Thursday, 31 July 2014

Happy animals make a better world!

Meat has always been a large part of our national diet; from the Aussie-inspired ‘barbie’ to the traditional Sunday roast, it is often the focal point of a meal. With this in mind, it is important to think where our meat comes from.

It can be beneficial to think about what we are eating in terms of the benefits food can have on our bodies and our minds. The Mini Cooking Club works to promote healthy lifestyles, but also to teach children and vulnerable adults to engage with what they are eating. When it comes to meat consumption, this means thinking about animal welfare.

Animal welfare is defined by the Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) as the protection of any animal kept by man from unnecessary suffering. They argue that good animal welfare implies both fitness and a sense of well-being and that it should be guided from the following five principals:

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst – by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort – by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease – by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour - by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress – by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

It is worth noting that these rules are guidelines only, and it is not statutory for farmers in the UK to follow them. They define ‘ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare’. And, whilst they do suggest a framework for baseline animal welfare in this country, it could be that these principles are not adhered to - especially with the growth of industrial farming.

With the population set to reach over 9 billion by 2050, it is tempting to see large scale, industrial farming as the inevitable - and, indeed, the only option for the future. Industrial or intensive farming of animals is a large-scale operation, and often one where animals are kept indoors, with space being utilised to maximise output and profit. Industrial farming is not yet common in the UK, although some dairy and poultry farmers do already use this method.

Many people argue that industrial farming is a necessity as high standards of animal welfare would put the price of meat up to such an extent that it would become unaffordable for a large proportion of society. However, whilst higher-welfare meat may be expensive, it offers us an alternative to the problematic intensive farming industry. If we look at the evidence, it becomes clear that there is a heavy environmental and social burden associated with intensive farming and low animal welfare.

With the population growing rapidly, we cannot continue to eat meat at its current rate. According to Compassion in World Farming, one third of the world’s cereal crop goes to feeding farm animals. The land used for growing, as well as the crops themselves, could be used for human needs in some of the poorer parts of the world. When eating meat from overseas, it is important to take into account ethical implications such as these.

Farms that have a high level of animal welfare are more environmentally friendly. There is less toxic run off and pollutants added to soil and local water supplies. Polluting local water supplies can have a negative impact on the environment, making rivers and lakes less biologically diverse by affecting animal and plant populations. Heavy runoffs of nutrients from intensive farms can also cause toxic outbreaks in local water sources, such as algae blooms in rivers. These deplete the oxygen supply of the water, and cause environmentally ‘dead zones’.

With all these negative effects, on both environment and health, it may be that intensive farming should receive serious consideration before it is allowed to become standard global practice.

By Emma Jones
Image: num_skyman

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