The Animal Factory
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The intensive production of animals (and other products such as eggs and cheese) is clearly now widespread, and I suspect that we (the consumers) all have 'divided minds' about this. We hope that the animals are living happy lives on a traditional farm, but we would also like to buy all our food cheaply - we suspect that what we are buying comes from intensive sources, but we probably prefer not to know.

To give an example No doubt, if everything goes well with a batch of animals, the farmer gives them the feed he calculated, and they are happy in the space he has allocated for them. The farmer watches them grow, and he can give extra supplements or more food, and they reach a good weight at the right time, and he gets the profit he anticipated. (There is farm software now to help him do this better)

However, if things are NOT going well then he has a problem. The animals may be growing too slowly. Perhaps they have an illness and need treatment from a vet. Perhaps they need more feed, or more supplements. Perhaps he has to turn up the heating. Perhaps they have to be ready for Christmas. If the first drug didn't work, then the vet tries another. The farmer may soon be making a loss on this batch of animals.

Under British Law, anything which is not forbidden is allowed, although there are codes of practice for everything, they are usually voluntary and are seldom legally enforced. So, it is allowable for the farmer to do any of the following, as often as he wants to (if he can afford to, and if they are not otherwise forbidden):-

  a. treat the animals with antibiotics
b. treat them with any other drug which is legal
c. give them any legal food additives (though anabolic steroids {growth hormones} are banned in Europe, they are allowed in the USA, and apparently under the WTO trade regulations we will have to allow these products to be sold here)
d. give them any feed he wants to, in any quantity (e.g. fish meals may be used as animal fodder, and animal remains could previously be processed and fed as protein supplements to other animals)
e. keep them in any conditions he chooses (thought there are now regulations which have stopped the previous severe overcrowding of chickens; also, the 'iron maiden' for breeding sows is now outlawed)
f. take them to whichever market he chooses, whatever distance away, and sell them to whoever he wants.
g. sell them whether they are sick or healthy (though sick animals are usually used in pet foods).

Current Situation. Recently, there have clearly been some farmers who are working badly, and there is little to stop them doing this. There is also nothing to prevent the import of meat from other countries where there are few controls or regulations, or who use techniques which would be illegal in Europe. The other 99.9% of farmers may be excellent, but unfortunately, there is no way that the consumer can identify either the meat form the bad farmers, or the 'most intensive' products. The consumer would probably prefer to consume meat which has 'minimised treatments', even if it therefore had a higher price, and to avoid the most intensive products, even if they are very cheap.

Assumption. I must add that I have clearly made an assumption that industrialisation of animal husbandry was a major causal factor in the recent outbreaks of animal and human diseases. This assumption seems to be verified by the government actions, changing the rules for animal feed and also for handling of spinal tissue in human food. However, it is still an assumption, and other causes may in fact have been more important, but they have not yet been discovered and/or publicised..

Future. There are two main options in the future:- some sort of grading of meat by 'level of intensity of production' or the establishment of some sort of 'world guideliness' for animal production, which would be 'comfortable' for all concerned. It seems that the present tendency may be to push animal production to the limits, and experience seems to show that this always leads to major problems for both animal and also human health.

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