Section 1 – Animal
I want to ask you a question. Do you think animals can
feel things like pain or fear, or know what it means
to be too hot or too cold? Unless you’re a complete
drongo who’s just arrived from Mars, the answer’s
got to be yes, hasn’t it?
Well, actually, you’re wrong! According to the
European Union, the organisation that makes up a lot
of the rules about how animals in Britain should be treated,
farm animals are exactly the same as a CD player or a
Frisbee. In their view, animals are nothing more than
products – and nobody worries too much if you ill
treat a Frisbee. The reasons go back a long way.
During the Second World War there was a shortage of
food in Britain and Europe, so to make sure people got
enough to survive, food was rationed. When the war ended
in 1945, farmers in Britain and elsewhere were asked
to grow as much as they could so there would never again
be such shortages and hardships. There were almost no
rules or regulations, farmers just got on and did it.
In an effort to grow as many crops as possible, they
used masses of fertiliser on the land and loads of pesticides
to kill weeds and insects. To produce as much meat as
possible, they also started cramming animals together
in sheds. There were so many that there wasn’t
enough land to graze them all on.
Even with pesticides and fertilisers, farmers couldn’t
grow enough grass and hay to feed all their animals with
so they started to introduce new foods such as wheat,
corn and barley, most of it imported from other countries.
They also added chemicals to the feed to control diseases
because so many animals in one place provided a perfect
breeding ground for bugs.
Once animals were kept in sheds rather than roaming
free, it was easy for farmers to pick out the ones that
grew fastest or had the most meat on them and breed only
for them. This is called selective breeding and it was
repeated year after year. The animals were also given
food ‘concentrates’ that made them grow even
faster – often dried, ground-up fish and bits of
other animals. Sometimes it was even pieces of their
own kind – chickens fed back to chickens, bits
of cows fed to cows. It was all done on the basis of ‘waste
not, want not’.
As the years went by new ways were found of making animals
grow faster and bigger, because the bigger and faster
they grew, the more money could be made from selling
their meat. All the time they were treated less like
animals and more like Frisbees. Instead of individual
farmers working the land to make a living, food production
became big business. Many farmers turned into mega-big
producers and City companies invested large amounts of
money in them. Of course they wanted something back – more
money. So farming became an industry where profits were
much more important than how the animals were treated.
It’s what’s now known as agribusiness, and
in Europe, Britain led the way.
The bigger and more powerful meat producers became,
the less the government tried to control them. Large
amounts of money were involved and this was spent on
equipment , machinery and automation to take place of
farm workers. And that’s how Britain’s farming
got where it is today – a massive industry which
employs fewer farm workers per acre that any other countries
in the world.
Before the Second World War, meat was a bit of a luxury,
something people ate once a week or on special occasions.
Now, producers grow so many animals that meat is something
most people eat every day in one form or another – bacon,
sausages, burgers, ham sandwiches, pepperoni pizza, chicken
nuggets – it’s even in some biscuits, cakes
and pastries as animal fat. It’s everywhere! But
what about the animals themselves, the 760 million or
so which are killed for meat in Britain every year? This
section looks at what happens to the animals that become
the meat products in our lives.