The Cost Of Humane Practices? 1%
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Britain’s most complained about advert of 2017 featured a rapping chicken.
The campaign for fast food chain KFC attracted 755 complaints, saying that the advert was disrespectful to chickens and distressing for vegetarians, vegans and chickens. The Advertising Standards Agency chose not to remove the ad, however, as it felt it did not contain any explicit reference to animal slaughter.
Awareness of animal welfare is undoubtedly on the rise with more people choosing to buy free range eggs and companies now specifying that their products contain free range rather than caged hens’ eggs. By looking at the packaging of meat, it is becoming clearer how well treated the animal was, for example RSPCA assured stickers and Red Tractor labels.
Despite the steps that many companies, and consumers, are taking to be more ethically conscious, there is still a battle between price and peace of mind. On one end of the spectrum, vegetarians and vegans choose to go without animal-based products due to ethical reasons and on the other there are those out there who claim they just cannot go without bacon.
It is no surprise that paying less for meat and animal products inevitably impacts upon the welfare of the animals involved. But how can this be made a primary concern when more people than ever are accessing food banks?
Recent research from a trio of agricultural economists have demonstrated that the divide between price and peace of mind may not be as large as we had imagined.
Researchers at Purdue University published a paper at the beginning of the month detailing their findings. It has long been a battle for animal-welfare advocates to change the practices of meat companies’ systems which often place the welfare of the animal at the bottom of the pecking order, pardon the pun. A long-scale tradition to ensure profit in the chicken industry is to breed ‘fast-growing’ chickens; chickens which grow at such a weight that their legs can’t support them.
The economists at Purdue compared two such ‘fast-growing’ breeds, the Cobb 500 and the Ross 308, alongside two slower growing breeds, the Ranger Gold and the Ranger Classic. The economists found that the cost of switching to the more ethically sound slower growing breeds would cost the farmer around 14%. However, this increase does not necessarily cross over into retail. The researchers predicted this change to more humane breeding would see a 1.17% increase for the consumer.
Concern for the welfare of animals in agriculture rose again last year when The Guardian revealed that the UK has over 800 livestock ‘mega farms’, where US style intensive factory farming is used for poultry, pigs and cattle. Although a bigger farm does not necessarily mean higher cruelty, the proportion of animals to space and the techniques employed by the companies were brought into question.
As part of the EU, Britain has been part of advances such as the banning of battery farming whereby laying hens must be kept in enriched cages with extra space to scratch, nest and roost. It is often said that UK farming has the highest welfare standards in the world and though there is no direct evidence to support this, the UK’s voice has been amongst others within the EU to demand higher standards in agriculture.
Animals in the food industry that suffer poor welfare is not only detrimental to the animals, but also bad for the long-term prospect of UK farms and arguably, the consumer isn’t receiving the best either. As has become the party-line with Brexit, no one is sure where we will stand on farming and agriculture issues, as with many other issues. However, no matter the outcome of Brexit, the UK will still be comprised of the same citizens that it held before. By retaining the consumer integrity that we have begun to build and by continuing to build upon it, higher welfare for animals should be achievable without alienating the consumer.