Intensive Farming

It has long been known that intensive farming methodology in the UK, both in livestock and arable or horticultural enterprises, has been going so far against nature as to risk disaster.

Some examples are listed below:

Livestock Arable/Horticultural
Overcrowding Agro-chemical inputs
Unwise feeding Over-production/over-cropping/over-drainage
Over-production Environmental degradation
Reliance on drugs and antibiotics to hide health consequences Insufficient humus
Growth promotion Destruction of ecology
Unwise breeding policies Removal of hedgerows
Reduction of abattoirs Overlarge enterprises controlling land use
Livestock markets Subsidies influencing cropping
Early weaning Set-aside
Long journeys Soil degradation
Export of live animals for slaughter Genetic modification
Unwise grassland management Plant breeding
Inadequate disease controls Incorrect use of chemicals
Inadequate ( and political) response to crises Pollution of water and air
Too much politics Too much politics
Not enough common sense Not enough common sense

The extreme end of this is represented by ‘factory farming‘. For some reason, although it is the fault of cheap food policies by successive governments, since WWII, and of the subsidies that have been paid to encourage such methods, no one has been prepared to grasp the nettle and state the obvious. Still less has anyone been prepared to help beleaguered farmers off the hook. Unless the consumer is prepared to pay for welfare and ecological improvement, the situation will go on declining. Unless there is cross-party political will to see improvements through, we shall have ‘more of the same’.

Now, however, in the wake of BSE (that was not enough), Food-Poisoning ‘epidemics (they only jolted the system a little), Foot & Mouth Disease (that appears to have drawn things into some sort of temporary focus) and Avian Influenza (another brief hiccough), the Government and the RSPCA are quietly crawling out of the woodwork to state the blindingly obvious, albeit in a low-key way and sporadic way. Modern methods must be reviewed.

The RSPCA has released its 10-Point Plan, which has been assembled from so much of what has been previously and often stated by more enlightened organisations. It still does not go far enough and still the RSPCA promotes its Freedom Food label, which seems to do so little for welfare on intensive farms, yet charges a premium on the produce. Such a prominent, powerful and wealthy organisation must try harder.

The government announced that it was meeting heads of the agricultural community (26th March 2002) to take a look at this. It is not clear that improvements came from this. Still the unfortunate turkey avian influenza situation was allowed to occur, involving transcontinental transportation of diseased materials and return to ‘normal business' in record time.

We must continue to wish all involved parties well and hope that welfare and commonsense will steer them into wise and meaningful changes, in the long run. Animals need more than ‘lip service' to be paid to welfare considerations.

If we, as a society, are to continue to eat meat and to farm animals for their produce, it behoves us to do all that we can to improve their welfare and their health. The current over-exploitative and sometimes inhumane system is not worthy of a so-called civilised nation. Paying extra, in order to purchase properly-certified organic produce is one way to achieve a better lot for our animals and to improve our own health prospects as a bonus. Whether or not one believes in the merits of organic agriculture, it is undeniable that any increase in welfare and health in farm animals and any improvement in environmental and ecological impact, must be funded somehow. This is a matter of individual responsibility. Cheap food is not cheap. Until we are all prepared to pay the proper price for our food, the problems will continue to worsen.

It is unfortunate that the RSPCA has a foothold and vested interest in intensive farming, through its Freedom Food scheme.

The greatness of a society and its moral progress can be judged by the way it treats its animals. – Mahatma Gandhi.