I've been watching the BBC's programme, Billion Dollar Chicken Shop, which intersperses scenes of chickens being reared in vast sheds with customers tackling a bargain bucket. It reminds me that we still have a long way to go in getting the government, consumers and food companies to join up the dots and realise that the meat on their plates is often from factory farmed animals.
Imagine being a pig on a typical farm in Europe. Most likely you'll have nothing to do but stare at your fellow pen mates and four concrete walls whilst you stand on a slatted floor. Shockingly, the European Commission thinks that keeping pigs in barren environments on slatted floors is the 'Best Available Technique' for the environment.
Slatted floors are designed for the manure from the pigs to fall through the floor and into vast pits beneath them. Most pigs in Europe spend their lives living above piles of their own waste.
What would be best for the environment would be getting pigs out of factories and back on farms where they belong. All this pig waste has to go somewhere and often it ends up in vast lagoons of slurry.
Pig manure is ten times more water-polluting than untreated domestic sewage. Inevitably the lagoons sometimes overflow, allowing the noxious soup to flood over fields and seep into groundwater. Campaigners claim that major floods turn entire counties in the USA into 'pigshit bays'.
To stop this happening, farmhands sometimes reduce the level of the lagoons by pumping out some of the stuff and spraying it over nearby farmland. Unfortunately the process is not always carried out in moderation, which brings what the industry calls 'over-application'. The land becomes saturated with pig waste, which festers in stagnant toxic pools. Scientists attribute to this the devastating attack of Pfiesteria piscicida in the Neuse. It appears to have caused eutrophication of the river, a process in which phosphorus and nitrogen (high concentrations are found in livestock waste) over-enrich water, distorting the ecosystem. The excessive nutrients create the ideal conditions for algae like PP to flourish, sapping oxygen levels in the water till eventually there is too little oxygen to support any other life, leading to so-called 'dead zones'.
Don't pigs deserve to feel the ground under their trotters, root around with their snouts and feel the sun on their backs? Anyone who has met a pig knows their zest for life. It pains me to think of the millions of pigs languishing in factory farms across Europe.
European law says that that pigs "must have permanent access to a sufficient quantity of material to enable proper investigation and manipulation activities, such as straw, hay, wood, sawdust, mushroom compost, peat or a mixture of such".
It is extremely difficult and near impossible to provide pigs on slatted floors with access to straw, or similar materials which they need to live happier lives. This is because straws falls in between the gaps in the slats and blocks the drainage system.
Pigs are inquisitive and intelligent creatures who use their sensitive snouts to investigate their surroundings. Living in a completely barren environment with nothing to investigate is sheer torture for them.
How can this possibly be 'best available technique'?