If consumers knew how farmed chickens were raised, they might never eat their meat again

The Guardian – Sunday 24th April

Defra’s recent attempt to abolish statutory rules on animal welfare in farming, in favour of industry-led guidelines, has focused public attention again on the plight of intensively reared chickens. The department was forced to abandon its plan when 150,000 citizens signed a petition in protest. Investigative reporter Felicity Lawrence, turns the spotlight on the terrible conditions found on factory farms, vividly reminding us of the cruelties still waged against them, despite small improvements.

Those improvements include: increasing the space in which egg-laying birds live out their lives from less than the size of an A4 sheet of paper, to the size of an A4 sheet of paper and moving from full-debeaking to beak clipping. Conditions in the large sheds in which broiler chickens are reared for meat are no better. The chickens are free to move around and when the chicks are small they have adequate space, but as they get bigger conditions quickly become extremely cramped. The chickens have to stand in their own accumulating faeces and diseases spread rapidly requiring significant use of antibiotics. It’s a miserable and unfulfilling life for a sentient animal. But such industrial production guarantees one thing – cheap eggs and cheap chicken.

And cheap chicken is in demand, according to the poultry industry. Statistics show that overall demand for chicken in the UK has increased by 20% since 2000. But is chicken really as cheap as it appears? SFT Chief Executive Patrick Holden has long been drawing public attention to the fact that we don’t just pay for chicken at the checkout. Writing in The Observer, about the real price that is paid for cheap chicken, he points out that once the environmental degradation, dangerous overuse of antibiotics and spread of diseases are included, industrially produced chicken costs far more than is generally realised. Factory farmed chicken doesn’t even deliver on nutrition – the birds contain three times as much fat, one third less protein and less omega-3 fatty acid than 40 years ago. Cheap chicken serves no one, not even those on low incomes, as Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming has pointed out: “Keeping chickens in cruel conditions produces a poorer product. Why do we think it acceptable to expect people on lower incomes to have to feed their children poorer factory-farmed food?”

Americans who live near healthy food options have lower rates of diabetes

The Daily Meal – Thursday 21st April

Access to fresh food is a significant issue for many low-income families in the US. A new study further highlights the impact of food deserts finding that people who live near farmers’ markets and other places where they can purchase fresh food, have lower rates of diabetes. Markets selling fresh produce are much more likely to be found in more affluent areas than in poorer areas, where frequently the only options are fast food and small corner stores with minimal fresh produce. These areas are disproportionately non-white. This correlates with the highest rates of diabetes which affect native Americans, African American and Hispanic populations.

The lead author of the analysis, Lindsey Haynes-Maslow, comments that “This study backs up what we’ve known for a long time: you can’t buy what’s not there.” Essentially, this is a food justice issue – the right of everyone, rich and poor, to fresh healthy food. That significant portions of the American population have serious health problems because they cannot access healthy food needs to be addressed in fundamental and systemic ways. The SNAP programme has made significant headway on the issue of access by allowing food stamp recipients to use their vouchers at farmers’ markets. But getting to farmers’ markets is still a problem, if you don’t live near one. Haynes-Maslow warns against what she calls the ‘build a supermarket and they will come’ approach to fixing food deserts. Instead, she suggests a deeper examination of the barriers to access for those on low-incomes – the cost of transport, an obvious one. To increase food justice in a wealthy country like the US, a wide range of issues need to be addressed in order to improve access to healthy foods and both enable and empower people to eat better.

Goldman Prize winner: “I will never be defeated by the mining companies”

The Guardian – Tuesday 19th April

It’s not often that attempts at land grabbing are defeated by those from whom the land is being grabbed, so this is a heartening story of a Peruvian subsistence farmer fighting for her land and winning. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe has just won the Goldman Environmental Prize, considered “the world’s most prestigious environmental award”. Acuña has fought for her land in the face of the biggest gold mining project in South America, refusing to sell despite claiming that she faced violence, death threats, legal action and ongoing harassment.

Acuña’s land was part of a 7,4oo acre plot granted to American company Newmont Mining. The company, working with a Peruvian company, sought to mine for gold and copper in two lakes in Cajamarca, a highland region in northern Peru. The mining would have destroyed two highland lagoons, which provide fresh water for thousands of people in the region, along with Acuña’s farm. The farmer commented that “In no time it would have poisoned the trout and the livestock. If we don’t have water we don’t have a life or a future.”

Recently, Peru has weakened its environmental laws in order to expand its mining industry, and has also reduced the criminal responsibility of the police if they cause injury or death while on duty. According to NGO Global Witness, 61 activists have been killed in Peru in the last decade, with 80% of these linked to mining. Acuña has been able to stand her ground, in part, because she has fairly solid evidence of ownership of her land; in many cases of land grabbing, if ownership is based on historical rights with little documentation, traditional farmers are quickly evicted. This is yet another example, if any were needed, of how indigenous subsistence farmers are being abused and disposed of their land in many parts of the world.

What does loan forgiveness have to do with farming? Everything

Civil Eats – Thursday 21st April

These days education comes at a cost. As tuition fees climb ever upwards, student loans are getting more onerous – so much so that, in the US, it’s affecting the property market. With such heavy debt in student loans, many college graduates can’t afford to buy a house.

For young farmers struggling to get a business up and running, the debt they carry from their degree makes it even harder to survive on the lean margins of farming and this is yet a further deterrent for those thinking of taking it up. So the National Young Farmers Coalition has been lobbying hard over the past couple of years, for student loan forgiveness for farmers, arguing that they are key workers like doctors, teachers and policemen.

The need for young farmers is very real. One supporter of the initiative, New York Representative Chris Gibson, who introduced the Young Farmer Success Act into congress, commented that “The USDA says that we need to inspire 100,000 new farmers over the next decade or we are going to get more consolidation and more imports from overseas…We’re not nearly keeping up.”

Forgiving student loan debt could have a real impact on the lives of young farmers, especially on those from low income, minority backgrounds where debt can have a disproportionate impact. As the people who provide you with food, farmers are important and we need to hang on to them in the future. Making it just that much easier to make their futures viable, forgiving student loan debt could be a lifeline.

Clinton “very supportive” of Philidelphia soda tax

CNN – Thursday 21st April

Message to Bernie: There’s nothing populist about soda pop

Huffington Post – Monday 25th April

Soda taxes are moving into the front line of political debate in the US. This is bringing attention to important food system issues that were previously unknown to many Americans. Hillary Clinton, speaking recently in Philadelphia, put her hat in the ring in favour of a soda tax, saying that she was “very supportive” of Mayor Jim Kenny’s plan to introduce one in order to provide universal pre-school to all children and improve parks and recreation across the city. The mayor’s proposal joins a handful of other soda tax initiatives popping up across the US.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Bernie Sanders has come out against soda taxes in response to Clinton’s support. Food activist Laurie David, feels he’s made an error of judgement in his claim that a soda tax “would be regressive and hurt poor people”. She points out that “…sugary beverages themselves disproportionately hurt low-income, predominantly minority communities,” – something Sanders may have missed.

Photograph: © Alex Segre/Alamy Stock Photo

Sign up to our Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news