Can dairy farming ever be truly ethical?

An item in a Vegetarian Society mailing caught my attention.  Warning that “the dairy industry is a subject of debate in some veggie circles” (something of an understatement given that concerns about the cruelty of dairy farming led to the formation of the Vegan Society in 1944), readers were directed to an article by Wilma Finlay of The Ethical Dairy, “a Scotland-based dairy farm with a focus on the welfare of its cows and calves” (https://www.vegsoc.org/lifestyle/ethics-and-the-dairy-industry/).  Reading the article, I was impressed by the farm’s adoption of “cow-with-calf dairy farming”, in marked contrast to the conventional policy of separating the calf from its mother within a few hours of birth, and the apparent benefits to the welfare of cow and calf.  The article went on to claim that vegans have been some of the farm’s “strongest supporters”, while taking a sideswipe at “activists” for “several waves of attacks on social media” and complaining of “a backlash from those in the farming industry who favour a more intensive approach”.

But there was something missing.  What, I wondered, happened to the male calves who would never produce so much as a drop of milk?  So I asked the Vegetarian Society, and was directed to a page on the farm’s website that painted a more honest picture of life (and death) for their cattle.  You won’t be surprised to learn that The Ethical Dairy is not a slaughter-free operation: “eventually the cows and the bull calves will enter the food chain for meat.”  In other words, the cattle end up just as dead as those reared conventionally, although the cows at least enjoy longer and arguably better lives.  The calves stay with their mothers for 5-6 months, after which the males and females are separated, the latter joining the milking herd while the bull calves are either sold for veal production or reared on the farm for beef and slaughtered at 16-18 months of age.  What’s ethical about that?

So, is there a slaughter-free dairy farm in the UK?  Surprisingly, the answer is ‘yes’, the Hertfordshire-based Ahimsa Dairy Foundation run by Hare Krishna devotees, “a not-for-profit company which campaigns for and promotes the concept of slaughter-free milk … whereby no cows, calves and bulls are ever slaughtered”.  Cows at Ahimsa are milked by hand, no artificial insemination is used, and calves of both sexes stay with their mothers until weaned and with the herd throughout their natural lives.  When they are past milking age the cows are ‘retired’ and spend their remaining days eating grass and chewing the cud, while the draught power of the bulls may be used for ploughing or milling flour.  Although Ahimsa are undoubtedly practicing a humane method of dairy farming, there are concerns about the financial viability of the venture, and I am not convinced that exploiting animals of another species to produce a food that is uniquely suited to their infants can ever be considered truly ethical.

Paul Appleby

The lockdown diaries (or why I love social distancing)

After receiving the government text telling me “You must stay at home” on 25 March I cycled to my office on Cowley Road as usual. I rapidly adapted to the lockdown restrictions and could easily avoid any direct interaction with anyone. After a few weeks I noticed several distinct advantages; the air was cleaner, everywhere was quieter, cycling was safer, and the night sky was bright and clear. Social distancing is easy for me, and I actually prefer this 2 metres rule (just make it wider). If kissing, hugging and handshaking disappear permanently I will be delighted. The sheer joy of telling total strangers to “move back please, and keep your distance” is absolutely wonderful.

I dislike all this ‘blitz spirit’ and ‘we’re all in it together’ drivel, and I’m glad that I didn’t have to live through the wartime era, listening to We’ll Meet Again repeatedly and enduring the genuine deprivations of rationing. I look at my dwindling supply of coffee beans (only 4 bags left) and wonder if I can survive without that delicious shot of freshly brewed caffeine (after my hot shower) every morning. In fact, the only food item that eludes me is wholemeal bread flour. In desperation I buy a bag of organic Khorasan flour which costs an outrageous £4 per kilo. On the packet it’s claimed that this is “ground from the wheat of the Pharaohs”. I nervously check the use by date, surely it can’t be that old. One morning I cycle past a long queue (one of the latest extended versions) on the Iffley Road. I stop to take photos of this new phenomenon, and realise that people are lining up to buy bread at the artisan bakery where you can spend £6 on a single loaf. In the bright, glorious sunshine it suddenly feels like the most luxurious pandemic in history.

One Thursday evening I venture out to observe and photograph the weekly ‘clap for the NHS’. This noisy ritual includes banging old saucepans, and then I notice a frenzy of cheering and riotous applause as a vehicle starts to progress down the street. As it gets closer everybody on either side of it is going berserk, and then I can see it clearly. As it moves past, even I feel a tingle of excitement as this beacon of hope and fortitude sweeps through the ecstatic crowd – it’s a Tesco delivery van.

I’m enjoying a US reality TV show that makes me laugh out loud. It’s a deceptively simple format; a fat pompous man wearing a ridiculous wig answers questions at a White House press conference. It’s all unscripted, and he’s allowed to say whatever he likes with hilarious consequences. He’s rude, delusional, aggressive and ignorant, but will (for example) express his profound belief that drinking disinfectant will cure anyone infected with coronavirus. Apparently, in the USA some people really believe that this nutcase is the President. Fortunately, in the UK we have the visionary Prince Charles to guide us. To promote a campaign to ensure that home grown fruit and veg is fully harvested this summer Prince Charles proclaimed: “Food doesn’t happen by magic.” That’s true for most of us, but not for him. Every time he sits down at a dining table (in any of his four luxury homes) all sorts of food magically appears out of thin air. After he’s finished eating, he waves his magic royal wand (or has someone to do this for him) and all the dirty dishes clean themselves.

After eight weeks several KFC outlets are allowed to reopen, and long queues instantly appear at all of them. Paradoxically, this doesn’t make me depressed but simply confirms my belief that anyone who eats this junk is too stupid to care about. Even Boris Johnson has admitted that being overweight (17.5 stone) was the main reason that coronavirus almost killed him. I briefly fantasise about a deadly virus that will only infect meat eaters.

As the lockdown restrictions start to ease, I’m deeply conflicted. I desperately want to retain all the environmental advantages, and shudder to think of crowded streets again. But the insidious process of sliding back into the hideous reality of ‘normal life’ is already happening. There’s more traffic, and morons driving around with music booming. Clear blue skies are scarred with the billowing contrails of jet aircraft. I’m apoplectic when it’s announced that the masses will be allowed outside for the explicit purpose of ‘enjoying themselves’. I’ve never heard of such utter selfishness.

Paul Freestone

Book review: The Future We Choose

The Future We Choose by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac (Manilla Press, 2020; £12-99)

When Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, was asked on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One programme in 2018 to name the most important thing that individuals can do to combat climate change, her answer was unequivocal: “stop eating meat.”  The advice remains much the same in this guide to Surviving the Climate Crisis (to use the book’s subtitle), in which Figueres and political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac urge readers to “eat less meat and dairy”, adding that “eating none at all is best”.

The authors are best known for their roles in securing the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C, and ideally no more than 1.5 °C, above pre-industrial levels, in order to prevent irreversible climate change.  To reach this goal, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to be at least halved by 2030, and reduced to net zero (meaning that emissions must be no higher than the amount the Earth can naturally absorb) by 2050.  A daunting prospect given that average global temperature is already 0.9 °C above pre-industrial levels, with the current human population of 7.8 billion predicted to rise to 9.7 billion by mid-century.  However, as the authors point out, it is a challenge that we must accept.

The Future We Choose is arranged in three parts.  Part 1 outlines the scale of the problem and presents two possible scenarios: a world in which global warming has reached and exceeded 3 °C, as predicted by the present carbon emissions trajectory, and the world we must create in which global warming is limited to 1.5 °C.  No prizes for guessing which is preferable, although even under the second scenario “the long-lasting greenhouse gases … are still causing increasingly extreme weather … glaciers and Arctic ice are still melting, and the sea is still rising.”

Part 2 describes three mindsets needed to tackle climate change: stubborn optimism (determination to succeed), endless abundance (being content with what we already have), and radical regeneration (creating a life-sustaining society).  This is the weakest part of the book and is little more than a prelude to the all-important ten actions needed to stand at least a sporting chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change that are described in Part 3.  These actions range from the practical (such as reducing consumption, global reforestation, and replacing fossil fuels with clean energy) to the political (including building gender equality and actively engaging in the political process).  They are all fairly predictable, although the thorny issues of population control and racial equality are conspicuous by their absence, and the claim that “when women lead, good things happen. That is the unequivocal conclusion of years of research” is risible (the UK’s two female prime ministers come to mind).  No wonder that the authors’ website is www.GlobalOptimism.com.

The Future We Choose is not a bad book; indeed, it is readable, positive and optimistic, though lacking in detailed argument, and the great and the good (including Ban Ki-Moon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Goodall, Yuval Noah Harari, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tim Smit) line up to sing its praises on the inside front and back covers.  However, the book seems to be preaching to the converted at a time when everyone needs to be on board.

Paul Appleby

Ban Live Exports International Awareness Day

Tomorrow, 14 June 2020, is the fifth annual Ban Live Exports: International Awareness Day, organised by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

The event comes at a time when the organisation has launched a Judicial Review at the Scottish Court of Session, seeking a ruling that would effectively end the export of unweaned calves from Scotland to fattening farms in Spain. Animal transport law states that unweaned calves cannot travel for more than 8 hours – unless, after a maximum of 9 hours’ transport, they are rested, given water and, “if necessary”, fed. CIWF contend that because calves cannot be fed on trucks, it is unlawful for the Scottish Government to permit them to be transported for more than 8 hours.  Indeed, the calves can go as long as 23 hours without food.

Unsurprisingly, the Scottish Government is opposing the action, but so too is the UK Government, despite an election manifesto commitment to end “excessively long journeys” of animals for slaughter and fattening, and the Prime Minister’s suggestion in a pre-election TV debate that “we can ban live exports”.  Instead, the UK could set an example for other countries to follow: UK and EU legislation on live animal transport is identical, so a Scottish ruling against calf exports could have implications across Europe, and perhaps beyond.

Meanwhile, you can show your support by sending an email to the Scottish Government urging them to drop their legal opposition to the Judicial Review on calf exports.

Paul Appleby

 

 

National Vegetarian Week, 11-17 May

Despite the lockdown, this year’s National Vegetarian Week goes ahead as scheduled, with celebrity supporters including Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley and Chris Packham, although it will inevitably be a largely online affair.  The Vegetarian Society have devised seven classic, comforting meals with a plant-based twist for you to try.  You can download the recipes straight away, sign up for an email newsletter, or follow the action on Facebook.

Paul Appleby

Feeding Britain rationally

How resilient to the coronavirus epidemic will Britain’s food supply prove to be?  Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, has warned of the fragility of the UK food system, pointing out that only 53% of the food consumed in the UK is home-produced and calling for “a rational system of rationing – based on health, equity and decency – to see the country through this crisis”.  His latest book Feeding Britain: Our Food Problems and How to Fix Them was published on 26 MarchAcknowledging the need to transform Britain’s food system, an editorial in The Guardian pointed out that around 70% of all UK farm animals are farmed intensively in indoor units”, with a 7% increase in the number of industrial-sized pig and chicken farms (classified as holding more than 2,000 pigs or 40,000 birds) since 2017.

Paul Appleby

The ‘war’ we have brought on ourselves

In 1954 a post-apocalyptic story entitled I Am Legend presented the idea of a sole human survivor after a deadly pandemic, spawning several movies including The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971) and the abysmal I Am Legend (2007). In Stephen King’s superb epic novel The Stand (1978) a flu-like virus wipes out 99% of the human population. All of these (and every modern plague-themed novel and movie) conclude that pandemics are totally disastrous. In the film Contagion (2011) a killer virus creates worldwide panic, and the tagline on the poster proclaimed: “Nothing Spreads Like Fear.” However, now that the world is actually in the grip of a pandemic the reality is very different. Most countries are in ‘lockdown’, and this unprecedented scenario has effectively brought the human world to a standstill.

The current global lockdown can be viewed as the biggest human experiment ever conducted, and it is fascinating to see how people are responding, but the disaster movie storyline (rioting, anarchy and cannibalism) hasn’t occurred. Instead, there has been BRM (Bog Roll Mania) in several countries and in the UK persistent moaning about the scarcity of pasta. However, in the USA gun shops have been designated as “essential businesses” and armed groups have protested the inequities of being forced into lockdown. In Baltimore the Mayor issued a heartfelt plea to the city: “Please stop shooting each other, hospital beds are urgently required by victims of coronavirus.”

It’s a truism that major pandemics change society, but will coronavirus instigate any lasting and fundamental alterations to the way humans think and operate? We know exactly where Covid-19 originated (a wet market in Wuhan, China) and that it’s a zoonotic disease (transfers from animal to human). A century ago the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ infected 500 million people (about 25% of the global population in 1918) and killed an unknown number with estimates ranging from 17 million to 50 million and as high as 100 million. Research published in 1999 by a UK team led by virologist John Oxford concluded that a British military hospital in Etaples (France) was the epicentre, and that a type of bird flu was responsible.

Despite the avalanche of media reports any mention of the Wuhan ‘wet market’ is perfunctory, and stating that “the virus jumped the species barrier” conveniently passes the blame onto bats. In fact, humans are entirely responsible for this infection and if our activity and attitudes don’t change then it could easily happen again. If the crucial warnings of coronavirus aren’t heeded (as they probably won’t be) then we could slide into an inexorable era of pandemics, with each subsequent infection even more devastating than the previous outbreak (the virus won’t find it difficult to outwit not-so-smart humans). If regular pandemics are combined with the loss of effective antibiotics (another self-inflicted catastrophe) then humanity is heading into a very grim future. The tragedy is that numerous scientists, environmentalists, and animal rights groups have spelt out the danger for decades. Since the BSE epidemic in the 1980s we can trace a depressing series of highly infectious zoonotic diseases including Ebola, SARS, MERS, H5N1 (Avian Flu) and H1N1 (Swine Flu). Nonetheless, this pandemic isn’t the big one. The levels of global infection and deaths are low so far compared with the 1918/19 pandemic, and most of the fatalities occur within the elderly or people with underlying health conditions (UHC), most commonly heart problems, obesity and diabetes. UK corona death statistics in March 2020 showed that 90% of the victims had UHC, and by mid-April the official global figures estimated 1.7 million infections, with over 100,000 deaths.

The advice and opinions of experts and scientists are now sacrosanct, but listen to what some of them said before the infection had spread beyond China. On BBC Radio 4’s The Briefing Room (How dangerous is the coronavirus?, 23/1/2020) the virologist John Oxford (mentioned above) stated: “I really don’t think we could ever envisage the 1918 [pandemic] scenario coming again. We have vaccines and anti-viral drugs. I’m not worried at all about the Wuhan virus.” He praised the Chinese state and the strict lockdown in Wuhan, but suggested that in the UK any similar policy couldn’t possibly work because the UK isn’t a totalitarian regime. He explained how bats carry diseases, and the dangers of handling them, before boasting: “I’ve eaten a bat; once you’ve cooked it you’re OK.” Another ‘expert’, Dr Natalie McDermott, observed that: “In (the Wuhan wet market) you possibly don’t have ideal hygiene conditions.”

Referring to the pandemic as “a war” and the virus as “the invisible enemy” is misleading. If it is a war then it’s one that humans have declared against themselves, and is only part of a long running suicidal campaign against nature. Describing the virus as invisible implies that it’s deceitful – we can’t see it and that’s not fair. In reality, we’ve repeatedly opened the gates and invited a whole range of nasty viruses to infect us.

Wouldn’t it make more sense if we attempted to avoid zoonotic diseases in the first place? It should be blindingly obvious that humans have to stop destroying the natural world, and our appalling cruelty to animals must be curtailed. Unfortunately, implementing these positive changes would involve the application of intelligence, compassion and morality. The Asian wildlife meat trade is worth an estimated £58bn a year, and it seems unlikely that the dominant human traits of greed, stupidity and aggression will be superseded by a flood of kindness and enlightened thinking.

Paul Freestone

Wordsworth at 250

Today is the 250th anniversary of the birth of the British poet William Wordsworth (7/4/1770 – 23/4/1850).  By way of tribute we include these lines from his poem The Tables Turned first published in his and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads collection of 1798:

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things;
—We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art;
Close up these barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

The lines above are included in The Extended Circle: A Dictionary of Humane Thought (Centaur Press, 1985), a collection of quotations compiled and edited by the author and publisher Jon Wynne-Tyson, who passed away on 26 March 2020, aged 95.  Wynne-Tyson’s other books include Food for a Future, first published in 1975, which argues from anatomy, physiology, and pathology that humans are naturally vegetarian and puts forward ecological reasons for giving up eating meat.

Paul Appleby

Online Vegan Fair, Saturday 11 April

With public gatherings cancelled around the country, Vegan Fairs have come up with a novel way of bringing their events to the comfort of your home.  Just click on the media link below for details of their first ever Online Vegan Fair on Saturday 11 April 2020.

Online_Vegan_Fair_11Apr2020

Paul Appleby

VfL’s self-isolation survival guide

Vegetarian for Life (VfL) have published a handy self-isolation survival guide aimed at older vegetarians and vegans but suitable for anyone who needs to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.  The guide includes tips on what to buy for your store cupboard and freezer and how to keep your spirits up during lock-down, including the importance of keeping in touch with family and friends.  VfL have also published a simple guide to help ensure that community grocery boxes are inclusive for all, including veg*ns and coeliacs, and a list of companies that are still able to deliver veg*n ready meals and hampers to your door.

The Vegan Society have weighed in with their own page of ‘top tips for self-isolating vegans’, including links to simple recipes and documentaries and films on veganism such as Cowspiracy and The Game Changers, and it’s good to know that magazines such as Vegan Life and Plant Based are currently free to download from Prime Impact.  Among the offerings on social media are a weekly animal rights show with “in depth interviews and discussions alongside leading vegan activists” and a weekly round-up from Plant-Based Professionals UK.

Paul Appleby

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