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We need to be more conscious about animal welfare

To a mixed response, I served up a meal with vegetarian sausages recently. My daughter has never much liked meat anyway and I’m becoming increasingly averse to being party to the cruelty suffered by factory farmed animals.

Joining the Green Party had nothing to do with animal welfare at the time, though it’s an issue that increasingly concerns me. I’ve always eaten meat, ask my wife. I cook a good Sunday roast, don’t burn the BBQ, and have never refused the opportunity of a good fry up!

Learning to provide meals without that portion of animal flesh isn’t easy, but I’m determined to keep trying so long as we’re achieving a healthy diet. There’s a compromise in place in that we’ll continue to consume meat produced from genuinely well looked after, locally bred animals. By that I mean respect for the creature’s welfare and natural instincts.

The tide for me has turned and it’s time to make changes. I’m no expert but I accept now that every time I buy a cheap pack of bacon, minced beef or chicken breasts I’m contributing to animal cruelty. Cruelty that, until recently, as long I couldn’t see it, has been acceptable. Manipulative marketing boffins call it wilful ignorance and, hands up, I’m guilty as charged. Given the choice of firing a bolt into an animal’s brain or letting it go, I’d choose the latter and I’m pretty sure most people would too.

Truth be told, much of the meat we consume is produced from animals so intensely farmed, their flesh isn’t worth the bone it’s stripped from. Bred indoors or in cages or spaces with artificial light and no opportunity for exercise. Fed and drugged up with God knows what in order to promote rapid weight gain. Furthermore, the final leg of the wretched lives of many of these animals takes places crammed into crates and cages in lorry trailers and driven dozens if not hundreds of miles overland to a distressing slaughter they must realise awaits them.

We proclaim ourselves a nation of animal lovers apparently insisting on minimum welfare standards. Yet our supermarket shelves are stacked high with meat imported from countries where producers, eager for contracts to supply, operate with scant regard for the animals they farm. And why does this happen? Profit margins!

Supermarkets are forced to compete for market share and have to satisfy investors who demand profitable returns. Importing meat is generally cheaper, animal welfare adds to production costs and abroad, producers are not subject to the same standards we demand of our own farmers. Granted, British meat costs more but it’s worth it and we, the consumer, must create the demand for it to dominate our shelves in place of imported meat.

Buying meat bred in this country brings many benefits in terms of animal welfare economic and environmental issues. For a start it means employment. For those employed, it means a disposable income and spending power which brings more jobs and more money creating real wealth in our local economy. British meat isn’t the cheapest but it’s far better than most. The animals it’s produced from are bred in far better environments than their foreign farmed cousins. Using a local butcher may not be 100% risk free in terms of animal welfare, but we can feel much more confident about how the animal has been farmed.

The best thing we can do to improve things for ourselves, our families and these animals is to use the power that exists in our pockets to buy British. Better still, buy local and actively support change without actually doing anything different at all.