Ethical meat and good things to come from Brexit

One of the consequences of the UK EU referendum, is that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, resigned leaving the government without any leadership on post-brexit and no brexit plan. Furthermore  the opposition Labour also choose this time to enter into their own leadership debate. This has left the confused divided UK with no clear idea how brexit is to proceed, so many of us have ended up speculating and talking about possible solutions, as I have done on this blog.

I kind of wanted to return to discussing more random things, but the real world is often hard to ignore. My most popular post on this blog has been about ethically sourced meat. I think the popularity of this post is due to it being a topic people are actually interested in and also that there is not a plethora of articles about this subject. It’s kind of a taboo subject, perhaps because the meat industry doesn’t really want people thinking about it’s practices, as it could hit it’s profits. However I think it is deeper than that as it is a topic that resonates with the issue of what it means to be human and how to morally live our lives.

In the last few weeks, I have heard from a lady whose friend read a book that convinced them to become vegan. She then read the first quarter of this book and chose to abandon it because she felt that if she did get to the end she would also become vegan and she didn’t like the idea of stopping eating meat. I was also in conversation with a gentleman in the pub who said he hated the idea of thinking about eating animals though he ate meat regularly, that he hated being given fish to eat with the head still attached as he didn’t like seeing it’s eyes. He eats meat but prevents himself from thinking about it.

Perhaps generally, people do not like the idea of radically changing their lifestyle. Becoming an ethical meat eater, a vegetarian (veggie) or a vegan is not easy. Taking this plunge means you need to think carefully about what you can and cannot buy and re-arranage the balance of meals. Eating out becomes a chore, unless our are lucky enough to be going to a vegan restaurant. In the UK, we are lucky that every restaurant does cater for veggies, but usually the offerings are tired and bland and not worth the price tag, you could make something tastier at home for a lot less money. Nonetheless sometimes we are go along to social eating events with no appetite for enjoying the food.

Last weekend I was in another discussion about a post-brexit Britian; it is even getting tedious for political anoraks like me. An interesting question was asked to everyone: Name one positive thing that can be achieved post-brexit. My answer was agriculture.

Basically, being in the EU, our agricultural industry is subject the rules and subsidies of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The problem with this is that it is an example of a ‘one size fits all’, with the idea of that all farming in the EU is subject to the same rules, so no region can change it’s rules to create a competitive advantage. This is a problem as there is a lot of diversity in agricultural production across Europe and this common policy inevitably  advantages some forms agriculture over others anyway. Indeed, one of the major criticisms of the EU is that it’s regulatory systems and associated compliance (red-tape) tend to favour larger businesses as smaller businesses spend a greater proportion of their time in coping with compliance. So, the benefit of leaving the EU, means we would no longer be subject to the CAP. Then more sustainable, better systems can be implemented, ideally reducing farming subsidies and making agriculture profitable without subsidy.

There is a big issue with this, which is why so many ‘Remainers’ fear brexit. It’s all very well to have the potential to create better systems, but the likelihood with the  defunct political system of the UK, that we would more likely end up with a system that is even worse than the CAP. That instead of Brexit benefiting small and medium enterprises, we may end up with systems that further advantage large businesses.

What is wrong with large businesses? In agriculture, big specialised, industrial farms are favoured and supported by large subsidies, whilst small family farms receive much less subsidy, particularly upland farms of Wales. Welsh hill farms, produce a fantastic product, Lamb, however it is not marketed well; I was told this week that most of the lamb sold in California comes from New Zealand, even when it’s not in season, yuck! Hopefully the Welsh government will take over Welsh agricultural policy and rectify these problems, because I doubt the UK government will do so. In terms of sustainability, large scale agriculture is costly, it isn’t actually more efficient.

Organisations such as the National Farmers Union (NFU) do not like the idea of product differentiation (so you can know how and where food was produced), for example free range milk, most UK agricultural produce is not labelled to tell you where and how it was produced. In UK shops, you just buy ‘British milk’ without any idea how or where the cows were, or even if it’s British at all (as country of origin labels can be applied if only one stage of production occurred in that country). This lack of consumer choice favours the big industrial producers, the consumer does not have a choice between free range and industrially produced milk, there is no true market in milk in the UK.

My answer to the question of how to ethically source meat is simply buy locally from small producers and usually via a traditional Butchers shop (if you are lucky enough to still have one!). There are many advantages to doing this: The food will generally be tastier and of higher quality. It is likely to have been ethically produced and you can ask about this, because even though there is no label, the butcher will know which farm it came from and they  will want to keep your business; it also means purchasing food involves talking to a human being rather than a computer, which is preferable! It will be more sustainable, both in production and in having vastly reduced packaging and have far fewer food miles from an efficient local distribution system.

The other good thing to come from Brexit, is increased political discussion and a realisation of how messy distribution systems are. Industrialisation has done many great things: We can drive cars, have computers and order stuff from all around the world. However it seems we have reached a point where people try and industrialise everything, even when there is no societal advantage of doing so or efficiency advantage.

 

Fear of Ideas

All people fear new ideas to some extent, a fear of change and the unfamiliar.  Such fears are natural, but often embracing new ideas or ways of thinking can be immensely positive. The familiar, the status quo, seems safe, so why even consider change? Well, sometimes the status quo is bad for people as individuals and wider society. sometimes it is easy to forget that everything is a journey, we can take small cautious steps, we can always turn and go back or in a different direction. Such a steady cautious approach is safe, rather than leaping crazily across to another place, a place that is strange and unknown. Accepting new ideas doesn’t change who you are but can make you a better person, just take small firm steps.

I have written much on this blog about my overcoming anxiety. Making such a change was scary, there was a fear of my personality changing, a change in my values, a change in how I think. I think this was why I rejected, like many other anxious people, the calls of people to just let go of yourself or to just not be anxious, this is taking that giant leap into the unknown. Better advice to the anxious is to take cautious steps, allow people to reflect that the direction they are going in is one they are happy with.

This process of change, of alleviating fear, occurs in many areas of life and realising this, has helped me understand why other people are cautious of other ideas. For example, my becoming a Christian.  When I was young, I lived in a traditional Christian community in rural Wales. My generation were highly sceptical of religion, we regarded it as a load of nonsense. We regarded religion as scary irrationality. Growing up there seemed to be this maniacal street preachers, evangelicals waving their arms around as if possessed by spirit, a seemingly very conservative culture that stifled innovative ideas. Then one day i was exposed to the joy and wonderful music of renaissance polyphony and the choral works of J.S. Bach, this music helped me understand some of the core ideas of Christianity, that they were good, open ideas, that the complexity and suffering of human existence, could be understood as a whole, that it was okay to accept this and that doing things to make the world a better place was a righteous thing to do.. This music led me onto a journey of discovery of the Christian faith and along the way I became a Christian. Becoming a Christian was not scary, it didn’t change how I am, or my other beliefs, it simply helped me become a better person. It has helped me appreciate that there are no easy answers, no single mantra to base your life on, that faith, like anything else is a journey.

Another issue, I am passionate about and  often write about is food. I became a vegetarian at the age of 15 because I became aware that many animals reared for the meat I ate were kept in inside with restricted space, this seemed cruel and wrong on animal welfare grounds. I now ethically source meat, I don’t believe it is wrong to rear animals for meat, but in rearing animals there is a contract that the animals should have a reasonable quality of life and be able to express natural behaviours. What I have come to realise is that there is a wonderful synergy that can be achieved with animals welfare, sustainably looking after agricultural land and the wider environment, sound economics, healthy food and a greater enjoyment in eating. Though it seems there is a fear of changing diet and shopping habits, even with such positive outcomes. Though i appreciate I arrived at this synergy by taking slow steps and consideration of each step. I used to fear that having high animal welfare standards may mean that it was not possible to feed all the humans on the planet by farming in such a way and may cause environmental damage. I was so pleased to realise that this isn’t the case, positive change benefits other areas. My message on food is that only eating meat as a treat and not everyday is healthier, cheaper, more sustainable and maintains animal welfare. Meat from animals that can range freely and are fed in a sustainable way, develops muscle, which makes the meat tastier and increases nutrients in the meat, making it healthier for the animals and the consumers. Rearing animals, working with nature, rather than against it, not only seems better, it is also better economically. So, I would encourage people to ethically source meat and save money by cutting out eating low quality meat in every meal, ultimately it’s cheaper and more enjoyable.

I think the idea of being open to new ideas and ways of being is so important, to better ourselves individually and wider society. However it is important to journey slowly and carefully, keeping our feet firmly on the ground as we do so.

This is why I was upset by the words of Donald Trump this week. Often politicians and other orators need to be regarded cautiously, they appeal to core conventional beliefs of a culture, then can take great leaps into the unknown, without questioning, without scrutiny. using Trump as an example, he states that there is a fear in Western societies of terrorism and in this most people will agree. However then Trump leaps onto blaming Muslims moving into the US as part of the problem, when there is no rational basis for this belief, it simply plays on fear and encourages fear, when fear is the actually the enemy. If Trump was a great expert on the history and politics of the Middle-East, then he may be worth listening to, however Trump himself has stated that he knows little of the history or politics of the Muslim world, thus he is not qualified to make meaningful comment. We are perhaps fortunate in Wales to have a significant Muslim population, there are a part of our communities, our workplaces, so it is clear that they are as decent people as any other sub group. The knowledge that the family down the street are ordinary decent people and are not secretly plotting the overthrow of civilisation, to think that they were would be extreme paranoia. However where there isn’t a normal family living in your locale it is much easier to play on the fears of the unknown.

Ethically Sourced Meat

I was a vegetarian for 15 years because of concerns over animal welfare and my inability to ethically source meat as a teenager. Having lost an argument over dairy products (I was being inconsistent), I decided to take up ethically sourcing meat and dairy products and became mostly vegetarian. I often explain my position to people and often people find my position appealing, they then ask ‘Is it easy?’ to which the answer is sadly ‘no’. Ethically sourced meat is basically meat from animals that have been reared in a traditional manner, where animals can express natural behaviours, generally grazing outside during the warmer months.

Ethically sourcing meat isn’t easy for two reasons. Firstly there is a lack of a clear labelling system. In the UK food labeling is a bewildering array of labels and standards, whether publically regulated (state level) or independently regulated (where you have to trust the labeling body). The second issue is a lack of direct connection between the consumer and the farmer, it is difficult as an individual consumer to monitor welfare levels at each farm, hence the need for labeling). Basically it all comes down to trusting the source

So, my solution has been to take a precautionary principle, sources of meat are investigated and then personally approved. Then the products have to pass a more important second test, this is a visual test of the meat itself, as free range meat looks and tastes differently to intensively produced meat. This second test involves identifying the quality of the meat by the presence of marbling (deposits of fat in the muscle which is indicative of an active life) and colour (active muscles are generally a darker hue), these qualities are then confirmed by the taste test.

My system is actually fairly inefficient, as I have to invest time and effort when sourcing meat products. Indeed, occasionally i consider going vegan for a simpler life! Really a proper labeling system would be more efficient, instead of every individual consumer conducting investigations, a single body can do the job for everyone, which would be much more economically efficient.

The system sometimes fails due to geography. In rural areas it works fairly easily, as relationships are built up with suppliers such as local butchers and other independent stores, who can state where and how the meat was reared and it is possible to check up on claims, so trust is established. In urban areas it gets a lot more complicated, as any followers i may have are aware, I was living recently in an urban area of Southern England, which had no local butcher shops and only supermarkets were available within convenient shopping distance for a weekly shop. what happened was that my meat consumption dropped to barely one meat containing meal a week. The issue was that the supermarkets only had a very limited range of ethically sourced meat and generally charged a very high premium for it. I could have ordered meat online, but being available for delivery of  a refrigerated product was overly burdensome.

What it is is that the British public do tend to want ethically sourced meat, but are constrained from doing so, by the post-industrial way our society is organised. Since free-range eggs have been labelled and regulated  consumption has increased from 2% to over 50%, the demand is there. Economic efficiencies of scale enable urban living and diversity of industry, yet with meat the industry has developed without popular consent for welfare standards and to have industrial efficiency in meat production and distribution requires labelling. Sadly the state, the UK and EU governments have failed to develop a comprehensive food labelling system that the consumer can trust. This lack of economies of scale hits farmers, where farmers do produce a high welfare, sustainable and tasty product, as individual small businesses, it is very difficult to get their produce to the the market for higher quality produce. Local farmers to me, sell on their high quality product in the same way as producers of low quality produce, because once the animals are sold at market, the high quality status is lost into the vast pool of meat that goes off for export to England and beyond.

Another question to address is will a comprehensive labeling system ever come about? There is a desire from politicians in both the Welsh, UK and EU government to implement a system. However, there are hurdles in place caused by international trade laws and there is potential under the proposed TTIP trade treaty for this process to become more difficult. Far from promoting free trade, these international laws stifle free trade by blocking regulatory systems, as states cannot breach these laws by implementing ‘non-tariff barriers’, by which having a local labeling system is difficult as it favours local businesses over foreign ones who can’t readily buy into the labeling system. Potentially TTIP will require a common labeling system to cover all of the EU and all of North America, it may take a very long time, if ever to reach a consensual agreement.

So, potentially, this leaves the consumer to regulate themselves, develop individual relationships with producers. This seems to be a failure of laissez-faire capitalism, where once economies of scale were thought to come from increased international trade, these economies are actually prevented by the system itself as consumers increasingly resort to local level solutions, rather than industrial solutions. It seems that no longer can individuals trust their local state democratic apparatus to regulate markets and thus free up there time to be more economically productive, there is no longer perhaps a ‘once size fits all’ approach, everyone has to do everything themselves, it does increasingly feel like it!

Proper Milk and Happy Farmers!

Cows-skipping

At last, an opportunity to celebrate and promote good news! I may come across as some weirdo milk obsessive (not that this isn’t entirely untrue), my grandfather did grow up on a dairy farm in Carmarthenshire, so I have a connection to dairy farming, (milk is in my blood <sic>).  I have despaired about modern society rejecting the value of good quality produce. A new dairy initiative has been set up to promote and distribute traditionally produced milk from cows that graze on grass (as indeed they should), check out  and look out for freerangedairy.org.

So, why am I so excited about this? I have been saddened as small dairy producers have fallen by the wayside as the supermarkets demand lower and lower unsustainable farm gate prices for milk. The mega-dairies have arose with cows never seeing the light of day in giant factory farms. I have found this particularly annoying, as such production methods are not as sustainable, or even efficient as pasture based systems. Basically more labour is involved in looking after the cows and harvesting grasses (or worse grain) to bring in to feed the cows, this system is really inefficient though economically cheaper only because of a distorted market.

I only buy organic milk. Well almost… not all of the cheese I buy contains organic milk, I love cheese and I wish I had better access to decent cheese made with sustainable milk,  cheese it the one compromise I make in ethically sourcing food. I digress, like intensive chicken meat, organic milk makes up 2-3% of the market in the UK currently. It has always puzzled me why free-range eggs make up >50% of the market and not chicken. I remember seeing in the supermarket a ready meal containing intensive chicken, and the label was promoting the fact that the sauce contained free-range eggs, did no-one else see the irony?

Perhaps the reason for this is simply price. People will happily pay a few pennies more for ethically sourced eggs, but not a few pounds more for a free-range chicken. Conscience, it seems, does have a price for the majority of people. So, I’m excited by this new scheme as without having to jump through the expensive hoops to certify as organic, free-range milk will only be a few pennies more than intensive milk, it can win, our environment need not be blighted by ugly smelly mega dairies.

Another thing that has frustrated me is that the family farms of upland Wales, the area where I grew up and the area I call home, are relatively poorer than farmers elsewhere in the UK. Basically because the land is less productive, however they produce a superior product in free range lamb, yet have often been unable to command a superior price for their superior product. I may be bias but i think it is true that Welsh lamb is sweeter and more flavoursome than lowland English or New Zealand lamb. Actually, the best lamb I have ever tasted came from Scotland (and it does pain my Welsh heart to say that).

Also recently, I’ve discovered a way to describe my food requirements in a way that doesn’t offend people but makes clear what to offer me. I am ‘mostly vegetarian’. The phrase is apparently widely used in India to describe Hindus who aren’t entirely strict with their vegetarian diet, yet haven’t entirely abandoned the traditional Hindu diet. The phrase ‘mostly vegetarian’ works to describe people like me who only eat free-range, traditionally produced meat products as an occasional treat (due to pricing). No longer will I have to explain myself in restaurants for taking the veggie option, then chomping through a rare steak of lovely Welsh beef at home. Basically I have often had a hard time explaining to people that I don’t eat intensive meat and some homes I’ve visited have been offended by this, so I’ve longed for a way to describe it.

I wish this scheme every success, and hopefully someone will read this and buy a pint of proper free-range milk?

Fighting Against Evil Supermarket Bread

I love bread! I love making it, baking it, the smell of it, eating it and spreading it with jam! It is the most wondrous stuff and the staple of European food. To an outside observer it would seem that the British in general have ended their love affair with bread. The story is a rather middle-class first world problem, but also illustrative of creeping value loss.

I was lucky to grown up in a small rural town, isolated from the early wave of the supermarket takeover of the British high street. The town had a bakers shop, mainly baking bread for the townsfolk and local businesses such as hotels and restaurants. We had several butchers shops, a fishmonger at the weekly market and several greengrocers. We also had a local independent supermarket , which sold one of everything, basically all dry goods, it even had a cheese counter. Shopping meant walking from shop to shop to purchase your provisions.

Nowadays the town has a rather poor chain baker, is very fortunate to have retained a butcher and convenience shops (which are basically only good for alcohol and snacks). There is a huge supermarket, 7 miles away in the next town, a drive or a bus journey. Time wise, weekly shopping now actually takes much longer. How did this happen? How is the only way of getting a decent loaf of bread to travel 7 miles to buy flour and bake it yourself, indicative of a more modern efficient society?

Supermarkets came about as they offered a more efficient distribution network, offering lower prices, more choice and exotic goods. There were supermarkets in the big cities first. My family used to drive to the city (a three hour round trip) once a month or so, for shopping: books, LPs, clothing and anything else we desired. On the way back we would visit the supermarket to stock up for the month on dry goods, such as rice, as this was much cheaper and to be able to buy foods we couldn’t get at home.

Most people in the town did this kind of shopping (in those pre-internet times). This did impact on the local shops. However the bakers survived as, fresh still warm bread is something very special, to be picked up from the local shop and delivered to the breakfast table. As time passed, local bakers declined. The supermarkets sold the soggy crappy ‘Chorleywood’ sliced, plastic bag bread, only good for toast, at rock bottom prices. So people bought this cheap crap and didn’t eat as much of it, instead people ate more and more of the other things the supermarket provided to replace bread (which they made more profits on),  bread declined. Occasionally people missed fresh bread, the supermarkets provided ‘in-store bakerys’, producing bread any real baker would be ashamed of. However, this made those who only used a supermarket to think that this was what real bread tasted like, it was no longer seen as something very special.

The supermarkets won and killed off real bread as an everyday staple. Bread is now seen as an artisan, luxury product, and often priced accordingly. This is very sad. Many place the blame on the ‘evil’ supermarkets, exploiting the British consumer. This is a rather reactionary view and is indicative of how extremist views can arise, whether they be on bread, meat-eating, political creed or religion. A blame culture, blaming others for a failure to act responsibly. Are the supermarket bosses really that evil, do they drink the tears of virgins with glee?

No. The supermarkets have simply followed the path of maximizing their own profits, without regard for their impact on society. The town planning system failed in holding back their growth.  They are not evil in the sense that they set out to destroy peoples enjoyment of bread,  A consequence of this is loss of bread and a loss of appreciation of the value of various foodstuffs. People are not evil, they simply follow convention and seek cheap food. This explains why bread demised, why the disgusting factory farming of animals proliferated, why people vote for political parties that superficially make the right noises.

Those of us who have invested the time to research, investigate and think have understood this. but the majority don’t. So, for those who understand, can see the situation as one where people just need to be told the truth, to be educated and they will form the same conclusions as these early seers. However, the majority appear not to listen to this vocal minority. They don’t listen because surely a minority of wierdos can’t be right, they must be extremists. So, all these dedicated minorities become tarred with the extremist label, whether they be religious converts, animal rights activists or political activists. The minorities respond by becoming exasperated, so shout louder and sometimes start acting immorally themselves ‘for the greater good’. Moral principle is lost, as well as access to a decent loaf of bread.

Corporate culture has killed off many things precious to ordinary folk. Not because pursuing a profit or greater efficiency is evil, but by taking the idea too far, without control, trying to be all encompassing. It is often heard that people don’t have the time to enjoy kneading there own loaf of bread, yet people have the time to sit for hours everyday in a traffic jam on the way to work and queue in the supermarket. It is very curious indeed how people don’t seem to take responsibility for there own lifestyles anymore in this ‘need’ to comply with contemporary economic theory.

Personality Spectra

Throughout this blog I have often touched upon my pet theory of personality spectra. The theory that peoples personalities and opinions exist on a multitude of various spectra. Sometimes I imagine that these spectra have distributions, that there may be a common or indeed universal distribution; whether flat, normal or exhibiting extreme bias.

I have a waryness of extremes. Because extreme views or positions are perhaps unhealthy and stem from taking an idea to ludicrous conclusions. However adopting extreme positions are often easier and logically easier to defend. I generally advocate balance and not being focussing too much on one thing, being a generalist and open to ideas form all over the place.

Two spectra, that I have discussed are animal welfare and sexuality. I have argued that there is a clustering of views on animal welfare at the extremes. For example, no rearing of animals, the vegan position. I have also argued that this clustering is easier. To believe, as i do that rearing animals for food is acceptable if certain animal welfare conditions are met. This is often hard to define and apply consistently in a world that doesn’t readily provide information on welfare criteria. You do feel, neither one thing or another and find few fellow advocates of your own personal stance.

If, the same logic is applied to sexuality, a similar pattern emerges. People generally cluster as either homo or heterosexuals. I have often thought that there should be more bisexuals than there seem to be. Perhaps bisexuals are those really close to the centre of this distribution. Perhaps we are all bisexuals, but during our individual exploration and development of our sexualities,we simply find it easier to adopt a one or the other approach.

I identify as heterosexual. Nonetheless i do experience the odd occasional ‘man-crush’. What is a ‘man crush’? I admire and respect various men and women without any sexual attraction, that isn’t it, though it is often associated with it. It’s not that I desire a relationship of any kind with my crushes. I think it is simply a mild form of attraction. Maybe, if I let myself loose of my personal rules and regulations, lived a completely free existence, I would have the odd rare relationship with a man. I don’t though, probably because, socially, it would be awkward and the chances of reciprocation slim indeed. Maybe such things are not worth the effort of pursuing. The decision to be rigidly heterosexual stems from a  simple cost-benefit analysis.

So, do these spectra have a three hump distribution? the two extreme ends and a bump in the middle? Obviously to test this fully, a large data set would; be required, for now I’ll explore a ‘random’ spectra. Abnegation to Selfishness. On such a spectra I would be a centrist, i believe it is important to help other people and society in general, however I need my own space and my own ideas (I am an introvert after all), so a balance is what I seek. There would be some extreme clustering, there are entirely selfless and entirely selfish people, perhaps more than I imagine. Again, there is the suggestion that the extremes are unhealthy? So, yes a three humped distribution again. This idea does require further analysis.

A furry generation

In the news today was an article on the resurgence of people buying fur coats in Britain. I was surprised by this as in the 1980s and 1990s there were massive campaigns against this cruel, abominable trade. New fur clothing became taboo, the animal welfare argument in this arena had seemed to have been won, only for the issue to come around again,  Why?

The article was published in a British newspaper, which contained a lengthy comments section which was filled with criticism of this phenomenon on animal welfare grounds. The comments section was later taken over by trolls. Internet trolls have been around since the early days of the internet, I’ve never quite seen the point of deliberately creating arguments and seeking to rile people up, when this surely has a negative effect on the trolls well being.

In the comments section, there was also genuine debate. Having dabbled on internet forums, these are often places where much misunderstanding occurs anyway, even without the trolls. I think that this is due to people not knowing the background of the commentators and many false assumptions are made. Perhaps especially in a generally British forum where sarcasm levels run very high, which is harder to detect in a solely written format. These misunderstandings are perhaps due to different positions on spectra.

The spectra of opinions on animals welfare are perhaps much like any other spectra. You have the two extreme ends, with small but passionate minorities: Those that believe all farming of animals is wrong and those that support all animal farming with no regard for animal welfare. Both of these extreme positions are coherent and defensible as creeds and you can respect adherents for the moral consistency. However the majority of people, probably, like myself, lie somewhere in between. Unlike a normal bell curve distribution, there are peaks at the two extremes. So when those in between people debate without knowing each other misconceptions arise. It seems that people adopt lifestyle positions without researching the facts, how they act and what they believe become different, which is much harder to defend in an argument.

In the case of fur, it has many similarities with the meat and dairy trade. There is traditional hunting of animals for their pelts to provide clothing for those who live at high latitudes, from sustainable populations of prey animals. I personally approve of this, but with the wildernesses of Russia, Canada, Scandinavia and invasive possums in New Zealand, it cannot provide enough fur to satisfy the demands of the world fashion market. Fake fur has been developed, so this should be the mainstay of the market. Fur lasts a long time, so I think vintage fur clothing can be re-sold. What I strongly object to is the intensive farming of animals for their pelts, in cages where often the animals can’t even turn around. The issue is that the farmed fur trade is very much near the extreme end of low animal welfare and one the vast majority generally find unacceptable.

A difficulty for my position is distinguishing ethically sourced fur from the cruel stuff, again much like the meat and dairy sector. This was the argument in the 80s and 90s; As you couldn’t source the fur, you had no idea if people were openly supporting cruelty to animals or not, so the argument ran that it was better not to wear real fur at all, rather than risk offense.

Some would argue that it is simply the fashion industry. This being the industry that profits from people buying more clothes than they need, made affordable to those in the Western world by being manufactured in sweat shop factories, akin to the Victorian mills of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. Has models who are unhealthily thin to be coat hangers and tell young women that making yourself thin is somehow acceptable. This is one of the reasons I’ve never really been into fashion and happy to wear somewhat raggedy clothes on an everyday basis. Really, I don’t understand why there aren’t more charity shops for exchange of clothes, as much fashion clothing is often only worn a couple of times. Being a chap, my choice in charity/ vintage cloth shops is relatively poor.

is it perhaps a generational thing. I wouldn’t suggest that the younger generation are less moral, but maybe how morality is expressed has changed. I am often disappointed with my generation in failing to achieve all that much progress in moral issues against corporate power. However what my generation did perhaps achieve was the acceptance of individuality. My generation cherish individuality, the freedom to pursue our dreams and to be ourselves. Listening to people in their late teens and early 20s, I am so impressed with their acceptance of other peoples sexuality and diversity of lifestyles, they seem to feel less obliged to do things they don’t want to. To some extent this only came about because my generations challenged traditional views and those people that rigidly adhered to them.

Perhaps this individuality has been taken to an extreme beyond the motivation behind it’s development.  my generation did view the world as a society, there was a feeling that we wanted to make the world a better place, here we failed.The younger generation have come to accept more that the world/ corporate power can’t be changed. There is less a sense of the possibility of the mass of the democratic public simply saying no to something in sufficient numbers with enough vigour to bring it about. That people feel that there is no longer a society to look after if you are able, a sense of local and international community. That one can perhaps only act at an individual level or within a peer group. Hence, whilst there may be as much despair at people wearing fur, people are perhaps less willing to challenge people who wear it. With the powers that be, monitoring us all on the internet and in our daily lives with CCTV, everyone is perhaps too afraid to challenge immorality.

What happens if no-one challenges immorality, if there is no cost to anti-social behaviour. I believe in animal welfare because I believe how people treat other sentient beings reflects on how we treat each other. It is only a small step between keeping an animal in a cage to having no qualms about a child being injured whilst working for a pittance in a factory on the other side of the world. Isn’t it time society stood up again for something? Fashion should be about fun, style and looking good, not draping yourself in the skins of mistreated animals.

Meaty Intolerance

Sometimes, I find it a challenge to be tolerant of people who are intolerant of vegetarians. Particularly such arguments as: Humans are omnivores, it’s ‘natural’ to eat meat. These arguments smack of the highest hypocrisy as the implication is that industrial intensive farming, rearing animals in cages on high growth diets is somehow ‘natural’, it isn’t, To many it’s intolerable. Yet veggies are labeled as being awkward people.

I grew up in rural Wales, in a community of small family farms, rearing animals in a traditional free range way. When I was fifteen I discovered that much of the meat I was eating was from intensive factory farming. I found this intolerable and became a vegetarian. Many years later I felt able to ethically source free range meat. This means I now eat meat once, maybe twice a week. Actually the traditional pre-industrial diet.

It annoys me sometimes that people still regard me as ‘awkward squad’ as I don’t eat meat at restaurants. when I first meet people I identify as practically vegetarian to not cause offense, until people get to know me better. The thing is that when I explain my food preferences to people, or expose urban people to the reality of food production, they tend to agree with me, but don’t act. Two reasons are often given:

1/ It’s too expensive. Well yes, but you don’t have to eat meat in every meal, meat should be a treat, not an everyday thing. It seems people are not prepared to make the changes in how they shop or cook.

2/ It’s too difficult to ethically source meat. This is true for the majority of places in the U.K. But if no-one doers this, there is no market pressure put on food production systems, so abuses of animals welfare perpetuate.

Really, it comes across to me, that people are intolerant of vegetarians yet when forced to think about it  they agree, but are simply not prepared to follow through on these convictions. I appreciate how how odd it is to go to a supermarket and ignore the vast majority of the meat section and all the products containing meat, to be lumbered with feeling an irritating sense of superiority in such stores, to feel like an outsider. But really, there is nothing wrong with being right, honest with yourself and true to your convictions. Being not true to yourself to support industries you find intolerable, is to me one of worst ways of living.

Arguing for Sustainable Intensification

Many arguments stem from semantic differences. Arguments often involve different interpretations of the same word, or  concept. Often there is a reluctance to shift ones own understanding of a concept, as there is an awareness that this may involve applying this shift to other arenas of thought, the fear of re-evaluation of deeply held beliefs.

So, it is important to clarify what is meant by sustainable intensification of agriculture, especially as it is a melding of two different concepts. Two different concepts that have historically be viewed as in opposition to each other.

Firstly sustainable means being able to continue a practice forever or at least for the foreseeable future. Undertaking a practice that doesn’t through it’s impacts curtail long term continuance of the practice.

Secondly, intensification means finding solutions to producing more from a limited resource. In agriculture, this has meant increasing specialisation, or increasing the inputs from other sources to increase production locally.

So, sustainable intensification means producing more from a limited resource, without in doing so affecting future use of the limited resource. however it doesn’t automatically imply that intensification can only be through increased use of external resources, it is here that issues come in interpreting what is meant by intensification. Nor does it imply simply increasing more from any one area of agriculture, a more holistic approach may be required.

Sustainable intensification has come about as a concept due to the challenge of producing enough food to feed the growing population of the world.Part of the problem is identification of what the limited resources are? The obvious answer is land, but it isn’t only land as in modern agriculture resources are used that come from outside the individual farm.  It is for this reason that traditional pre-industrial farming is often cited as being a sustainable model, because most resources used came from within the farm, so had to be sustainable. However traditional farming produces lower yields than modern farming.

Traditional farming was sustainable as local resources were used. Farms were mixed and produced food for consumption by the local community. All farms produced arable crops and animal products. what was useful was that it worked with natural biological processes, rather than seek solutions to constraints imposed by biological processes. Land was fertilised by the livestock, allowing arable crops to flourish and a portion of the arable crops sustained the animals through the winter months.

Industrialisation of agriculture, was a product of economics. The idea of producing low yields of an arable crop on land which was more suited for grazing, and conversely the idea of raising livestock on land which was capable of high yields of arable crops was dismissed on economic grounds. However the intensification enabled by this was not sustainable. It was not sustainable as the soil was drained of it’s natural resources, nature abhors mono-cultures, requiring ever more complicated artificial fertilisers and ways of combating pests/diseases. The battle of restraining nature caused ever spiralling costs.

Agriculture has become isolated from wider society. Further intensification using industrial techniques, including genetic modifications technologies, unless there is a very major breakthrough, is not going to increase yields very much. More lateral solutions are going to be required to achieve the goal of sustainable intensification.

One such solution comes through a  tweaking of the definitions, through ignoring the definition and instead dealing with the goal of feeding the world. not increasing any individual yield, but to focus on a holistic total yield. Western society has become used to consuming foods that are available all year round, from all over the world. Achieving that availability, particularly producing food out of season, invokes costs and inefficiencies. So, the solution is perhaps to ignore what the ‘market’ supposedly wants and instead concentrate on maximising production in a sustainable way. This will involve changing everyones diet. Some popular foods will become more scarce and expensive, especially out of season, other foods will become cheaper. The diets of the people of the ‘developed’ world will be changed in a similar way to agriculture, from working against the constraints of ecology to working with the ecology. Away essentially from the idea of using grain from arable land to feed livestock, to using foraging livestock to maintain arable yields for human consumption.

This process, does involve a change in how markets are viewed. Farming is after all a business, farmers main concern is making a tidy profit. A current phenomena is that dairy farmers in Wales are moving back to pasture based systems away from intensive use of concentrates. The reason for doing this is that costs are drastically reduced. So whilst yields are lower, the profit is increased. This is great economically and in terms of animal welfare, however, it is unclear whether, ultimately sustainable intensification is realised, as it is unclear how much less land is utilised globally in such a production system. There are developments in this area such as intensive foraging, where cows forage on mature grasses, which have an improved nutrient and protein content, leading to higher yields.

Sustainable intensification will be about finding ways of increasing yields on individual crops. by itself it won’t feed the world. The challenge of achieving food security for this over-populated planet, will involve changing diets, attitudes and lifestyles to more sustainable ones. This isn’t an argument for everyone to be vegetarian, as livestock will play a role in recycling nutrients and foraging land poorly suited to arable production, rather people will learn to eat less, but better quality, animal products.

For example, modern dairy herds are almost exclusively Friesian /Holsteins. These breeds have been bred for highly intensive production, involving a lot of inputs, management and are susceptible to disease, to the extent that these breeds struggle on non-optimum foraging conditions. A solution is a return to smaller herds of lower milk yielding, but more rugged traditional breeds, which , whilst producing less milk per cow, will require less inputs and play a part of working with the land, as part of the cycle preparing it to be high yielding arable land. By taking a more holistic approach the total yield of produce over the cycle per acre of land will be higher, than the industrial specialised system, people will need to adapt, as well as the farming industry to more vegetables and less meat.

Sustainable intensification is actually a melting pot of different definitions and re-evaluations of the economic systems people in the developed world live by, but the world needs it. Solutions will come from a melding of the best of traditional sustainable practice, with the best of modern techniques and scientific understanding.