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Saturday, 9 March 2013

Humane Organic? Think Again

I have always had very strong views when it comes to animal cruelty.  About 10 years ago I started becoming more aware of how farmed animals were treated and the sometimes inhumane way in which they were killed and processed for meat.  I do truly believe that humans were designed to be carnivores, but I also believe that animals that are destined for the table should be given the best life possible and slaughtered in a dignified way that is as free of pain and stress as possible.

I was suckered into the organic movement a few years ago by Jamie Oliver and co.  He led me to believe that organically reared animals had a much better life and were slaughtered in a humane way.  To my ears it was perfect, the benefits of meat without the cruelty.  I carried on blissfully buying organic produce, (when money permitted) but after reading 'The Fertility Diet' by Sarah Dobbyn, I started to question the effects of consuming meat and dairy.  I even tried cutting out dairy and meat - I lasted less then a week.  I now knew that there was conflicting evidence about how good meat actually was for you, but I had decided to put it out of my mind in favour of my beloved dairy.

Fast forward to January 2013 - we had suffered another miscarriage and I had been told by the wonderful NHS that we were on our own until I reached 30.  They claimed IVF was our only hope and to consider egg donation to bring down the cost of private treatment.  How could I make both the financial and emotional sacrifice for something that in my head would only end in one way - another loss.  It wasn't fair, I only wanted to be a Mother - something that so many take for granted.  Most women believe that motherhood is a right, I know it is a privilege.

I decided to do the dramatic - I planned to go vegan.  The results of Sarah Dobbyn were impressive; Women that followed the strict regime not only conceived naturally or had successful IVF, they also carried a healthy baby to term.  Her small study (I believe it was 300 participants) showed no birth defects, and no losses - a pretty miraculous result.

I knew it was going to be hard, I knew the motivation of a baby should be more then enough to keep me on track, but I just felt so over-whelmed.  Then the horse meat scandal broke last month.  In all honesty I thought that the reaction was hilarious.  People enraged that they had unwittingly consumed poor horses, the word disgusting seemed to be everyone's favourite reaction to eating this meat.  I couldn't believe the hypocrisy! To my way of thinking, if you are happy to slaughter an animal for meat, or enslave a cow or goat for dairy then you have no right to be picky about the kind of animal you eat.  I could understand if people were upset about being misled, but to the majority this didn't seem to be their issue - just the fact that they had ingested horse.

Channel 4 dispatches ran a program on the horse meat scandal which we watched about two weeks ago.  In truth I was working at the laptop and not really paying much attention.  I happened to glance up at a point where they were showing horses being prepared for slaughter.  They were being forced into a narrow partition and once positioned they would be killed.  As scenes go it wasn't all that harrowing - I have seen much worse.  But these horses sensed that something wasn't right.  They were fighting against being forced into the chute and they were losing their footing whilst they struggled to back out.  Something in me seemed to click.

I turned my work off instantly and began looking into the various slaughterhouses around Britain.  I had never been naiive enough to believe that the animals had a nice nap whilst they were killed completely unaware, but I had thought that animals would have had the stress levels decreased as much as possible - after all a traumatic death taints the taste of the meat.

Unsurprisingly I stumbled across many Peta and Viva sites - it made for horrific reading.  I had always know that dairy farming was possibly crueler than meat farming, but had again thought that organic meant that the cows were somehow compensated with a better life.  Peta claimed that organic farming was sometimes crueler as a heffers mastitis was left completely untreated as it would taint the milk.  Organic dairy cows could be left in agony as they were unable to receive the same kind of medical treatment that 'standard' cows were offered.

The worst offender of it all has to be egg farming.  I will admit to being very naiive when it came to chickens laying eggs.  I thought that as there was no pregnancy involved that it was somewhat kinder to the animals.  I haven't bought anything accept free range eggs for quite some time and presumed I was being an informed consumer.  WRONG Although De-beaking (the act of clipping a chickens beak to stop them causing damage whilst fighting) with a blade is illegal, it is still widely practiced throughout the UK.  One of the most upsetting things that I learnt, was what happens to male chicks - a so called by-product of egg farming.  Once the chicks are hatched, they are sorted by sex.  The females are destined to become layers, whilst the male chicks are considered waste.  These poor chaps are used as a combination of reptile food and plant mulch.  As if this wasn't sad enough, they are taken straight from the hatchery (usually by conveyor belt) and are either gassed, or in some instances fed live into a mincer.  I don't think I can ever look at a commercially bought egg in the same way again.

Viva has claimed that this is the dark side to egg farming that companies have tried to hide from consumers - they are right.  We are bombarded with images of happy chickens scamping about the farmyard, whilst bedding down in lovely hay filled barn, I knew this was far from reality, but was still shocked at what I leart.  Most people know the horrors that actually await chickens born into 'none free-range' egg production, but the industry has tried to clean up it's image by making 'battery' chicken laying illegal (only since early 2012), but new legislation states that the new 'enriched' cage only needs to have an extra postcard sized space per hen than the old style cages.  This is still not enough for them to spread their wings and the bottom line is, they are still caged.  So surely free range chickens must have a glorious life?  Sadly no, free range farming is now so intense that although the hens are not caged, they are still confined to indoors.  The latest free range egg farming technique is too keep them all in a covered barn, where they will see little or no sunshine.  The space is still cramped and feather pecking (despite beak mutilation) and cannibalism is rife.  When a chicken slows down egg production, they are slaughtered.

So what about organic meat?  When you have celebrity chefs and the media telling you how much better the lives of organic animals are, surely they must be killed in a more dignified way?  Sadly no, these animals are slaughtered at the same abattoir as general meat, and usually suffer the same degradation and abuse as others.  When I started to look a little closer, the news was not nice.  It would seem almost every UK abattoir has been reported for staff causing physical and mental abuse to animals either through negligence or just a shocking desire to torture them.  The FSA has had to step in many times when either whistle blowing, or video footage has surfaced showing staff physically abusing animals - usually to jeers and laughter.  It would seem that for some people their job role was an opportunity for them to unleash some of their darker fantasies.

So, do I still think that animals should be reared for food?  Yes, but now even more so then before I believe it should be done in a way that reduces stress and anxiety for the animals - both in life and the moment of slaughter.  I still dream of owning a small holding, but for now will just be abstaining from all meat and dairy produce.

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