Factory Farming doesn't even pay lip service to the ‘Five Freedoms‘
The term ‘factory farming' is an emotive one. Responsible farmers are justifiably incensed by this umbrella description of a legitimate trade. Consumers are rightly perturbed by horror stories. Welfare organisations are not always well-informed about the difference between ‘factory farming’ and reasonable farming.
As long as we have a nation or a world that eats meat and animal products, farming is going to be a reality. What is important is that it is done with respect for the animals involved, for the environment, for the human farm staff and for the surrounding countryside, amenity and population, whether it is labelled as ‘intensive farming’, ‘factory farming' or whatever.
Factory farming is a term I reserve for the practice of serious exploitation of animals, at the extreme and severe end of the scale, with little more than lip-service regard for welfare considerations, for stocking densities, for environmental impact, for common-sense wisdom and for the welfare and dignity of farm staff. Squalor, deprivation and fear are the order of the day, in such systems.
I was appalled by the words of the Director General of the RSPCA, in 2001, when he said that factory farming is essential to supply the world’s protein for human survival. This is, of course arrant nonsense, since a large proportion of the world’s human population is vegetarian. It represents the words of vested interest, for the RSPCA has a regrettable foot in factory farming camp, with the Freedom Foods Scheme.
Battery cages (amazingly still used in the UK), densely-stocked barn systems for poultry, pseudo-free-range poultry systems, highly intensive pig farms, heavy dependence on agro-chemicals and/or drugs, the use of growth-promoters or enhancers, genetic modification, rape of the countryside, high disease risk and zoonosis risk; these provide the unacceptable face of factory farming and exploitative animal or countryside stewardship. The recent Avian Influenza (Bernard Matthews) story is yet another manifestation of the horrors of this practice.
Two recent planning applications highlight the fact that the ‘push' for bigger and more devastating developments is still very much alive. One was withdrawn early in 2011 (a mega-dairy unit proposed in Lincolnshire). Another is still a possibility in early 2012 (a massive 2,500-sow breeding and pig-rearing unit proposed for Foston, Derbyshire – CW9/0311/174)). If you wish to influence decisions on the latter, visit the Derbyshire CC website, the Ecologist website, the Soil Association website or the Viva! website. Derbyshire CC will accept letters right up to three days before the application is considered.
There has to be an alternative to this degrading practice.
Responsible and caring farming exists, on a large scale. That is not to say that there are no bad farms or farmers among the less exploitative units. It is not to say that there is no scope for education and improvement on all aspects of such enterprises. There is, however, a large farming community that respects its animals, makes a life’s work out of animal and land husbandry and forms a healthy and respectable portion of our society. All should not be tarred with the same brush.
Understanding between the farmer and his consumer has been strained to breaking point, often by interlopers who have no interest in a holistic society. Marketing boards, supermarkets, distribution chains, livestock markets, centralised (factory) slaughter houses and dealers have all a part to play in distancing the consumer from the farm. This trend should be reversed as much as possible, if we are to survive the changes modern society has brought upon us. The welcome return of ‘Farmers' Markets' should help in this aspiration.
Viva! has produced a very expressive video, entitled “The Wonderful World of Gavage” (for foie gras): I shall allow it to speak for itself.
Hillside produced this video on a Bernard Matthews turkey farm:
Animal Aid posted this on YouTube in 2008:
Is this the ‘food' you eat? Does your hard-earned money support these systems? If you eat meat, buy carefully!
The greatness of a society and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals. – Mahatma Gandhi.