Caged and barn eggs could disappear from UK shelves within 10 years

Farming UK – Tuesday 17th May

Thanks to decades of campaigning by animal welfare organisations and growing consumer demand, the life of the farmed chicken is slowly changing. At a recent conference, one industry executive, Tom Willings, stated that within 10 years, we’ll see the disappearance of caged and barn-raised chickens in the US and, very likely, the UK. A host of major players in the food industry – among them Walmart, Nestle, Costco, McDonald’s and Starbucks – have made commitments to ‘cage-free’ birds, promising to improve their practices by 2025.

The purchase of caged and barn (where birds are indoor reared but without cages) eggs has been falling for a number of years and now makes up less than 37% of UK egg sales. Meanwhile, sales of free-range eggs have increased to well above 50% and along with this a number of UK companies have committed to only stocking and using free-range eggs. There’s clearly an overhaul of production systems on the way for the UK. While this will be costly for the industry, consumer disenfranchisement with factory farming practices will likely drive it through. Willings makes the point that the cost of barn production, used in ‘higher welfare’ indoor systems, is so close to free-range that it will make more sense simply to make the leap and barn production will likely be scrapped along with the cages.

While all this promises big steps forward for the welfare of chickens, it’s really important that campaigners and consumers continue to push for higher welfare in the chicken industry. This means lowering stocking levels for poultry operations, using slower growing chickens for broilers, and ensuring that chickens can truly engage in behaviours that are natural to them, including ranging and foraging.

Strawberry fields forever? UK wage laws ‘will kill off fruit farming’

The Guardian – Monday 16th May

Concerns have been growing about the impact of the national living wage on agriculture and this week, it’s the country’s strawberry industry that could be wiped out, according to one leading hospitality firm, Beacon.

There is no denying the fact that fruit farming is labour intensive and profit margins slim due to labour costs. But the move to a living wage shouldn’t mean the destruction of strawberry production in the UK. Agricultural workers deserve a living wage for the hard labour and long hours they put in on the fields. To sacrifice improved living standards for workers is not the way to ensure the economic viability of fruit production. There is another larger issue to address – the on-going competition from cheaper imported strawberries, courtesy of the global commodities market and free trade.

Sometimes we need to protect what we value. Britain’s dairy industry provides a salient example of what can happen if you don’t do this. Across the country, dairy farmers are on their knees, hit with supermarket price wars, the end of EU quotas and a market flooded with foreign milk. Many other agricultural sectors are in trouble as well. Meanwhile the Government treats this decline as an industry problem they can do little to fix. The reality is that protection for British farmers and legislation to enforce a national living wage for agricultural workers could go a very long way to strengthening the resilience of UK agriculture.

Superbugs will ‘kill every three seconds’

BBC News – Thursday 19th May

A report from the Government appointed Antimicrobial Resistance Review Team reveals the shocking future of a world without antibiotics, asserting that superbugs will create “as big a risk as terrorism”, killing vast numbers of people each year by 2050.

Key recommendations of the review include raising global awareness of the issue of microbial resistance, establishing a Global Innovation Fund to kick start the development of new antibiotics and a reduction in the extensive use of antibiotics in agriculture with a ban on those “highly critical” in human medicine.

Curbing the use of antibiotics in farm animals is of utmost importance in the fight against antimicrobial resistance, and the SFT has been a strong advocate of action in this area. Director Patrick Holden asserts that “The over-dependence on antibiotics is a symptom of farming systems which are no longer serving the public interest, but instead causing damage to the environment and public health.” Reducing antibiotics in agriculture demands the immediate cessation of their prophylactic use in healthy animals, except in medical intervention, along with a range of other measures and incentives to decrease their misuse more generally. Achieving this will go a long way towards the preservation of such critical drugs. 

New evidence about the dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup

The Intercept – Tuesday 17th May

The dangers of Monsanto’s Roundup are being increasingly scrutinised as a lawsuit against Monsanto kicks off in the US courts. The lawsuit is notable because it doesn’t just point the finger at glyphosate, but also at the herbicide’s supposedly inert ingredients, alleging that the company “knew or should have known that Roundup is more toxic than glyphosate alone.”

Evidence has been building in the past decade that Roundup co-formulants are significantly dangerous, compounding the herbicide’s toxicity. Some European member states have already begun to take action to regulate and/or ban one of these inert ingredients, called POEA (polyethoxylated tallowamine). But while Roundup has been in use since the 1970s, the presence of chemicals other than its active ingredient glyphosate has only become more recently known as these were long treated as ‘trade secrets’ and the company was not required to list them. What research is now proving is that POEA and other inert ingredients are anything but: POEA has been shown to be 1,200–2,000 times more toxic to cells than glyphosate and in amounts much less than what is found in Roundup.

What all this reveals is the lax regulation of pesticides, herbicides and other agricultural chemicals which have long been subject to far less rigorous analysis of safety than human pharmaceuticals – despite being used in the production of our food. It is perhaps not surprising that both the US Environmental Protection Agency and the European Food Safety Authority issued claims of glyphosate’s safety, which have flown in the face of research by the IARC which found glyphosate to be a ‘probable carcinogen’. With the danger of other chemicals in Roundup revealed, it will be harder to argue for its continued relicensing.

Food company offers a carrot to farmers considering organic certification

TakePart – Tuesday 17th May

Organic certification costs have long been something of a deterrent to farmers wanting to grow organically and has meant some farmers choose to forego certification even though they operate to organic standards.

The organic market is growing rapidly in the US with companies like Walmart making significant forays into it, and it generated a remarkable $39 billion in sales in 2014. But the problem is that there isn’t enough supply to meet the organic demand at the moment. So some companies and government bodies are taking the matter into their own hands and incentivising farmers to convert by offering to pay for or subsidise certification costs.

Kashi, owned by Kellogg’s, is taking that one step further and helping farmers through the most difficult part of certification – the conversion phase. Conversion is tricky because whilst paying more for organic production, when farmers are ‘in-conversion’ (a period of three years in the US), they don’t get the premium for being organic, so the transition can be costly. Their yields are also more likely to be down as they put time and money into fertility building and developing effective pest management. Kashi has created a new ‘certified transitional’ label for its products and it’s offering farmer’s a higher price for their in-conversion crops. While the label could add to consumer confusion, if it’s clearly explained, it may offer a cost-effective way to eat organic with consumers paying less for what is, in all but name, organically produced food.

Helping farmer’s to transition to organic is really critical, as is subsidising (at the very least) certification costs. While there is some support federally for certification, currently limited to $750, more support is needed to defray certification costs. The state of Hawaii is currently considering a bill that would offer up to $50,000 in tax credits for organic certification and production – that’s a much bigger carrot to help drive future organic production.

Photograph: Martin Deutsch

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