Friday, December 4, 2009

Meat. You get what you pay for.

I have often felt that Radio Four should introduce a ‘Rant for the Day’ in which people with strong feelings on a topic – such as my good self – get an opportunity to let off steam about something that really, really upsets them. Like the cheap meat offered for sale by pet shops and other online suppliers.
Let me tell you why (he said his voice beginning to rise).

The amount that we spend on food has been falling as a percentage of income since the beginning of the Second World War. In 1939 the average person spent about a third of their money on food, whereas now the figure is likely to be one tenth. At the same time the cost of food has been falling in real terms thanks to intensive farming, imported food from developing countries and much lower standards.

Paying less for food is not necessarily a good thing.

Intensive farming causes serious environmental damage because it reduces biodiversity, requires harmful chemicals and creates pollution. It is cruel on the animals and birds as anyone with an open mind will see if they care to visit any of these so-called ‘farms’. It leads to huge health risks – think BSE, foot and mouth and all the extra drugs that humans now consume because they are already in the food we eat. Plus the food itself has barely any taste to it. When it comes to imported food there is one additional disadvantage: the wasted energy and resources used on transport. It is insanity to fly beans from Kenya to Britain. Sheer insanity.

Anyway, anyway, if the food we eat ourselves – especially the meat – is of poor quality (and by and large it is) and has been obtained at the expense of the environment and animal suffering, what about the food we give to our dogs? I am not talking here just about the meat that goes into processed dog food which is often what they call ‘Four D’ – the ‘D’ being meat that comes from dead, dying, diseased or down (disabled at slaughter) animals. No, I am also talking about the meat that you can buy for your dog that may cost as little as 30p a kilo or less.


The fact is, meat that costs this little can only be unfit for human consumption. It can only come from animals that have suffered.

Speaking as a former farmer I know that to raise a free range animal or bird, to feed it properly, to get it veterinary care if needed (although the worst problem I ever had with my herd of pigs was sunburn… a good farmer rarely needs to call out the vet) and to slaughter it in such a way as to minimise the stress and trauma (which takes time, thought and money) is expensive.

The only way to ensure that you are buying meat of superior quality is to know where it comes from and how the farmer approaches his business. Personally, I never buy meat from supermarkets because even if it is organic and free range you don’t really know where it comes from. Instead, I buy from a butcher I trust or direct from the farmer. It costs more, but it is worth it.

OK. Rant over.

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