Government planning to repeal animal welfare codes

The Guardian – Friday 25th March

In a move that really beggars belief, the government is quietly pushing through a repeal of animal welfare codes in the UK, in favour of what it calls ‘industry-led’ guidance. It is part of a wider deregulation agenda for Defra, led by Environment Secretary Liz Truss. Chickens are first to be affected by the change, but welfare standards for other livestock will also be affected. The RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) both view the shift as detrimental to animal welfare standards. And from a common sense perspective, it is hard to see how allowing industry bodies to set animal welfare standards could not be a step down from current standards in the UK.

The code on poultry production is the first to be scrapped and replaced by industry guidelines. The British Poultry Council will reveal new guidelines at the end of April as the code is repealed. While Defra has assured that there will be no change to farm animal welfare legislation or its enforcement, it is feared that industry guidelines could cause a more insidious shift in how magistrates interpret them, which would lead to fewer prosecutions for animal cruelty. 

The need for stronger protections for farm animals was generated by the extensive cruelty of industrial farming. There is still a long way to go in industrial farming to ensure that the animals produced lead a life that is natural to them, with as little stress as possible, ample room to move and regular access to the outdoors. Peter Stevenson, Chief Policy Advisor at CIWF commented, “The job of a government department is to hold the balance between competing interests. It is not to come down on one side and say animal welfare, dietary health and the environment have to be subservient to the needs of industry.” Turning standards over to industry isn’t going to create better conditions for animals, it’s going to create better conditions for business and animals will certainly suffer more as a result. 

Tesco ‘fictional farms’ may be misleading

BBC News – Thursday 24th March

Tesco is following in the footsteps of Aldi in creating fake farm names for their in-store brands. ‘Boswell’, ‘Willow’ and ‘Redmere’ Farms are just some of the labels that consumers will come across in the store which are completely fabricated, with the fruit, veg and meat packaged in them coming in from a range of sources, many outside the UK. These new brands are replacing Tesco’s ‘Everyday Value’ line which competes with produce from discounters Aldi and Lidl. With such quintessentially British sounding names, consumers could be forgiven for missing the small print which details origin.

Supermarkets and retailers are joining a growing trend in branding, that capitalises on the ‘farm-to-table’ movement by choosing brand names that sound like specific – ostensibly small-scale – farms in a bid to seduce consumers into thinking the produce has a direct link to the farmer. The NFU has called foul on this practice as Tesco revealed its new brands, stating that the names gave consumers a false impression of where the food was from. 

The ‘farm-to-table’ sleight of hand has been around for some time, though it appears to be hitting the mainstream at the moment. Way back in 2006, Whole Foods was posting glossy photos of small-scale ‘local’ growers and producers in its shops, when the produce on sale was mostly from industrial scale organic farms. Tesco may feel their farm names are not a dupe, because “Every product is sourced from a selection of farms and growers – some are small, family-run farms while others are of a larger scale…” But you can bet the ‘larger scale’ producers far outnumber the smaller ones, and what’s important to remember in this ‘farm to table’ co-optation, is that there shouldn’t be a supermarket between the farm and table.

Experts demand support for horticulture sector

Farming Online – Thursday 24th March

The UK needs more fruit and veg, according to a new report on the state of the horticulture sector in Britain by Tim Lang and Victoria Schoen at the Food Research Collaboration. The key message in their report is that the UK needs to produce more of its own horticultural produce, instead of relying so heavily on imports, particularly in light of public health advice to eat more fruit and vegetables.

This flies in the face of government food and farming policy which aims to see Britain increasing exports. But the focus on exporting what is mostly processed food, has been at the expense of both Britain’s food security and health, and the horticulture sector in the country is in decline. It has shrunk by some 27% over the last thirty years. The government’s forthcoming 25-year plan for food and farming suggests that increasing exports would pay for the £8 billion deficit on food imports – a logic that is anything but logical.

Lang and Schoen argue that supporting the horticulture sector in the UK could improve public health while significantly cutting the bill for imports – fruit and vegetables constitute the largest piece of UK food imports. While some of these imports are things that can’t be grown in the UK, a lot of what is imported can be grown in Britain. This includes brassicas, mushrooms, apples and pears which have seen production dropping over the years. This just doesn’t make long-term sense for the country. Lang comments that “At a time when some politicians are urging the UK to vote to leave the EU, it is somewhat alarming to note the poor state of UK self-reliance in horticulture. This ought to be the ‘good news’ in food and health. Why is the country producing lots of sugar but not enough fruit and veg?” It’s a question that needs answering.

French parliament votes for outright ban on neonicotinoid use

Farming UK – Tuesday 29th March

The French Parliament has voted to pass an outright ban on neonicotinoid use in France in order to buy time to assess environmental and health impacts and find alternatives that might be safer. This is part of a wider draft bill on biodiversity that also adds a tax to palm oil. The Minister of Agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll, who was behind France’s move to more agroecological farming, has called for the restrictions to be extended to the EU as a whole. But the bill has yet to be ratified through the Assembly and still needs to clear the country’s Senate.

There is already a temporary ban on neonics in place by the EU, though it is hotly contested, and chemical producers and many farmers across Europe are still fighting to retain neonics for use, claiming that there are no other alternatives. France’s ban has made the dividing line between those for and against the chemicals more distinct by taking a strong independent stance on their use. There is still much disagreement on the role of the precautionary principle in neonic use but France will make a definitive statement on this if the bill makes it through the legislative process – one that might sway other countries to follow suit.

Lobbyists descend on Havana for Obama’s historic Cuba trip

The Washington Post – Sunday 20th March

President Obama’s recent trip to Cuba, the first by an American president in 90 years, heralded not just a warming of relations between the two countries but also a quiet promise of renewed trade. Standing next to the Cuban president, Raul Castro, Obama called on Congress to lift the trade embargo on the country which has stood since 1962. Obama was accompanied on his trip by lobbyists for the US agricultural industry and other business leaders in anticipation of an opening of trade between the two countries.

Reigniting trade with the US may well be a double-edged sword for Cuba, especially in relation to its agricultural development. The island nation has an extensive network of urban farms which operate on largely sustainable principles – a result of being cut off at the mains by Russia, its trading partner for decades during the embargo. Russia had supported a boom of chemical farming in Cuba from the 1950s, but with the fall of the Soviet Union this all changed. Almost overnight, supplies were cut off and the country was forced into organic production out of necessity rather than choice. Havana is now a vivid example of what a thriving metropolis of sustainable food production might look like.

But the question is, will this model survive, with the likes of Cargill, Illinois Soy, Kansas Wheat and, no doubt, Monsanto rubbing their hands at the prospect of selling GMOs, nitrogen fertiliser and pesticides to Cuban farmers? Josh Gabbatiss has a deeper look at this, this week, in Viva la Producción! Urban farming in Cuba.

Photograph: Pimthida

Sign up to our Newsletter

Stay up to date with the latest SFT views and news