Is British Farming Necessary
I would really like to thank a reader of this blog for her recent comments on the post about the Welsh badger cull to stem the spread of bTB in Wales which was recently announced.
It is difficult to sum up this blog or why I do it but these comments have given me the opportunity to explain why I spend hours researching and typing, why I care about British farming so passionately and why I desperately want British consumers to support our farmers.
Sorry the post is so long but it really does sum up my experiences and passions about our agriculture industry.
Whilst the ethics of meat eating is too large a subject to tackle on this blog I would like to respond to a couple of points the commenter has made:
Judi said: “Animal farming is unnecessary because we can live a very healthy life on a vegan diet - I have for decades!”
Firstly I think it’s important to accept that a meat free society would not eliminate farming. The millions of people that live in homes in Britain without space to grow their own will always need a supply of food and that requires farming our land, quite intensely in some cases to meet demand and farming has an environmental impact.
I am in no way qualified to discuss the health issues of a vegetarian or vegan diet so must rely on available information.
If we look at the Food Standards Agency website we see: “Meat is a good source of protein and vitamins and minerals, such as iron, selenium, zinc, and B vitamins. It is one of the main sources of vitamin B12, which is only found in foods from animals, such as meat and milk.”
If we look at their advice page for vegetarians and vegans we see: “If you eat a mostly vegetarian diet but also eat fish, you should be getting enough selenium.”
This would suggest to most people that eating some meat or fish is advantageous for consuming a healthy balanced diet.
Farming is consumer driven and a vast majority of consumers want to eat meat, it is their personal choice and farming is there to supply the demands of those consumers.
My stance on this is that to be a responsible consumer you must put your money where your mouth is. If you want high standards of farm animal welfare in Britain, don’t demand it with one hand and then go to the supermarket and buy cheap imported meat with the other.
What we as consumers must accept is by demanding higher welfare standards for farm animals or more organic farming of fruit or vegetables we put a pounds sterling cost increase on those products and to be fair we must be willing to pay that price.
Judi goes on to say: “We should be growing more of our own ‘in season’ fruit and vegetables to sustain a healthy environment , which in turn will make for a healthier nation.”
Agree wholeheartedly but as I point out above not everyone has the luxury of land or desire to grow their own.
By buying British in season fruit and veg we are reducing food miles and supporting British farming. If our money goes into supporting our own farmers then more of that money can be spent caring for the land.
If we shop locally, at farmers markets we ensure that farmers receive the lions share of profit and not the supermarkets. Again this requires us putting our money where our mouth is.
Large supermarket chains drive down the prices farmers are paid, sometimes to unsustainably low levels, in bids to bring consumers the cheapest possible products but the farmer then has to find ways to cut down expenditure on the farm. This often means less care of the land, lower welfare standards for animals and reduction of all the things we as consumers demand of farmers.
We are placing our farmers in impossible positions, we demand the highest possible standards at the lowest possible costs. We increasingly drive legislation to increase standards with one hand and remove the profits from the farmers they would use to increase their standards with the other.
We also have the great British fruit and veg saga where we demand perfectly shaped fruit and veg of a particular shade of orange or brown and then complain because of food price rises when a farmer has had to feed 75% of his crop to animals because it isn’t perfectly formed enough for us to consider eating.
I am not saying farmers are angels, as I express in the post about how does the UK public view farming and farmers need to sort out their priotities and find their voices. I have seen farmers in their new Merc’s driving out of a farm I would be ashamed to put a cuddly toy in let alone a live animal but a majority of farmers are not in farming for a quick buck, it is their life’s work and not a 9 - 5 job.
They do care about animal welfare and producing the best quality products. Yes it is a business to them but without them what would we eat? As this post was started by discussion about the bTB issue why not have a read of the 8th and 9th paragraph of part 3 of bovine tb and badgers and you will see my experiences of farmers during the FMD crisis, they are generally not heartless beasts just out to make a profit.
I have seen my ex come in blue with cold having spent a couple of hours on a freezing fell trying to get a single sheep out of the daft predicament she got herself into and yes I have no doubt she got a swipe with a large welly when she was freed.
Standing watching him vommiting and coughing up blood after a day of sheep dipping was no fun either but without dipping the sheep would have a very painful and slow death out on the fell being eaten alive by maggots.
Most farmers live on land they were born on or near to, from being small children they learn about caring for the land and everything that lives on it and they are more concious of the environment than most because they live and work in it every day. Yes our farm had bits of old rusty machinery lying around the place but it also had perfectly tended hedgrerows teaming with wildlife, paid for by us.
Yes there are large intensive farms that care about nothing but profit, however the average farmer you will see in a mart or pottering around fields on a tractor has quite a different attitude to their work and they live and breath farming.
Judi said: “I once saw a calf trembling in the ring at a market. He was being prodded with a stick, it was heartbreaking to see how frightened he was. This poor animal had been taken off his mother at this market and sold to a separate buyer. I could see that she was upset too. It shocked me to the core seeing animals treated like mere fruit and veg.”
One of the hardest things I had to learn when I moved from city to farm was not to get emotionally attached to the animals. It is not an easy thing to learn and quite frankly I failed miserably, so mart day was shoe shopping day for me.
I never thought I would admit this in public but during my first year lambing I was responsible for the pet lambs (lambs orphaned or rejected by mothers). When there was only one lamb left in the shed I snuck out and took a small pillow, with an old jumper wrapped round it, so the lamb had something to snuggle.
In comes the ex and gives me ‘the look’ .. without a word off he goes. An hour later he comes back and I am still cuddling this little lamb. I said to him ‘but it misses it’s mum and it has no other lambs to be with’.
His reaction surprised me but taught me a valuable lesson.
He said “I have no problem with you caring for that one and it saves me a job. It seems to like the pillow but while you are spending all day fussing on with that we have 1,600 other sheep to care for. How many are up there dying while you are cuddling one lamb to make it feel better?”
That was the day I had a reality check about what farm animal welfare means. I had to accept that these animals were not pets, they were bred to feed the nation and without the demand for meat these animals would not exist.
My job was to keep them alive until they were old enough to go to slaughter. That does not mean treating them like fruit and veg but caring for the whole flock and herd … that is a time consuming job and leaves no time or room for sentiment.
Also when I first arrived on the farm I refused to carry a stick, no way was I hitting an animal … that was until the first time I got between a cow and a gate. Luckily I only sustained little more than a jolly good fright and some sore ribs but from that day, to save being crushed to death, I always carried a stick and yes I learnt to use it.
It is a fact of the society we live in that live animals are products but they do deserve to have a healthy, high welfare life until they die.
No farmer wants his animals to be stressed. Another unpleasant fact is that a stress free animal makes better quality meat, which is why I was incensed when the government started closing local slaughterhouses and our livestock had stressful journeys to far off slaughter, where the sheer quantity of animals made for a more stressful environment.
Personally I would like to see farm animals slaughtered on the farm and taken in refrigeration trucks to processing plants.
Judi concludes: “Ignorant consumers and those willing to profit from misery are driving us all towards extinction and nobody seems to care!”
But are consumers ignorant? Do you know anybody that doesn’t know where meat comes from or hasn’t read about farm animal welfare.
Does anyone live under a quiet rock where they have failed to hear about the conditions some animals are kept in abroad, conditions which would be illegal in this country, to produce the cheap imported meat in our shops.
I doubt such a person exists and yet supermarkets are still doing a roaring trade in cheap imported farm produce.
That said, consumers are changing the way they shop, it may be a slow change but it is happening. A great blog to read about farming and consumer spending is Land Strategies Farming blog and a pertinent post for this discussion is animal welfare what does the public really think, which concludes with the paragraph “Finally, it is not too difficult to imagine that better welfare conditions become such an issue that supermarkets decide to raise the bar for producers yet refuse to pay more.”
And there we have the challenge to consumers, support British farming and buy local produce. Yes, demand high welfare standards for farm animals but then put the profits in the farmers pockets so they can provide the standards we are demanding.
Personally I believe what is driving us toward extinction is over-population and not farming.
The sheer volume of people means that consumer demand now outstrips our ability to supply home produced food. In Britain we only produce 5 percent of the fruit we consume which means that 95% of our demands for cheap fruit must be met by importing fruit from countries where we have little or no idea what is sprayed on them.
We now live in an insane consumer driven society, we want it all and we want it now. I agree with Judi that we should get back to eating “in season” locally grown fruit and veg. We must also stop being so wasteful and be prepared to pay quality prices for quality food.
However I see British farming as a necessity and one we the consumers and the government must get behind and support.