Compassionate #meat eating – less and better respecting sentient animals says Joyce D’Silva

About 20 years ago I was commissioned to edit a book based on the papers from the Compassion in World Farming’s (CIWF) 1998 conference ‘An Agriculture for the New Millennium – Animal Welfare, Poverty and Globalisation’. The result was The Meat Business: Devouring a Hungry Planet, published in paperback in 1999. I was surprised to receive a hardback copy of the book a few months ago, reissued I assume as the publisher saw the growing interest in meat, health, livestock’s role in greenhouse gas emissions and thought reprinting it in hardback and as an e-book to be timely.

Joyce D’Silva was my co-editor and then director of CIWF. Today she is CIWF’s emeritus ambassador. I thought I’d catch up with her to discuss how their work has developed over the years, its impact on how animals are kept and are treated as sentient beings. She also discusses health, climate change and what the impacts new approaches to eating are having as well as CIWF’s  work on supporting regenerative agriculture in which livestock are treated humanely. We met in at the Royal Festival Hall in November where I recorded this interview.

You can find CIWF’s many research papers on sustainable and humane farming here.


Posted in Conversations | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ethics, ecological consciousness and rethinking #agriculture – a lot to digest at Turkish Agricultural and #Food #Ethics Association’s 2nd International Congress

A wide range of issues across food and farming were discussed at the 2nd International Agricultural and Food Ethics Congress organised by the Turkish Agricultural and Food Ethics Association. The congress was held on 24-25 October 2019 in Izmir, Turkey, a place where I first went to work some 41 years ago. I was there to share some of the things we in the UK in the Food Ethics Council are grapping with, notably our new work on food citizenship. You can download my talk and slides by clicking here.

Rethinking agriculture and kissing a mule!

While most of the meeting was held in Turkish, with simultaneous translation for one of the parallel sessions, I was able to record a couple of the international speakers. One was Robert Zimdahl, professor emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences and Pest Management at Colorado University. He argued that technological fixes for the unintended consequences of technological innovation are not enough. Rethinking how we practice agriculture is necessary he believes – and ended his talk with a little story about kissing a mule – hang in to the end of this talk for that!


Ecological consciousness with a new politics of impossibility

The global challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, malnutrion and inequality require an ecological consciousness with a new politics of impossibility (beyond traditional political institutions) to achieve solutions, argued Richard Falk, emeritus professor of international law at Princeton University in this short closing address at Congress.


You can download the programme from the Congress Website

Posted in Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#Potatoes – Crop of the Future? A discussion with Prof Anton Haverkort

PotatoHandbook.jpgForty years ago, when I was working in Turkey, I met another young man called Anton Haverkort, just setting out on his career. He grew up on a potato farm in the Netherlands, studied potatoes, and came to Turkey to work for the International Potato Centre at their base in the Menemen Research Institute near Izmir. He is now recognised as an award winning leading world expert on potatoes and has writtien ‘Potato handbook – Crop of the Future’, a magnum opus covering potatoes in society, the plant, propagation material, environment and cultivation, running to almost 600 pages. I went to meet up with him again in Wageningen, where he was a professor for many years, to hear his take on potatoes in the world today, and about the impact climate change and genetics will have on potatoes in the future.

As you heard, he is very much a technological optimist and proponent for using all the new techniques available to increase potato production in the future. By chance, I also met his older brother, Bertus, very briefly, and found out he had taken a different tack to Anton in looking at food and farming, focussing on the different ways different societies and cultures understand the world and use their knowledge and understanding about it. His work focuses on indigenous knowledge, agroecology and different approaches to science and use of knowledge. I wasn’t around for what I expect would be rather lively conversations between them but did see some of his books, pictured below. He is currently working on a contribution to a new book provisionally entitled ‘Agroecology, indigenous epistemologies and cognitive justice’ for the University of Coventry’. Here are some of the titles he authored:

For a non GM approach to breeding blight resistance potatoes take a look at this earlier blog with an interview with Dr David Shaw, of the Sarvari Research Trust here. The trust is still going despite doubts about its future at the time of my earlier blog.

Posted in Conversations, Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Resilience in the UK #foodsystem – 4 key questions

Resilience is one of the buzzwords of our times. Having a resilient food system is crucial in the light of climate destabilisation, biodiversity loss, and political changes such as will be brought about by Brexit in the UK. So what exactly does it mean? That’s a question I put to Dr John Ingram, food systems programme leader at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, at a stakeholder event called “Towards more resilient UK food system outcomes” held in Edinburgh in September 2019.

Food and agriculture are proportionally four times more important to Scotland than in the UK as a whole according to Fergus Ewing the MSP Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy. The Scottish Government has just committed to introducing Good Food Nation bill in the Scottish Parliament. In the face of a more unpredictable world mostly beyond their control, James Withers chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said they brought together all parts of the industry and government to face the complex challenges ahead.

Pete Ritchie, who farms and runs an NGO, Nourish Scotland, talked about the need for farm level resilience. This includes investment in land and soil, in farm businesses, and in short food chains so farmers could retain added value as well as citizen trust, in which food is seen as a relationship about nourishing people not a commodity. It also needed diversity, with new entrants with new ideas, using better technology but involving more cooperation to help with marketing and logistics, more research on agro-ecological approaches as well as advisers. Beyond these it also needed rural housing and transport and payment for more public goods, amongst other things.

Bob Dougherty, Prof of marketing and chair in Agri-food at the York Management School, University of York, is principal investigator on Iknow food, a large interdisciplinary research programme on food system resilience. He is also a policy fellow at the Department for Environment Food and Rural affairs, where he is involved in a new UK food security assessment. He talked about the missing middle – the small and medium enterprises who make up 97% of the food manufacturing sector in the UK. These have a wide diversity in business forms, with a growing number of social enterprises that trade with a social mission, and are crucial for a resilient food system.

Tom Curtis, of 3keel, talked of the need to focus at the landscape level, to look at the landscape enterprise network, the functions needed in the landscape, the assets there and to bring people together around those. Andrew Whitley shared the lessons he learned from setting up the Village Bakery in Melmerby and then Bread Matters and farming in the borders of Scotland as well as developing the campaign Scotland the Bread (you can take a tour of his farm here and listen to an update of what he’s doing now here)

What these and other speakers drew attention to was the need to take a systemic approach to make the complex changes needed to increase resilience, the importance of diversity, of having the range of skills needed and of working together across the interacting socio-economic and biophysical impacts. As John Ingram said, there are four key questions – resilience of what, to what, for whom and over what time period – across the range of outcomes we need from our food systems.

Posted in Interviews, Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From #food #waste to #sustainable #foodsystems – digging deep into the reasons why and changes needed

Unusually, I spent yesterday, a warm and sunny September day, mostly outdoors in a short-sleeved shirt at a workshop held at the green oasis of Calthorpe Community Garden, near Kings Cross Station in London. Around 30 people had been gathered by Dark Matter Labs and Radicle as part of their work to understand how to create sustainable food systems. This is one of the workshops in the grand challenges series in preparation for EXPO 2020 in Dubai. Here, three of those involved (pictured above) explain more:

The day went from a big picture focus to looking at what was needed to get to a zero food waste London, as part of the thinking feeding into the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Food Flagship City Initiative. This is focuses on three cities – London, New York, and São Paulo – in which the Foundation will lead major food system projects to demonstrate how a circular economy vision for food can be achieved at scale.

The work going on at the Calthorpe community garden may be one contribution to that as Rokiah explains how they are working in the garden to experiment with creating a mini circular food economy.

If you find yourself in the area it’s well worth a walk down Gray’s Inn Road for a look round and a visit to the cafe. The Calthorpe Community Garden is around 500 metres from King’s Cross station, next door to the Eastman Dental Hospital.

Posted in Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rat hairs, hormones and chlorine – why food standards matter in trade deals

BittersweetBrexitI interviewed Dr Charlie Clutterbuck when his book Bittersweet Brexit came out. Given the many stories about the impact of trade deals, particularly with the USA, on current food standards in the UK I asked him for his take on these potential deals:

A trade deal around food with the USA is not just about chlorinated chicken, hormone drenched beef, or even ractomine-fed pigs – the chemicals used in USA to clean, to grow and to keep creatures lean. The USA is ‘more macho’ about these matters than we in the UK are. They allow more white blood cells (a signal of infection) in milk with ours. But the one that seems to stick in people’s memory (or is that throat?) is allowing ‘rat hairs’ in peanut butter. The US Food and Drink Administration (FDA) says you can have 5 per jar along with 150 insect parts; you can also happily find 5 whole insects in every half kilo of frozen fruit. They call these sorts of contaminations ‘unavoidable defects[i] Yet we seem to avoid these defects quite well. The FDA says these “Food Defect Action Levels” are set on the premise that they pose ‘no inherent hazard to health’. Yet, there are nearly 400 deaths a year in America from Salmonella, whereas we’ve not had one for many years.[ii] 80% of UK people say they do not want to drop these standards. Yet this may be another price to pay for a ‘No Deal’ – or rather a ‘Trump Deal’ – Brexit.

The EU has stricter standards, claiming scientific methods underlie the regulations, although the US will challenge any attempts we may make to maintain those standards once outside the EU. Generally, the EU implement a ‘hazards’ based approach – ie one that looks at intrinsic harm. This is linked with the ‘Precautionary Principle’ based on the idea of being ‘safe rather than sorry’. An example of this is the use of Maximum Residue levels of pesticides in food, which most food retailers follow closely.

The other main approach is ‘risk’ based where somebody tries to work out what actual damage may be caused. In the UK we have always favoured this way. While on the UK government’s Advisory Committee on Pesticides, we were asked which approach we preferred. I said ‘Hazards’ – and lost 1 to 18. We can expect a challenge from the USA on what they call ‘acceptable risk’- see full details of their negotiating position[iii]. They make it clear in that document, that they believe our standards are ‘non science’. The rest of Europe is fearful the USA will challenge the UK – and win, and thus weaken the EU ways.

If we have a ‘No Deal’, we will be handing Trump his menu on a plate. This is because these standards represent much more than the numbers, reflecting two different ways the EU and US deal with the main problem with food production in the world – overproduction. Worldwide we can grow far too much food for people to buy to eat. Many go hungry because they cannot afford the food, not because we can’t produce it.

The US subsidises its farmers over $850 Billion this year[iv], while EU pays their farmers around €60bn[v] to deal with the low prices caused by saturated markets. The US produces as much as possible, then tries to get rid of it round the world. The US Farm Bureau clearly says we ‘must accept their standards so they can increase their market’. They have done ever since the Marshall Plan after WW2 when they realised the political power that dependence on food could bring. In 1970s, Earl Butz’s – their then Secretary of Agriculture – rallying call was ‘food as a weapon[vi].

Europe also encouraged food production post war – so it was never again dependent on US political food power. But the food mountains started to appear, so we took a different tack in the 1990s. Instead of encouraging more production, efforts were directed to ‘greening’ – not very successful. However, we came up with another way of dealing with excess, and this was promoted by Mrs Thatcher’s encouragement for a SINGLE market. By maintaining high health, safety and welfare standards, it limited agricultural production to only those who could afford to invest, yet knowing they were protected’ from outsiders – unless they were using the same standards. This kept the EU internal market more buoyant. This is what led to all those mythical complaints about rules banning mince pies, prawn cocktail crisps and mushy peas – many promoted by our present PM.

However, there is a big distinction – as I spelt out in Bittersweet Brexit – between people wanting rid of the ‘bureaucracy’, ‘Brexiteers’, and those wanting ‘Free Markets’. These marketers hide behind Brexit, as they dash off to do deals, most of which will involve selling our financial services and buying their cheap food. More cheap food, without any standards, will come into the country, making us still more dependent on overseas food, causing environmental impacts elsewhere. Our DEFRA Chief Scientist thinks that is good as ‘we should have choice’ [vii] Yet our family farming community growing the sheep and beef, will be off to slaughter soon, and we will get fatter with the sugary corn syrup and soya, that the USA is trying to get rid of – especially now that China aren’t buying it.

You can follow developments in this area here: If anybody wants to help me keep this up to date and better designed, please let me know as it is dead easy. Thanks Charlie Clutterbuck 












Posted in Comments | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Eating Tomorrow – #Agribusiness, Family #Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of #Food

EatingTomorrowCoverNov2018In this conversation, Timothy A. Wise takes us to Africa, India, Mexico and the USA to explain the key findings in his book ‘Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food‘. He also discusses trade deals and some lessons the UK could learn post Brexit when it comes to negotiating with the USA. Tim directs the Land and Food Rights Program at the Small Planet Institute and is a senior research fellow at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute, where he founded and directed its Globalization and Sustainable Development Program.

Note: This is the first time I’ve used the recording facility in Skype to do an interview so the sound quality, while reasonable, is not as good as if I’d been able to do it in person.

Posted in Comments, Conversations, Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment