Last evening, I attended a sold-out panel discussion on the true costs of cheap meat following a special screening of Pig Business, an investigative documentary by UK filmmaker and local food activist Tracy Worcester, sponsored by WSPA, Beyond Factory Farms, the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the Humane Society International.
Pig Business is the result of Worcester’s four-year investigation into the devastating impacts intensive farming is having on the environment, human health, rural livelihoods and animal welfare. The film documents Polish resistance to large-scale factory farming and shows that consumers do have a choice — by choosing local, humanely produced and organic pork, consumers can support local farmers, animal welfare and the environment.
The screening was followed by an interactive panel discussion with:
Tracy Worcester, Marchioness of Worcester, Director, Pig Business
Paul De Campo, Convivum Co-leader, Slow Food Toronto
Roger Harley, Director of Farming Protocol, Rowe Farms
Glen Koroluk, Community Organizer, Beyond Factory Farming
Stephanie Brown, Director, Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA)
Moderator: Erika Ritter, Author, The Dog by the Cradle, The Serpent Beneath
The screening opened with aerial views of factory farms and their waste lagoons that were reminiscent of the Tar Sands tailings ponds. The camera closed in on the sterile landscape and anonymous factory barns, then took us down the rows of thousands of pigs confined in tiny stalls. The hopelessness in the eyes of these intelligent, curious and social animals condemned to a short and hellish life and a miserable death was unforgettable.
In her introduction, moderator Erika Ritter spoke about a future that was fairer to rural communities, healthier for people, better for the environment and more humane for the animals.
She said that “We cannot become truly human until we become truly humane.”
Tracy Worcester stated her aim of moving from transnationals to smaller organizations for food productions and warned us that “It’s as bad here (in Canada) as it could possibly be.”
Her primary objective for the film is to get the message out, and she is taking it to a number of countries. WSPA has copies of the film and it can be copied for screening.
Glen Koroluk (Beyond Factory Farming) felt that the movie reflected the North American hog sector accurately. Canada is down to 5,000 pig farmers, but we produce so much pork that about half of it gets exported. He stated that it’s important to show support for farmers, who now make up less than 2% of the Canadian population – a drastic change in the past two or three generations.
As consumers, he said, it’s important for us to make the connections between cheap meat and factory farming, then move on to make sustainable, local food choices. He pointed out that mixed agriculture on small farms is an important concept for sustainability, as opposed to monoculture.
According to Glen, one-third of Canadian pork is from Manitoba which has state of the art slaughterhouses, mostly owned by Maple Leaf Foods, where five million pigs are killed every year. He also mentioned that Quebec was one of the first provinces to go industrial about 20 years ago before the factory farming model spread to other provinces.
Concentration is also present at the retail end, as four grocery stores control 75% of the market, and they buy all of their meat from these industrial facilities.
Roger Harley (Rowe Farms) develops animal welfare and sustainability standards and protocols. A practitioner of intensive agricultural techniques in the UK for 30 years, he finally asked why we impose so much control over living creatures. With the ruin of the UK market due to hoof and mouth disease, there came a turning point in the realization that sustainable farming can be profitable for farmers, affordable for consumers, and kind to the environment and animals. The challenge, he said, is to prove that “small” works.
Stephanie Brown (Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, a former executive at the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Toronto Humane Society and Alternatives to Animals in Research) promotes education, legislation and consumer choice.
The biggest problem in intensive farming, she said, was that there is such a strong focus on cheap meat, the largest number of animals kept in the smallest spaces for the shortest time with the cheapest feed. She called this “legitimized animal cruelty” and said that “what you put in your mouth is a political decision”, encouraging us to each take responsibility for change, one person at a time.
Paul De Campo (Slow Food) talked about strengthening local food networks with viable farming, fair wages and sustainability. He pointed out that “economy” and “ecology” share the same Greek root, “ekos”, related to the household.
Industrial costs, he said, are externalized and do not include the true environmental cost. They also provide a poor return to farmers. In industrial systems, pigs are economic units, whereas in traditional farms, pigs are a holistic value-add to the rest of the farm. The impoverished life of the animals in factory farms mirror our own degraded lifestyle.
The discussion was opened to questions from the floor.
Q: What does animal welfare mean to those in the food industry?
Roger Harley said that his welfare protocols ensure that animals are free from hunger, thirst and pain, and can express their natural behaviors. (This blogger was reminded of the work of Temple Grandin). He admitted that there were differences of opinion about welfare versus slaughter, and between those who do not eat animals and omnivores who want the animals they eat to have been raised humanely.
Paul De Campo called slaughter the “punctuation mark” that constrains the rights of the animals, and that it was impossible to square animal rights with animal welfare. He said that there is no such thing as humane killing.
He also opined that no standards exist in North America for free range, organic and so on. Factory farms, he said, are producing “organic” meat, and retailers like Whole Foods have no idea how the animal was raised.
Erika Ritter asked whether these terms get co-opted and end up being meaningless in terms of animal welfare.
Tracey Worcester felt that everyone has a different idea of how animals should live. She considered her audience when aiming her film at keeping small farmers farming. She was adamant about mandatory, standardized labeling specifically identifying how humanely the animal was raised.
Stephanie Brown was concerned that animal welfare is nowhere on the government’s agenda. Labelling is a big issue; for example, there is no third party audit of “free run” eggs, although a standard for organic food was recently put in place. There is a strong need for comprehensive labeling that consumers can trust, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has not done this.
Glen Koroluk suggested that consumers purchase directly from the farmer to get a better idea of where their food comes from.
Roger Harley talked about humane slaughter. It is basically out of the farmers’ hands, he said, and CFIA standards for slaughterhouses are not always enforced.
Stephanie Brown felt that the killing of poultry was an especially serious issue and that the CFIA was not doing the job they need to do. She cited an example where the CFIA had not inspected horse slaughter for a couple of years at a Quebec plant and where the Meat Inspection Act was not being followed. Her comments reminded this blogger of Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, about the atrocities of the Chicago stockyards.
Paul De Campo added that the abattoir industry in North America is also highly concentrated, necessitating the cruel transport of animals over longer distances.
Q: How do we inculcate compassion?
Paul De Campo suggested that showing gruesome pictures to consumers, particularly the omnivore market, can be alienating and ineffective. Tracy pointed out that this type of advertising is more prevalent in the UK.
Q: Is Rowe Farms organic?
Roger Harley stated that 16 farms comprise Rowe Farms. Rowe is not organic and they do not believe organic is sustainable at this point. Rather, the term used is “conscientious farming”. They are trying to work on a business case for sustainability but Roger cited a lack of third party research data; university research is usually funded by Big Agri. One of the universities is investigating traditional and GMO corn and soy, to look at the sustainability of the older varieties.
Tracy pointed out that the free trade mantra is undermining the ability of farmers to stay in business. When questioned about her endorsements for sustainability, including Freedom Foods, she admitted that they need to be better, but they are still an improvement over the alternatives at this time.
More documentary film-making about the true costs of our cheap meat at Food, Inc.