In his first speech as prime minister, Boris Johnson said, “Let’s promote the welfare of animals that has always been so close to the hearts of the British people”.
If this is the case, why are 16m UK farm animals trapped in cages every year?
If the government is serious about these ambitions, it must embrace a cage free future — because a life in a cage is no life at all.
In Britain we pride ourselves on being a nation of animal lovers. And whilst this is certainly true for the animals we keep at home, how much compassion do we really show to the farmed animals used to produce the meat, dairy and eggs that end up on our plates?
At school, we drew happy and colourful drawings of free-range farm life. Happy cows in fields, pigs wallowing in mud and chickens enjoying the great British outdoors. For some animals that picture is the reality and I give huge credit to those farmers who manage their livestock in extensive or organic systems.
But as mentioned, 16m farm animals in the UK are trapped in cages, with little space to move and carry out their natural behaviours.
Not such a pretty picture after all.
More than half of the UK’s mother pigs give birth incarcerated in cages, unable to turn around, confined in their prison-like farrowing crates. And over a third of the UK’s egg-laying hens are kept in cages.
This is a disgraceful way to rear any animal but astoundingly, it is legal. It’s high time the government took steps to change it. Those of us who choose to eat meat, eggs and dairy products should be assured that they come from animals that have lived a good life and reared to the highest possible welfare standards — from farm to fork.
More than half of the UK’s mother pigs give birth incarcerated in cages, unable to turn around, confined in their prison-like farrowing crates.
Caged, industrial scale farming is cruel and unnecessary. But more than that, it doesn’t make good business sense. Due to the huge inputs required to prop up the system, it’s a false economy, highly dependent on large quantities of precious resources, such as grain-based feed, water, energy and medication. Alternative systems are available — like free range and organic systems that are more humane, financially viable and sustainable.
So, what’s stopping us? There’s really no excuse, and there’s every opportunity to do better for farm animals as we go through this period of significant political change.
Many countries across the EU have already taken steps to End the Cage Age. The UK should be leading the charge in the move towards more humane farming systems, not playing catch-up with our European neighbours. If not, it will be to the detriment of farm animals, not to mention our health and the health of the planet.
It has been shown that eating too much meat, especially processed meat, can contribute to heart disease, certain cancers, obesity and diabetes. In addition, the overuse of antibiotics in farming is fuelling the global antibiotic-resistance crisis. Factory farmed animals are regularly given antibiotics in their feed or water because of the higher risk of disease when large numbers of animals are kept in inhumane, overcrowded conditions. Soon, we could be unable to treat fatal diseases with life-saving drugs.
And what about the impact on the planet? Livestock production, fuelled by factory farming, is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s planes, trains and cars put together. This means our food is the main culprit in the rapidly unfolding climate catastrophe.
A parliamentary debate on the future of caged farming is taking place today. This comes following the success of a government petition, of which I’m the lead signatory. The petition gained well over a hundred thousand signatures, proving the public is behind a move to End the Cage Age.
As we transition away from the EU, and with the uncertainty in what future trade deals will mean for the food on our shelves, let’s be the nation that stands proud and strong in our stance as animal lovers.
Britain can’t win a global race to the bottom on global animal welfare standards: there will always be someone who undercuts us.
And frankly, nobody wants a race to the bottom — not the farmers, not the retailers, not consumers and most certainly not the animals.
Deborah Meaden is a hugely successful entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den investor who actively supports a number of animal and environmental charities including Compassion in World Farming.