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Posts Tagged ‘animal welfare’

veal calf

Ever wondered what becomes of male dairy cows? Cows that produce milk are, of course, female. So what happens to the males? We eat them, surely? Well actually no, not often.

Dairy cows are bred to be great at producing milk. But unfortunately, this is at the expense of their meat and most dairy cows are considered to produce inferior beef. And it’s worth a lot less than regular beef to the farmer.

So normally, to save the cost and bother of rearing them, male dairy cows are shot at birth.

Last year 260,000 male calves were disposed of as a waste product of the UK dairy industry.

A few more were spared being shot and were exported to the continent and used to create traditional white veal. Whether you consider these ones the lucky ones is a matter of your point of view.

White veal, as is fairly well known, is a pretty cruel way to produce meat. In order to keep the meat white, the animals are kept in crates and deprived of light and they’re fed only on a diet of milk. It’s a practice that was banned in the UK in 1990 but still continues in France, Italy and other European countries.

However, there is an alternative, which is growing in popularity.

British ‘rose ‘ veal.

It’s called rose veal because the meat is pink not white. It’s pink because the animals lead a more natural life: in daylight and eating grass, as well as their mother’s milk. It’s being promoted by the RSPCA as a much less cruel alternative to killing the animal before it has had a chance to live.

And because it is young, it still makes good meat. It’s like really tender beef.

Typically British veal calves have a lifespan of 6-8 months. This is no worse than lamb. Lamb is of course called lamb because it is a young sheep. The definition of lamb is a sheep less than 12-months old. After that it becomes mutton.

Killing an animal at birth seems incredibly cruel and wasteful. But without consumer demand for meat from male dairy cows, it is inevitably what will happen to them. Unless they are packed off to France for an even worse fate.

So if you eat milk, cheese and butter, then you should consider eating veal too. Possibly even if you’re a veggy that eats dairy. They are all products of the dairy industry. And if you consume milk, then you are in some small way responsible for the male calves.

If you buy some veal escalopes or veal mince instead of regular beef, you are also reducing the demand for regular beef, which as has been discussed a lot in the press recently, has a fairly large environmental impact.

Rose veal is becoming pretty widely available and the supermarkets seem to be increasingly stocking escallops, mince and other British veal. As with all meat, free-range or organic is the best choice as it means there are much higher welfare standards.

Fewer than one in 100 people eat veal in the UK. But what many of us have considered to be one of the most unethical culinary choices over recent years, could actually can be one of the most ethical. And we can be smug about being more caring than the French.

Excellent. Who’s for a veal burger?

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Lambs

I’m a carnivore. I like eating meat. Sausages, a well roasted chicken, a nice steak. Yum. But I’m aware that it has its environmental issues and that I should probably eat less. I don’t really want to stop eating meat but I do want to know how to eat it in the most sustainable way.

So, first things first – why is eating meat bad for the environment?

The main reason is that it’s pretty inefficient to produce. In order to make it, you have to feed and water animals and give them room to live. You need to grow around 10 kilos of feed in order to produce a single kilo of beef. Pork is a bit better, only needing around five kilos of feed and poultry needs less than three. Cows are also thirsty buggers and so you also require 100,000 litres of water per kilo of beef. That’s about the same amount a small household gets through in an entire year. Loads.

Animals also belch and fart. Burps and farts are mainly made up of methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is far worse than CO2.

It’s thought that once you include the oil used to power farm machinery and produce the fertilisers needed to grow feed, meat production accounts for about 10% of the greenhouse gases contributing to warming our planet. That’s quite a significant chunk.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the world is eating an increasing amount of meat. Global consumption has gone up by a whacking 500% since 1950. The demand for feed for the 1.3 billion cows and 1.8 billion goats and sheep that we now need to meet this growing demand means that in many parts of the world rainforest is being cut down in order to create land to grow it. This also contributes to the problem as there are fewer trees to absorb CO2.

However, it’s not all bad.

Animals also poo. And manure is a brilliant fertiliser. Cow shit is the best natural alternative to nitrogen fertilizer. Without animal poo, organic farming would be very difficult indeed.

Also, if you have female animals producing milk so you can make butter, cheese and other dairy products then you’re going to end up with as many males wandering about doing nothing, so we might as well eat them before they eat too much grain and belch out too much methane. Cattle can also help maintain the habitat for some bird species.

So taking all that onboard, I’m not going to give up my meat habit. I think eating meat is a natural thing for humans to do. However, given its huge contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, I am going try and cut down on how much I eat. Particularly beef. And I’m going to try and make sure the meat I do buy has been produced in the most environmentally sound way. Inevitably it will be a bit more expensive but if I’m eating less of it, it should even out nicely. And I reckon good meat will taste better.

So what do I need know?

Beef

Buy British. Our standards are apparently the highest in the world and it will also have traveled less far, and so will account for far fewer food miles. We also have no shortage of water in this country.

Buy meat grown in “suckler herds”, where the animals can roam around eating grass. Look out for meat labelled free-range and certain slow-growing outdoor breeds such as Aberdeen Angus, Hereford, Highland, Sussex, Welsh Black and other rare breeds. If the animal is eating grass, then that will cut down considerably on its carbon hoof print.

If beef is intensively produced the cow will have spent its life in a crowded shed, with little exercise and chance to graze on grass, requiring specially grown feed. It will also be a much less healthy animal you’re eating. Animals intensively produced are also routinely given drugs – mostly antibiotics – to stimulate growth and prevent disease in overcrowded conditions. This means there may well be unhealthy drug residues in your meat. Some think it is also contributing to the problem of the problem of bugs becoming resistant to antibiotics and may well cause us problems treating diseases in the future.

Buy organic. Meat labelled organic must comply with much stricter animal-welfare standards and it also rules out use of routine antibiotics and including animals and fish in feed – also not a particularly healthy thing to do.

Organic beef is very common and much less expensive than other organic meats.

Pork

Again, buy British. Our welfare standards are much higher than in Europe where many pigs are kept in cages they can’t turn around in. On the continent, they also do nasty things like clip the animal’s teeth to stop them biting each other in cramped conditions, something that is illegal in the UK.

Buy free-range or outdoor-reared. Outdoor-reared is much better than outdoor-bred as this means that it was born in free-range conditions but by implication was then raised indoors. Again rare-breeds that are suited to the outdoors are a good sign and will taste better. These include Gloucestershire Old Spot, Tamworth, Large Black Bershire, Saddleback, British Lop, Middle White and Oxford Sandy & Black.

Buy organic. The animal will have had better conditions and a better diet. If you can’t get organic, products marked with the Little Red Tractor or RSPCA Freedom Foods logo offer some basic animal welfare guarantees although not as high as those certified organic.

Lamb

Buying good lamb is pretty easy as it’s impossible to rear sheep intensively indoors. That’s why it’s generally more expensive. Sheep are also more eco as they make use of agriculturally marginal land and also produce wool and dairy products.

Organic lamb is good as it means that the sheep have been reared naturally and in the most environmentally sound way and fed on organic feed.

Don’t buy British in the winter or early in the year. Because we mainly eat lamb, rather than mutton, it’s seasonal. Lambs are born in the early spring so eating lamb over the winter or early in the year means that it has been born unnaturally.

One solution to this is to buy New Zealand lamb. Because it’s been reared in the southern hemisphere, it’s in season when home grown lamb isn’t. But surely transporting it 12,000 miles can’t be good? Well according to the Kiwi’s on average New Zealand lamb is four times as energy efficient as UK lamb even taking in to account the shipping costs. This because on average the Kiwis use less fertiliser and concentrated feeds. Obviously, it’s not as good as organic British lamb in season but if you’re craving lamb in the winter months, it’s the best option.

Poultry

Chicken welfare has been talked about a lot recently. Most people are reasonably aware of the cramped conditions that intensively farmed chickens live in. However, from a purely environmental point of view and in terms of C02 emissions, an intensively produced broiler bird has the lowest impact. It lives for a very short amount of time – 51 days – and therefore eats a relative small amount of feed.

Personally though, I’d rather eat a little less chicken and know that it was a healthy animal that had had a decent natural life. And that didn’t suffer from nasty a skin disease because it’s spent its miserable days sitting in its own shit.

Organic birds are the next best option as their feed is organic and will not have used fertilisers, which contribute a large amount to their carbon footprint. They also will have foraged some of their food themselves from living outdoors and so require a little less. Organic certified birds will have at least as good welfare standards as free-range birds and may have lived longer.

Free-range will have a similar life span (56 days) as an intensively produced bird but will have been in the open air for at least half of their life. Traditional free-range birds have smaller flock sizes and are allowed to live for longer (81 days). Obviously the longer they live the less efficient they are to produce as they eat more food. The trade off is a slight improvement in welfare against an increase in C02 emissions. Barn-reared are essentially identical to “standard birds” but with lower stocking densities and a slightly longer life (56 days).

Whichever you go for, buy British. Despite some of the terrible conditions we keep chickens in, they’re actually far better than in many parts of the world. We ship in a lot of chicken from countries such as Thailand and Brazil and as well as contributing a lot of food miles, they are likely to have been produced in very unhealthy conditions.

So there you go. I’m going to try and eat veggie for at least a couple of days a week and restrict beef to a monthly treat. I’m not going to buy lamb in the winter or early spring. I’m also going to try and buy British organic, free-range rare breeds where possible. I’ll know that the animals lived a better life. And hopefully by eating less meat, it won’t cost me much more. And what I do eat will taste better. Sounds like a fair trade. Lovely.

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