Wednesday, 22 September 2010

WAG consultations - food strategy and TB

There are two new Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) consultations, see details below.

1. On TB in non-bovines
Respond to the consultation here by 11th November.

There is a simple method for dealing with this issue - the only one that a civilised society should follow. That is, if TB occurs in an animal then they should be treated to the best quality veterinary care available until they are better. Along with restrictions on the moving of animals to markets the TB issue will disappear.

WAG should stop wasting public money on subsidising and compensating animal farmers too. We don't compensate other industries when they produce faulty goods (e-coli, BSI, salmonella, foot and mouth, TB).

2. On a food strategy for Wales
Respond to the consultation here by 28th September.

Unfortunately the proposed strategy pretty much ignores the wider issues of health, nutrition, climate change, rising energy prices, land use, water scarcity, and the negative health impacts of meat and dairy foods. In its current form it will lead to flawed decision making based on missing out on the all-important links between these topics. It seems to be ‘more of the same’ with lip service to sustainability and climate change and little or nothing on animal welfare. This is no change here, no radical thinking or planning for a different direction. It proposes nothing to deal with common problems such as: why are greenfield sites always built on for housing, but never used for allotments?

There’s no reference to choice of diet (e.g. vegetarian), no reference to the health benefits or reducing meat and dairy intake, there’s no reference to livestock’s massive contribution to methane production and the damage to the climate from this, and little reference to the benefits of organic production in terms of reducing dependencies on oil based fertilisers and pesticides. There’s also little or no mention of the benefits of the organic approach in terms of biodiversity. There is also no reference to the connection between imported food stuffs for animal feed and the destruction of the precious rainforests, see recent Royal Agricultural Report Pastures New.

So as it stands it manages to ignore just about all the important issues. Quite outstanding.

How could it be improved?

The report refers to sustainability, but even that reference is lacking in any substance.

Environmental sustainability
There is no reference to the UN’s research which showed that livestock are the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases and thus their role in global warming (Livestock’s Long Shadow). A another UN report (Assessing the environmental impact of consumption and production, 2010) found that Agriculture, especially meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. In the sustainable section (para 59 onwards) there’s no actual reference to the methane produced by livestock, and this damaging impact on the climate. Para 67 does not clearly state a reduction in meat intake in diet is the main way to reduce carbon footprint – the wording as it stands is vague and indirect – it needs to be clearly spelt out that it is a reduction in meat and dairy foods in the diet that is the way to reduce carbon footprint.

There is reference to the carbon footprint of food production, but it is not explicit in the strategy that livestock farming has a huge role to play in this regard and if people wish to reduce their carbon footprint then paying attention to their diet is crucial. All carbon footprint calculators ask a question about meat/fish/dairy intake – vegetarians and vegans score much better in this category because of the high carbon requirements of meat and dairy. The current reference to One Wales and carbon footprint does not go far enough for this strategy to have any meaning

For a food strategy for Wales to be really sustainable there needs to be a reduction in meat and dairy production and intake and increase in plant based food production. This is possible, even in Wales. The strategy notes that land use has changed in the last 50+ years and arable crops are only 1/3 of what was produced in 1950s (p16). This must be reversed to improve food security and reduce food miles, and to reduce the contribution to climate change. As well as increased arable and vegetable production upland areas could, over time, be re-forested with timber and other tree production plants e.g. nut trees. This is possible once sheep are fenced off areas as the ground cover returns to a more diverse state other than just grass and is able to support other vegetation including trees. Upland areas could also be diversified into recreation use e.g. more forest trails for walking and cycling, thus contributing to the health of the population and acting as tourist areas. Other areas still could be returned to a wilder state – we do not need to ‘use’ every bit of land.

Meat production is one of the most inefficient methods of obtaining food. For every 10kg of plant feed fed to cattle, only 1kg of meat is produced. This is exceedingly inefficient. Instead, 10kg of plant matter makes 10kg of food that can be eaten by humans.

Economic sustainability
Certain sections of the food industry are a drain on the economy e.g. livestock farming with massive subsidies and compensation culture. Is it sustainable to compensate these industries when they create disease (e-coli, BSI, salmonella, foot and mouth, TB)? After all, do car or steel industries get compensated for producing faulty goods? Action plans for meat and dairy industries should be changed to reduce subsidies, move to organic farming, and move to extensification (i.e. no massive units, no zero-grazing). The economy could be made more sustainable if more people were employed in the food industries – if we moved away from intensified agriculture and back to extensification, where more people were needed to do the jobs. This would relieve the unemployment and welfare benefits and get people back into work.There should be a reduction in fishing quotas (many species are at dangerously low levels of population), and there should be a much greater emphasis on plant/horticultural food production in Wales.

Social sustainability
There needs to be greater awareness of the damage done to people’s health by high meat and dairy diets. We need to increase the proportion of plant based foods grown in Wales, help people achieve 5+ a day and reduce meat and dairy consumption. A vast amount of research shows that meat and dairy diets are linked to higher rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and some cancers. In terms of the social agenda, food and diet is central: a reduction in animal products (meat and dairy) will improve people’s health, but this is not stated anywhere in the report.

Animal welfare
The ‘vision’ mentions: “Consumers are increasingly demanding more socially and environmentally responsible food” – that translates as less animal farming, better animal welfare, yet there is no mention of the word vegetarian in the entire strategy. And, it is acknowledged by the most senior climate change scientists that is vital that we reduce meat and dairy consumption in our diets. See previous comments. Animal welfare should have a much higher priority, including greater monitoring since the ‘freedom foods’ and similar schemes are not a guarantee of higher standards. Random investigations on farms selling ‘freedom foods’ have shown appalling conditions for the animals.

In summary:

The sustainable element needs to be more explicit and much stronger. It needs to be the focal point of the strategy. There needs to be more innovative change, for example, why not propose a policy that public institutions in Wales and the WAG will adopt ‘meat free Mondays’ and ‘Welsh Wednesdays’? These two steps could both have hugely positive benefits. Several European cities have adopted meat free days e.g. Ghent, Hasselt and Mechlelen in Belgium, Washington DC, San Francisco, Bremen, Sao Paulo, Cape Town and several universities e.g. Oxford and Harvard and Helsinki educational institutions (see here for a longer list).

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