Being a flexitarian has always been for me not only about “eating less meat” but also, when you eat it, about “eating better meat”. By “better meat” I mean meat from animals that are properly looked after and raised to higher welfare standards.
Animal farming has changed a great deal over the past 70 years or so. Our growing appetite for meat means that we require not only more meat but also cheaper prices. The solution has been to raise animals in Factory Farms and CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation). The names are enough to make you lose your appetite. No more pigs happily rolling in the mud, cows grazing fields or sheep flocking the hillsides. Today poultry, cattle and pigs are kept in overpopulated, confined and cruel conditions. The animals we are eating are younger, bigger and cheaper than before.
Yet there are hidden costs to our hunger for meat: animal welfare, health costs and environmental costs (which I already discussed here).
I was quite shocked last year watching Danish political drama Borgen expose the Danish pork industry. It showed not only the crammed conditions pigs were kept in, but also the cruel practice of tail docking (where pigs’ tail are clipped to avoid biting). A similar practice in the poultry industry involves debeaking chickens and turkeys. The techniques are used to “help protect the animals from injuring themselves”. Many will argue that tail docking and debeaking are direct consequences of close confinement and can be avoided by raising animals in less crowded environments.
Intensive animal farming has also a direct impact on our health. Antibiotics are routinely used in animal farms to promote growth and treat diseases. Eating meat we also ingest those antibiotics, dangerously increasing our own antibiotic resistance. Soon we might be unable to treat simple diseases. Once again better welfare conditions can help alleviate the problem as animals kept in overfilled spaces are more likely to catch diseases.
One way we can all make a difference is by eating less meat and choosing to buy higher welfare meat. Eating “better meat” will make a difference to your health, animal welfare and the environment.
Yes it is more expensive but not as expensive as you think. According to Farms Not Factories ‘the price of two factory farmed sausages equates to the cost of one and a half high welfare sausages’. You can also balance your budget by buying cheaper cuts and eating less meat. Check out this handy guide to Cooking with Cheaper Cuts.
So how can you buy “better meat”? First make sure you buy meat that carry a welfare label. Is there is none or the person you are buying from does not know, just don’t buy it. There are a lot of labels out there, some supported by clever marketing campaigns. It is hard to know what those certifications stand for.
To better understand welfare labels we turn to our friends Farms Not Factories who have provided us with the following guide. While the chart was created with pigs in mind, it is worth noting that it applies to other animals too:
Additionally, you can show your support to “better meat” by signing the Pig Pledge to boycott meat from animal factories. Visit the “High Welfare Pork Directory” to find local high welfare pork from your local farms, shops & restaurants.
Farms Not Factories is a non-profit organisation working collaboratively through film-making and campaigning to support the work of the ‘food sovereignty’ movement. They expose the true costs of cheap meat from animal factories in order to inspire people to make better food choices that enable local, healthy and fair farming systems – for people, animals and the planet. While their campaign “The Pig Pledge” is focused on pigs, Farms Not Factories aim to oppose all animals’ factory farming. Their long term vision is a world in which people avoid meat from animal factories and choose food from real farms that nourish people and planet.
Each day this week, building up to World Food Day on Thursday 16 October, Farms Not Factories will focus on a different negative impact of factory farming on human health, animal welfare, pollution of the air and water, damaging effects on rural communities, and the globalisation of factory meat production. You can follow Farms Not Factories on Twitter @pigbusiness