What Should We Eat (Part 2)
Some more info on the interesting Powys Transition event about food and farming.
After reeling slightly from Patrick Holden's claim that a 70% meat diet was best for our health and the environment, I then attended a much more palatable session with Helen Porter, representing Compassion in World Farming. Helen spoke about the poor treatment of farm animals in the UK, despite some recent changes in legislation. Battery cages, which allow each egg laying hen the space of about one A4 sheet of paper, are now banned in the EU. However, the legal 'enriched' cages allow just 20% more space.
Helen emphasised the need for consumer behaviour change in order for the situation to improve. If people put pressure on supermarkets, or avoid them completely and buy locally, eventually retailers will respond to what their customers want.
There was a lot of talk about the prevalance of farmers markets in France and the different attitudes to food there. I made the point that it's all very well for us in rural Wales to talk about buying from farm shops and markets, but for many that's just not an option. A tight budget in an urban area often means less ethical purchasing, so we need to work out how ethical eating can be equitable.
The afternoon session was a talk from a local farmer whose farm is currently shut down with TB. Mark Williams told of the stress and upset that TB has caused his family farm. Whilst a non meat eater like me is somewhat cynical to hear that farmers are so sad when they're cows are killed due to TB (they're born to die after all), you could see the genuine upset as Mark explained how TB infected cows are killed prematurely. Of course there's a financial aspect, but the early slaughter is just not what farmers expect or want.
A traditional cattle farmer speaking to a transition town audience is probably either brave or stupid. The audience didn't stray from stereotype and threw a barrage of questions about permaculture, biodynamics and organic farming at Mark. He knew his stuff though and talked about how farming had changed over the years but how he personally believed that chemical fertilisers were improving his livelihood.
On the TB front, Mark called for a controlled badger cull which was not well received by the audience. Currently vaccination rather than culling is used in Wales. Mark's experience didn't change my view that culling is not the answer, but hearing a farmers first hand story was a useful insight.
This event covered a range of issues around food, farming and how it relates to our diet. The issues are complicated and there are many vested interests. It stimulated a lot of debate at the event, and has left me with plenty to think about.
Big thanks to Powys Transition for organising it - oh and for the lovely vegan lunch ;)