We have supposedly some of the best animal welfare standards in the world, and it is still appalling. Battery hens still only have a cage the size of a sheet of A4 paper; one-day old male chicks are minced alive, or gassed, or suffocated in plastic bags; breeding sows are still kept in in tiny metal breeding stalls (and it's said the piglets are dropped through metal bars onto conveyor belts); veal calves are taken from their mothers at a few days of age and raised in the dark, in small areas, for all of their short lives; and mares are kept pregnant, in confined spaces, in order to produce the hormone used to make HRT for menopausal women (it is NOT necessary, folks; go the herbal route; contact me, or better still, search the web, for more info) – hence some of the brand names (eg Premarin). This is our 'high welfare'.
As John Vidal said in yesterday's Guardian (March 26, 2016), the plans may knock a penny or two off an already-cheap chicken, but are likely – quite apart from all the welfare issues – to see the continued disruption of health scares.
How can deregulation do anything other than intensify the conditions, ripe for disease, in which already-intensive animal farming rears its victims?
Vidal points out that 'it was the total failure of the industry ability to regulate itself that led to last year's chicken bug scandal when [it was found] that nearly 8 out of 10 fresh chickens bought from British supermarkets were contaminated with the potentially lethal food-poisoning bug campylobacter, costing the NHS nearly £900m... more than 240,000 people a year were getting ill and up to 100 were dying... Salmonella in eggs, BSE in cattle, foot-and-mouth disease* and swine flu – all followed cuts in animal welfare standards or inspection services.'
This is Liz Truss' drive. Vidal points out that under TTIP, if it happens, there will be a downfall in food and farming standards; the US agribusiness will be exporting to Europe animal products from a farming system with much lower welfare and hygiene standards than our own.
If we exit the EU, then clearly, as he states, our welfare standards are likely to fall, anyway.
Whichever way you look at it, animals will suffer more. Chances are humans who eat them will, too. We cannot let this happen. There are, hooray, greater numbers of people becoming vegetarian for a range of reasons: animal welfare, personal health, budget, awareness of the environmental cost, and the enormous and inefficient demand for land and water to produce such a small amount of food for a burgeoning population. More people, too, are looking at vegan options.
But we have a VERY long way to go before we can be proud of the way we relate to animals. (As TM said yesterday: many people unthinkingly consider them really to be automata, more or less.)
Meantime, we need to challenge, at the very least, this proposed downgrading of animal welfare and the knock-on effects on humans.
If anyone knows of a petition started up to protest this, please add it to the Comments. If it doesn't happen, I might just have to start one myself.
And you could also write to your MP?
March 30th: here's the link to the petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-repeal-of-animal-welfare-codes?time=1459070182
* Foot-and-mouth disease: I documented this as it happened in Devon, and in fictional form but with factual accuracy it forms part of my last novel, The Burning Ground.