the downturn in animal welfare

So the British Government has stated its intention to scrap animal welfare codes in the farming industry. Instead – get this – the industry will regulate itself. You can see where that will go, can’t you: only downwards. I am despairing.

We have supposedly some of the best animal welfare standards in the world, and it is still appalling. Battery hens still only have a cage the size of a sheet of A4 paper; one-day old male chicks are minced alive, or gassed, or suffocated in plastic bags; breeding sows are still kept in in tiny metal breeding stalls (and it’s said the piglets are dropped through metal bars onto conveyor belts); veal calves are taken from their mothers at a few days of age and raised in the dark, in small areas, for all of their short lives; and mares are kept pregnant, in confined spaces, in order to produce the hormone used to make HRT for menopausal women (it is NOT necessary, folks; go the herbal route; contact me, or better still, search the web, for more info) – hence some of the brand names (eg Premarin). This is our ‘high welfare’.

As John Vidal said in yesterday’s Guardian (March 26, 2016), the plans may knock a penny or two off an already-cheap chicken, but are likely – quite apart from all the welfare issues – to see the continued disruption of health scares.

How can deregulation do anything other than intensify the conditions, ripe for disease, in which already-intensive animal farming rears its victims?

Vidal points out that ‘it was the total failure of the industry ability to regulate itself that led to last year’s chicken bug scandal when [it was found] that nearly 8 out of 10 fresh chickens bought from British supermarkets were contaminated with the potentially lethal food-poisoning bug campylobacter, costing the NHS nearly £900m… more than 240,000 people a year were getting ill and up to 100 were dying… Salmonella in eggs, BSE in cattle, foot-and-mouth disease* and swine flu – all followed cuts in animal welfare standards or inspection services.’

This is environment minister Liz Truss’ drive. Vidal points out that under TTIP, if it happens, there will be a downfall in food and farming standards; the US agribusiness will be exporting to Europe animal products from a farming system with much lower welfare and hygiene standards than our own.

If we exit the EU, then clearly, as he states, our welfare standards are likely to fall, anyway.

Whichever way you look at it, animals will suffer more. Chances are humans who eat them will, too. We cannot let this happen. There are, hooray, greater numbers of people becoming vegetarian for a range of reasons: animal welfare, personal health, budget, awareness of the environmental cost, and the enormous and inefficient demand for land and water to produce such a small amount of food for a burgeoning population. More people, too, are looking at vegan options.

But we have a VERY long way to go before we can be proud of the way we relate to animals. (As my partner said yesterday: many people unthinkingly consider them really to be automata, more or less.)

Meantime, we need to challenge, at the very least, this proposed downgrading of animal welfare and the knock-on effects on humans.

If anyone knows of a petition started up to protest this, please add it to the Comments. If it doesn’t happen, I might just have to start one myself.

And you could also write to your MP?

March 30th: here’s the petition link. It’d be great if you’d sign and share it:


* Foot-and-mouth disease: I documented this as it happened in Devon, and in fictional form but with factual accuracy it forms part of my last novel, The Burning Ground.




‘dominion over the animals’? I don’t think so

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{link url=”” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”}Carsten ten Brink{/link} (Flickr, used under a {link url=”″ target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”}CC BY-NC-SA 3.0{/link})

Like many people who are engaged in any kind of campaigning in social or eco-activism, I feel much of the time a mix of hope and utter despair.

I do believe that slowly, slowly there is a movement towards transformation taking place, an evolution of consciousness.

When I look around, though, at the terrible cruelty and suffering we inflict on others – our own species, and the other-than-human – and the way we are trashing the planet, it’s hard to feel much other than despair at the fact that it may all be too little too late. Can we really change so much desperate stuff?

I know that what is happening is rarely intended to be cruel; it’s not deliberate evil. It’s out of ignorance, and a kind of blindness because our desire-bodies, as they say in esoteric teachings, want what they want to the exclusion of the needs of others.

Then there’s our unexamined assumptions, beliefs, values – often things that are sanctioned by our family, our nation, our society as a whole.

And too the fact that we are not always taught the much wider and often invisible consequences of our actions.

Most of all, perhaps, we forget we live in a web of interconnectedness, where everything is essential and has its integral place, and where any rip anywhere in the fabric of things ripples through the whole.

A week or two ago I blew off at a kind, lovely, intelligent and talented friend. His crime? He said: ‘But what about the fact of our dominion over the animals?’

This phrase (belief) really presses all my buttons, and has done for a very long time. Because he is who he is, and because of the circles I move in, he could hardly have shocked me more if he’d turned out to be a climate change denier, or to exhibit Nazi sympathies, for instance.

I’m aware that I didn’t handle it skillfully. A better way to relate to what he said might have been to ask him why he felt what he did: ‘That’s interesting. Why do you feel that we have dominion over the animals?’

Trouble is, I know only too well why people – many people – feel that. Our Western culture espouses a hierarchical view of planetary relations, with us, humans, at the top (as I’ve no doubt said many times on this blog before). Everything else ‘below’ us is there as a – red rag to me – ‘resource’.

I don’t know how long this has operated in at least the Western psyche. (I’m not saying it doesn’t happen elsewhere; I’m simply not qualified to judge that, but historically at least in the Far East the web model of Indra’s Net [a Buddhist model, also occurring in Hindu philosophy] has held more sway for longer; this is a more ‘horizontal’ view of interrelationship.)

My own hobby horse is that our sense that we ‘own’ the earth, and that its fruits and animal species are ours to use as we see fit, as ‘resources’, crept into our ideology with the Neolithic farming revolution, where we moved away from the hunter-gatherer model and started to co-opt land, annex animals for our benefit, and grow crops.

Plato has to shoulder some of the responsibility. And then the entrenched bulk of it comes from Judeo-Christian teachings based on (mis?)translations and (mis?)interpretations of the Bible.

It is THE NORM for (at least Western) humans to view everything else on the planet as being put here for us.

The worst thing is that we dissociate from other species; forget we’re all in this together. The Enlightenment has a lot to answer for, too – underlining this view, stressing the importance of reason and cultivating a suspicioun of feeling. Without feeling, how can we empathise enough as to change our ways?

What happens, in this worldview? Bit by bit everything else is co-opted for our benefit (64 billion land mammals and birds killed for us to eat every year, mostly reared and killed in conditions of terrible suffering, and a trillion aquatic animals), or is simply extinguished (like the many many species lost each week).

And we don’t even want to know, or examine our habits; if we did, we might need to change.

That’s what I’m angry about.

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few weeks of a heartbreaking poem by W S Merwin. Here’s the opening; do read the rest.

For a Coming Extinction

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him 
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

it ends like this:

Tell him
It is we who are important.

first do no harm


Kamalamani writes about her gradual shift from lacto-vegetarianism towards veganism.

‘I never much liked eating animals. They were my best friends growing up, so it felt wrong to eat them. Unfortunately, I was quite a compliant little girl, so I did. Seeing animals rammed into multi-level lorries, tearing along motorways, and caged mammals in busy markets reduced me to embarrassing tears. I stopped meat-eating when I was 14, the last straw being a documentary about the factory farming of animals which we watched during a Personal and Social Education lesson at school. So I just stopped.

‘I have tasted meat a few times since. Sometimes accidentally in France, biting into a quiche having done my best to ascertain it was vegetarian, and very occasionally eating a slice of ham, perversely, proving to myself that I don’t want to eat animals – I don’t. Once, having travelled for hours across the Kenyan Highlands at work, I was presented with a slab of roast goat for lunch, under the heat of the blazing equatorial sun. I didn’t have the heart to say I was vegetarian, so happy was my host to tell me that he had roasted one of his scarce family goats. I prayed to the goat as I reluctantly gnawed and chewed its meat – it had lived a long life, it seemed.

‘A couple of years ago I had glandular fever and had a yearning for fish during the long, slow recovery. I ate some fishes, to my surprise, for I had barely eaten fish when I was young. My body loved it, whilst my mind wasn’t at all sure. I found myself praying to the fish, too. Honesty around eating, particularly around the eating of previously breathing beings, is important to me. Maybe I’d feel happier if I could say that I stopped eating meat when I was 14 and a morsel never passed my lips again, but it wouldn’t be true. Eating and consumption in broader terms are a complex thing, particularly, it seems, for those of us in the current zeitgeist.

‘In the same phase that I was eating the occasional fish, I was, paradoxically, becoming increasingly vegan in the ethics of my cooking and eating habits. The silver lining of glandular fever was that my body told me, quite unequivocally, what it did and what it didn’t want to eat. No more caffeinated tea, not too much dairy, very little sugar, and being much fussier about where my food came from.

‘For many years I’ve had an ‘ought’ about being vegan, too. I have had phases of being more or less vegan, knowing about the suffering of the diary industry. That ought has changed this new year. More than ever I have been drawn to cooking and eating seasonally – my partner and I are keen allotmenteers, so that’s not too taxing for much of the year. I’ve also been cooking to match the season and the mood, which has meant lots of mid-winter slow cooking. In this mood, eating dairy makes far less sense, logically and intuitively, for my body or the planet.

‘I haven’t, yet, found myself becoming vegan in the same way as my immediate decision to become vegetarian all those years ago. It could happen one day. I wouldn’t be surprised, but not for now, although I have decided this year that the main meals I cook at home will be vegan, which is proving fairly effortless. I have a broader awareness of how we humans cause harm now, compared to when I was 14. I stopped flying 12 years ago, another overnight decision. It just made no sense to me anymore – not that I was flying loads – to pollute the air, our breath and biosphere, with flying being one of the most pleasurable and harmful of our carbon addictions. I wanted to take action in changing an aspect of my life which I knew would have an impact upon me, really, I suppose, in preparation for the lifestyle changes we are all going to have to make in the decades ahead. Why not get started?

‘Limiting the harm I cause has become an even more important practice in the past 21 years, since starting to practise the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. Inviting acting from the loving-kindness within me, over and over again, rather than from the more ‘autopilot’ greed, hatred, and ignorance has been transformative – not that I’ve completely sussed it! Yet, we can’t live without causing some harm in what we eat, how we eat, how we travel around, our work, even how we dig and plant potatoes at the allotment.

‘I can feel a bit fatigued about being the odd one out. When I became a veggie back in 1985 I got a lot of stick from some of the other kids, even though I kept quite quiet about it. I’m also a Buddhist, not married, no kids – weirder still, I’ve written ‘Other than mother’, a book about not having kids, in part, for ecological and environmental reasons. I’ve had many awkward conversations over the years about being veggie, and been ridiculed for being vegetarian in different cultures.

‘And in writing that, I hear the immense privilege of my human status. I don’t want to inconvenience myself by being completely vegan, whilst knowing that this ‘inconvenience’ would be so minor compared to the abject suffering caused to animals by the diary industry. How relatively easy it would be for me to be vegan. That wrestling with internal voices ‘well I don’t fly and I’m veggie, therefore I’ve done my bit’ sort of attitude. In parallel, I think of the animals I haven’t eaten in the past 31 years. The online ‘animal calculator’* estimates that that is around 6,228 animals; 6, 013lbs of meat and 49,603lbs of carbon dioxide not released into the atmosphere.

‘The final words of the Buddha come to mind: “all conditioned things are impermanent, with mindfulness, strive on.”‘

Kamalamani is a Bristol-based Body psychotherapist, facilitator, supervisor, and author.