Tuesday, March 10, 2015

This one's right up my street

(Photo above - Pinkie, my pregnant golden guernsey goat is houses in conditions that conform to CIWF views.)

I've been getting lots of emails recently as Blaydon candidate about lots of issues but one in particular caught my attention. It was from supporters of Compassion in World Farming which draws attention to the need to improve animal welfare and to reduce the amount of meat in our diets to improve health and make our food production system more efficient in terms of calories produced. The argument is that a huge amount of calories are lost from the food supply system when fed to livestock. For every 100 calories grown and fed to livestock, we get less than a fifth of that back in calories from meat.

This was something I fully understood when I set out to be self-sufficient 6 years ago. As a historian who researches food history, reducing meat production and increasing the non-meat proportion of people's diets was a key aim during the war and post war years. It was a lesson I've applied to my own self-sufficient food production system.

As I said to respondents, we can't force people to reduce their meat intake, but we can motivate and inspire them to do so and we can point to the health and environmental benefits.

So tonight I emailed the people who have been in touch about this issue, and encouraged them to visit my allotment blog (www.self-sufficientinsuburbia.blogspot.com.)

Anyway, here is my reply, along with the original message from correspondents:

As a result, I have reduced the amount of meat I eat and increased the proportion of my diet that is vegetarian. I do keep some livestock – goats, bees, chickens, ducks and quails – and I also swap some of my surplus, especially honey and eggs, for other people’s surplus fruit and vegetables. The aim is to build up a network of people involved in food production which is sustainable and requires few food miles.

The points you raise about the calorie loss caused by growing animal fodder crops is something I understand very well. I am also an historian and have researched food through the ages. It is noticeable that during the Second World War, when land needed to be used as efficiently as possible, the amount of meat in people’s diets was reduced so that land could be used for food for people rather than livestock. I have taken the lessons of that period and applied them to my lifestyle and self-sufficiency activities.

One thing I would add to your comments is the need to tackle food waste. In my household, we use everything we possibly can. From potato peelings and egg shells to apple cores and bones, we make use of what most people sadly now throw away to make further meals or to use as ingredients in preserves and so on.

I keep a blog about my food growing activities. You can visit it at www.self-sufficientinsuburbia.blogspot.com. My aim in writing it is to encourage others to produce at least a small amount of their own food. We cannot force people to change lifestyles and diets but we can motivate others to do so by showing the personal as well as environmental benefits.

With regard to animal welfare, none of my animals are caged though I do keep my quails in an aviary. My chickens and ducks are free range and my goats have their own roaming area (often shared with the poultry).
Generally, a lower reliance on meat in people’s diet will help us to reduce the need for cages, help tackle obesity and reduce damaging greenhouse gas emissions.

If I were elected MP for Blaydon, I would have a much bigger platform to promote the very issues on which you have contacted me. I will be able to do it not as a politician who tells others what they should do, but as a politician who genuinely believes in the cause AND lives it as well.

Please visit my blog and if there are any questions you wish to raise, feel free to get in touch.

Dr Jonathan Wallace
Liberal Democrat candidate, Blaydon

I am writing to you as one of my constituency’s candidates in the forthcoming general election to ask that you promote a humane and sustainable farming system in the new parliament.

We need to introduce high standards of farm animal welfare. It is time to phase out production that uses cages and crates as they thwart the basic instincts of many animals to roam, forage and explore.

Animals should be kept in outdoor systems or, if they are housed, they should be kept in large barns with ample space, plenty of straw, natural light and effective ventilation. Genetic selection for fast growth or high yields should be avoided if this results in compromised welfare and systems should not be used if they require mutilations.

We need to encourage the adoption of balanced diets with a lower proportion of meat. This would deliver health benefits by reducing the incidence of heart disease, obesity and certain cancers; it would also lower greenhouse gas emissions. Although more crops would be needed for direct human consumption, this would be outweighed by a reduction in demand for feed crops.

Farming provides valuable income to many rural communities. There should be a particular focus on higher welfare production that delivers a better quality of food and a higher income to those farmers at the farmgate, benefitting both the farmer and the wider community through added value.

Much livestock production in the UK is industrial in nature. 60% of EU cereal is used as animal feed. For every 100 calories that we feed to animals in the form of human edible crops, we receive on average just 17-30 calories in the form of meat and milk. We need to avoid excessive use of cereals and put more emphasis on restoring the link between animals and the land.

We need to promote diets that include less but higher welfare meat in order to deliver a farming system that is less intensive, with less reliance on fertilisers and pesticides. This would mean reduced degradation of water, soil and air and lower use of water, land and energy as well as biodiversity gains. It would also enable animals to be kept to higher welfare standards.

Across Europe, around 700 million farm animals (hens, sows, rabbits, ducks and quail) spend some or all of their life confined in cramped, often barren cages.  Cages should be consigned to the history books and food production should be developed using extensive, outdoor and cage free systems.

Sustainable farming that nourishes our health, the environment and promotes higher animal welfare must become the rule, not the exception.

For further information on these issues, Compassion in World Farming has produced a Charter which sets out a proposed future direction of travel. It can be found here 
http://www.ciwf.org.uk/charter and is supported by further details in briefing notes, which can be found here: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/charter-briefing-notes

I hope you will feel able to support these policy suggestions and work towards realising them – in the UK and by taking a lead in Europe.

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