Underming efforts to improve welfare levels

I’m sure that as we approach the longest day of the year that we are all looking for weather which is more suitable to the 21st of June than October!

Last week was another cold and drizzly week, but it did warm up a little at the weekend. The amount of greenery around this year is tremendous; trees seem to have larger and more leaves which seem to be a more vivid green than usual.

Grass growth continues, but not at the pace I expected I must say and our second cut of silage in two weeks might not be as heavy a cut as I at first thought, although the next fortnight should see some much bigger leaves increase the bulk considerably.

Talking to friends of mine, most of them cut a week or ten days later than we did the first time and are happy with the tonnage made and I must say that I do have more in our clamp than I at first thought.

Cereal farmers are facing poor yields this year and it looks as if this country will be a net importer of grain or the second year running. ‘Cereals 2013’ took place in Lincolnshire last week and it seems that this country will be harvesting 29% less acreage this year as wheat planting alone is down by around 25%.

The poor autumn followed by difficult weather is responsible and some areas of the country have been hit much harder than others.

East Anglia has not suffered too much, but the Midlands and the South West are in poor shape according to NFU Cereal Chairman Andrew Watts.

The debate on GM crops is firmly back on the agenda as a result of potential shortages, and a large survey was carried out at the cereal event.

Given the new restrictions on some pesticides and the worry that politics and pressure from minority groups is driving the agenda rather than science, GM does offer a different path.

However, whilst 61% of farmers surveyed would grow GM seed if it were allowed, there is still a worry about the way large corporations dominate and control the technology. 52% of farmers surveyed felt that GM has overpromised and under delivered.

Many are frustrated with the EU stance on GM, again led by politics and ideology rather than science, but with supermarkets moving on GM feed for poultry with no consumer backlash, and the work in Rothamsted developing wheat which repels aphids, there is more optimism around.

With two billion more mouths to feed by 2050, it would be incredible if this technology which is widespread in other parts of the globe, is not approved for use in Europe.

The magazine ‘Poultry World’ has revealed that British hospitals are serving imported chicken which falls below UK farm assured welfare standards.

It is disappointing to see yet again that government procurement falls short of the demands made on British farmers by the very same government.

Time and time again we find that pressure from the Treasury means that schools, hospitals, prisons and the British Army, are often fed on cheaper imported foods which do not reach the standards of British farmers.

The lower standards allow cheaper production due to higher stocking density for example, and undermine the efforts to continually raise welfare standards in this country.

I am perplexed by that thought that there is now a buying standard for prisons, which is of course very welcome, but not for hospitals.

One would think that good food is a rather essential part of getting well, and I wonder if any of the boffins in charge of this have calculated how many fewer days would be spent in hospitals if rather higher quality food were to be served.

Is it a case of penny wise – pound foolish? It would be a positive move for government to have a policy across their procurement of food, to meet the standards farmers produce to in this country.

Another interesting survey shows that we are actually eating less despite the concerns over weight gain and obesity.

A five year government sponsored study set to be published in a leading medical journal, will claim that there has been a 20% drop in calorie consumption over the period. Apparently the reason is that we are choosing a less calorie dense diet, and that food eaten at home (calories down 25%) contains less milk, fats and sugar, and more fish, fruit, vegetables and cereals.

However, calories consumed from eating out, take-away, soft drinks and snacks have increased by around 15%. Yet in the period from 1980 to 2010, there has been a steady increase in the weight of both men and women.

The average man in his 20s weighs 7Kg more than in 1980, but a dramatic 14Kg increase when it comes to men in their late fifties.

The change of lifestyle and work could be the main reason for this in both men and women, but not all of the weight gain is explained by the switch from more manual work to a more sedentary lifestyle.

The daily drop in calories consumed which at 600 is equivalent to a burger and chips, three pints of Guinness or two and a half Mars bars, should account for a weight loss of 1 kg per year over the period, and the researchers are looking at what causes weight gain despite a drop in calorie intake.

Their focus is on the link between the rise in obesity and certain food types such as sugar. They are also looking at why certain age groups seem to be more susceptible to weight gain.

Quite a stir has been caused by a letter recently sent out by the RSPCA to members of their committees which include farmers, welcoming them to an afternoon of celebration of the RSPCA’s work and a glimpse of future strategy.

This is an event held at the end of this month where the challenges of the future will be discussed.

It all goes pear shaped for farmers and those involved in the industry when the letter states that a free vegan lunch will be provided!

I’m afraid that is all one needs to know about the RSPCA future strategy.

It is interesting that when a proper meal is offered, vegetarian and vegan alternatives are available; I am yet to see a vegetarian or vegan menu offer alternatives to those of us who eat meat.

The bigger question is where does this leave ‘Freedom Foods’, the RSPCA’s label for food which is produced to their higher standards.

It has been suffering of late with falling sales, and if the meat processing industry and farmers, some of which sit on the technical committees that agree the standards, are invited to RSPCA events and offered vegan meals, I can see them walking away.

The invite has been seen as a massive statement by the organisation and there will be consequences, I’m sure of that.

Gwyn Jones