputation (see: http://tinyurl.com/2ouzur ). Easterbrook said that McDonald’s British efforts to improve animal welfare will spread to the company’s other European restaurants.
MCDONALD'S SEES ANIMAL WELFARE GAINING GROUND IN UK
Reuters, Nigel Hunt with Peter Blackburn, January 4, 2008
THE DECLINE OF CAGE EGGS IN BRITAIN
An announcement by three leading British supermarkets could mean that within three years most supermarkets in the country will sell eggs only from non-caged hens. Sainsbury, Morrisons and the Co-op recently stated they will ban or phase out the sale of eggs from caged hens. Marks & Spencer and Waitrose have already quit selling eggs from battery hens. Tesco and Asda, which have yet to commit to ridding themselves of cage eggs, are to be pressured to announce a ban.
STORES TO BAN ‘CRUEL’ EGGS FROM BATTERY HENS
The Sunday Times, Jon Ungoed-Thomas, January 6, 2008
CHEFS/RSPCA CAMPAIGN FOR BETTER CONDITIONS FOR CHICKENS
Two of Britain's top celebrity chefs, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, are campaigning to get consumers to eat less inhumanely produced chickens with a series of television programs [entitled “The Big Food Fight”] revealing welfare problems in poultry production. In “Hugh's Chicken Run,” airing over three hours during January 7-9, Whittingstall sets up contrasting systems to explore “the horrors of intensive chicken farming” and explain why a chicken can be sold for less than a pint of beer. Oliver’s program follows on January 11th with “Jamie’s Fowl Dinners,” “a gala dinner to dramatically demonstrate the reality of how chickens live and die to put food on our plates.” In front of dinner guests, Oliver will examine stocking densities, growth rates, and how chicks and chickens are killed. He will also contrast living conditions for chickens kept in standard systems to those kept in barn, free-range and organic systems or in “enriched” cages.
The British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is promoting the series. The organization is also asking people to sign an on-line petition urging retailers to sell only chickens from systems with higher standards (see: www.supportchickennow.co.uk). Additionally, the RSPCA ran full-page ads in several national newspapers on January 2nd challenging retailers to make the change by 2010. While nearly 38% of the eggs sold in the U.K. are now from non-caged hens, only about 5% of the 855 million chickens raised for meat in the U.K. are kept in higher welfare conditions. (See also item #4.)
Also on January 7th, a BBC Three program entitled “Kill it, Cook it, Eat it” resumes: “The programme asks how these animals are raised, where they come from, and how they're killed and gutted. Should taste take priority over the welfare of the animal? And, ultimately, how young is too young when it comes to eating baby animals?” See: http://tinyurl.com/3d9jck
In a January 8th commentary, The Independent states: “Now that these appalling standards of animal welfare are in the public mind, we must ensure that they remain there until real improvements are delivered.” It advises: “The next challenge is to exert pressure on the wider food industry to adhere to similar animal-welfare standards. Relatively few shoppers still purchase battery eggs, but their use is widespread among confectioners. The ready-meal industry hardly ever uses chicken meat other than the most intensively-reared variety.”
CELEBRITY CHEFS CAMPAIGN FOR CHICKEN WELFARE
The Poultry Site, January 3, 2008
RSPCA CALLS FOR END TO CRUELTY TO CHICKENS
The Poultry Site, January 2, 2008
LEADING ARTICLE: PECKING ORDER
The Independent, January 8, 2008
SHOULD THE RSPCA ADVOCATE FOR VEGETARIANISM?; CORRUPTION
Chickens comprise more than 90% of the animals farmed for food in the U.K. Raising all of them free-range would double or triple the price of chicken meat, asserts Jeremy Laurance, health editor of The Independent, in a commentary critical of the RSPCA’s campaign for higher welfare standards (see item #3). He writes that banning the sale of “cheap chicken” would disproportionately impact those who are less well off, contending: “Helping the chickens harms the humans.” Laurance opines: “…the RSPCA could avoid this dilemma if, instead of targeting chickens, it had the courage of its convictions and campaigned for a reduction in meat-eating of all kinds.” He argues that by eating less meat, consumers could afford to pay more for it, enabling farmers to provide better conditions for the animals. Health and environmental benefits of reduced meat consumption are also mentioned.
Although Laurance’s commentary is entitled “Shouldn't the RSPCA be Advocating Vegetarianism?” he answers -without further explanation- “The sensible response to these developments is not to abandon meat altogether but to think more like a vegetarian – not a lentil-chomping obsessive but one who uses meat sparingly and perhaps cheats occasionally…” Laurance contends: “Improved taste has a far better chance of persuading consumers to switch from the standard product to the organic variety than charity-generated appeals to their conscience.” A spokesperson for the RSPCA said the organization was content to leave campaigning for vegetarianism to others.
In Tasmania (Australia), Frank Bingham, a 17-year senior RSPCA inspector, charges that the organization is compromised by the lobbying of billion-dollar agricultural industries. In his recently published book, Bingham asserts that it would be highly naïve to believe there hasn’t been lobbying by vested interests at a ministerial level or resultant pressure on the RSPCA to curtail its actions. He writes that he and other inspectors “are fed up with the growing leniency in courts…We are fed up with the network of spineless bureaucrats who pay lip-service to animal welfare while protecting their own petty empires by scheming and pimping for their masters higher up the political food chain.” Bingham contends that the biggest threat to animal welfare is public indifference.
SHOULDN'T THE RSPCA BE ADVOCATING VEGETARIANISM?
The Independent, Jeremy Laurance (Commentary), January 3, 2008
INSPECTOR SAYS RSPCA IS 'COMPROMISED'
The Sunday Tasmanian, Gill Vowles, December 23, 2007
EXPOSE', COMMENTARY ON “BROILER” CHICKENS IN BRITAIN
“Amid a wave of concern at the treatment of factory-farmed animals in Britain,” Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) has released covert footage of a farm that supplies birds to the company that provides McDonald’s (U.K.) with 80% of its chicken nuggets and chicken meat to the country’s leading supermarkets. The Independent reports: “The grainy video footage shows what looks like a white carpet of thousands of birds shuffling round aimlessly in a dimly lit shed. Some are limping or lifeless. Outside are dustbins stuffed full of dead chicks.” The company, Sun Valley Foods, has announced there will be an investigation into conditions at the farm, but CIWF contends that the conditions are typical for the industry.
CIWF chose the farm because it is supplied with chicks by Aviagen, one of the world’s three main poultry breeding companies. Of the 855 million chickens slaughtered for meat annually in the U.K., 95% are conventionally raised. Of these, 27% have significant walking difficulties due to genetic manipulation, and many suffer leg burns from urine-soaked litter. One in twenty dies from sudden death syndrome, usually caused by respiratory or cardiac failure. The British Poultry Council disputes that chickens are necessarily better off in free-range or organic systems. “All of these production systems are available to consumers and are clearly labelled. There is no subterfuge," a spokesperson said.
In the same edition of the newspaper that this story was published, The Independent ran a commentary by John Webster, emeritus professor of animal husbandry at the University of Bristol, and author of Animal Welfare: Limping towards Eden. Webster explains the seriousness of leg disorders in chickens raised for meat, blaming genetic selection for rapid growth. While his piece is entitled “Consumers Have Power to End this Cruelty,” Webster also calls for political action. He states: “Since the industry is dominated by fewer than five breeding companies that supply more than 80 per cent of the world market, we could remove the greatest abuse of chicken welfare through a ban on the production of birds unfit for purpose. I see no difference in principle between existing law that required egg producers to provide a better cage for laying hens within 10 years and a law that requires broiler breeders to produce a healthier bird.”
THE TRUE COST OF CHEAP CHICKEN
The Independent, Martin Hickman, January 4, 2008
CONSUMERS HAVE POWER TO END THIS CRUELTY
The Independent, John Webster (Comment), January 4, 2008
THE ANIMALS EATEN IN THE U.K.
“What's life really like for the animals that end up on your plate? And how can you be sure that the meat in your shopping bag is cruelty-free?” Rob Sharp considers and attempts to answer these questions in a lengthy article in The Independent. He reports, for example, that 30 million chickens in the U.K. are raised for egg production, and 63% of the eggs produced by them are from birds in battery cages. Sharp also notes that: “In the wild, an average fish will swim hundreds, if not thousands, of miles in its lifetime,” while “[f]ish raised in cramped conditions…suffer damage to their fins and scales, and tend to be flabbier than their counterparts in the wild because they are unable to be as active.” He also considers the slaughter of fish, noting that some supermarket chains have recently required improvements in how trout and salmon are killed. Sharp discusses goats, sheep and “game” animals, as well as other farmed species.
WHAT ARE WE EATING?
The Independent, Rob Sharp, January 7, 2008
MORE VEG FOOD IN 2008; CHILDREN INFLUENCED BY ACTIVISM
"2008 will be the year of ethical eating,” states National Public Radio’s Liane Hanson, who, in a story entitled Food Trends for 2008, explains that during the new year “vegetarian and locally produced food will grace more tables.” This may be due in part because PETA and other activist groups are influencing the dietary habits of children. This was the finding of the Pork Checkoff (see: http://tinyurl.com/342ufd ) which conducted focus groups of children aged 9 to 14 across the U.S, in addition to an on-line survey of 350 such kids. More than half of all surveyed youth said they had heard of “animal rights” organizations. Of those, nearly 25% said the organizations had influenced their meat-eating habits. “…when children are exposed to the groups’ messages, they have the power to change students’ perceptions on the spot,” said a National Pork Board spokesperson. The YouTube website had the highest recognition, with 75% of all responding children saying they had heard of or visited it. Of those, 25% said they had seen a video concerning animal care or meat consumption. A third of these kids indicated that their meat consumption was influenced by the website/video. The on-line film The Meatrix (http://www.themeatrix.com), while having the lowest recognition, was reported to have the highest impact.
FOOD TRENDS FOR 2008
Weekend Edition, Liane Hanson, January 6, 2008
CHECKOFF TRACKS ACTIVIST GROUPS’ INFLUENCE ON KIDS
Pork (the National Pork Board)