I recently joined in Compassion In World Farming's request to contact
Farmageddon which I think really should be required reading for everyone who eats! I have also been supporting their campaign to End The Cage Age, attempting to stop farmed animals having to live their entire lives in cages.
Today I received my first response: a comprehensive answer to my queries from Labour's Kerry McCarthy, one of the candidates for Bristol East. I've not decided who I will vote for yet, but am very encouraged by Kerry's words so have posted her letter below for anyone else who would like to read it. Hopefully she won't mind!
"Thank you for getting in touch to ask if I would promote a humane and sustainable farming system in the next Parliament. I am pleased to reassure you that I feel very strongly about these issues, and hope to continue to build on my record of promoting these issues in Parliament, if I am re-elected as your MP in May.
I’m a proud Vice-President of the League Against Cruel Sports and patron of the Vegan Society. I am also co-Chair of the Agro-ecology All-Party Parliamentary Group and patron of the food redistribution charity, FoodCycle. I very much feel that we need to create a food and farming sector which promotes high standards of animal welfare and is genuinely environmentally sustainable. At its worst, our food system is endangering the future security of our food, harming the natural environment and widening inequalities in health.
I completely agree that we should phase out production that uses cages and crates, which thwart the basic instincts of animals. I very much support Compassion in World farming’s, ‘End the Cage Age’ campaign. I recently met with CiWF and tabled many questions off the back of our discussions, which you can see here. I very much feel that we need to extend the ban on battery cages to include quail egg production and for restrictions to prohibit the farming of rabbits in cages. I was shocked to discover that currently 99% of rabbits are farmed in cages and there’s no legislation on how they’re kept. I’ve also spoken out on the transportation of live cattle (eg here), and at Christmas raised the shocking conditions many turkeys are reared in. I’ve also raised in Parliament my concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in intensive farming, where farms animals such as pigs and chickens are regularly fed antibiotics to suppress infections that are likely to arise in overcrowded and factory farm conditions. I co-hosted and spoke at a reception in Parliament last month on antibiotic resistance and livestock farming, which was co-organised by Compassion in World Farming.
You raise the need to encourage the adoption of balanced diets with a lower proportion of meat. I was the first MP to raise the issue of sustainable livestock, raising concerns in 2009 about the impact of the livestock industry on land use, soil, water, biodiversity depletion and climate change. I was also nominated for a PoliticsHome award for a speech I gave on World Vegan Day 2011, which set out the environmental, ethical and health benefits of a vegan diet (both of which you can see here).
We are paying a very high price in terms of our health for cheaply produced, highly processed food. Diet-related ill-health is causing premature deaths and is behind rising health inequalities in rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. I’ve asked the current Government if it would update the Eatwell Plate, in line with the latest scientific research on diet – but it clearly has no interest in doing so. I also have major doubts about the effectiveness of the government’s engagement with fast food firms, drinks makers and supermarket chains to tackle excessive drinking and obesity though voluntary “public health responsibility deals” – in which the food and drinks industry pledge to make healthier products and market them more carefully. Some examples of my interventions on this are here. I’ve also spoken in Parliament on the horsemeat scandal, which has highlighted how government cuts and an undermining of the regulator responsible for maintaining food standards, has led to a huge increase in food fraud and food crime.
I am also interested in the wider issues around sustainable food production. I have been strongly campaigning against the decision to put a Metrobus junction on the Feed Bristol site – not only because it will bring little, if any, benefit in transport terms, but also because of what we will lose from tarmacking over Grade 1 agricultural land, in terms of biodiversity, as well as local food security. I lead a debate in Parliament on this issue last month, which you can read here. And in 2012 I introduced the first ever piece of legislation to tackle food waste, the Food Waste Bill. This was backed by Friends of the Earth and WWF-UK, Feeding the 5000 and food redistribution charities FareShare and FoodCycle and received strong cross-party backing.
I have recently read “Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat”, which sets out how the steady intensification of agriculture to increase yields – led by heavy reliance on artificial chemical -inputs, intensification of livestock systems and increasing field sizes to accommodate larger machinery – has been responsible for declines in farmland wildlife, reduced water quality and impoverished soils. I have raised my serious concerns about the decline of our bees and other pollinating insects, which is attributed to habitat loss and other changes associated with agricultural intensification, particularly the use of chemical pesticides – neonicotinoids. You can see my speeches about this here. I have been working closely in Bristol with academics and other stakeholders who are mapping and planting flower and pollinator-friendly meadows and habitats across the city. Urban environments – by contrast to some agricultural environments -are increasingly being cultivated as rich sources for flowering plants and creating pollinator-friendly habitats.
Labour has produced an animal welfare manifesto, which I am extremely pleased with. You can access a copy here. If you have any queries about this or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.