Friday, 10 April 2015

General Election 2015: Letters to Thurrock's Parliamentary candidates – Humane and Sustainable Farming

Here’s the third of the letters I have sent out to my local Parliamentary candidates.  As usual, all letters and responses are included totally unedited.

The Letter

Dear Ms Billington,

I am writing to you as one of my constituency’s candidates in the forthcoming general election to ask that you promote a humane and sustainable farming system in the new parliament.

We need to introduce high standards of farm animal welfare. It is time to phase out production that uses cages and crates as they thwart the basic instincts of many animals to roam, forage and explore.

Animals should be kept in outdoor systems or, if they are housed, they should be kept in large barns with ample space, plenty of straw, natural light and effective ventilation. Genetic selection for fast growth or high yields should be avoided if this results in compromised welfare and systems should not be used if they require mutilations.

We need to encourage the adoption of balanced diets with a lower proportion of meat. This would deliver health benefits by reducing the incidence of heart disease, obesity and certain cancers; it would also lower greenhouse gas emissions. Although more crops would be needed for direct human consumption, this would be outweighed by a reduction in demand for feed crops.

Farming provides valuable income to many rural communities. There should be a particular focus on higher welfare production that delivers a better quality of food and a higher income to those farmers at the farmgate, benefitting both the farmer and the wider community through added value.

Much livestock production in the UK is industrial in nature. 60% of EU cereal is used as animal feed. For every 100 calories that we feed to animals in the form of human edible crops, we receive on average just 17-30 calories in the form of meat and milk. We need to avoid excessive use of cereals and put more emphasis on restoring the link between animals and the land.

We need to promote diets that include less but higher welfare meat in order to deliver a farming system that is less intensive, with less reliance on fertilisers and pesticides. This would mean reduced degradation of water, soil and air and lower use of water, land and energy as well as biodiversity gains. It would also enable animals to be kept to higher welfare standards.

Across Europe, around 700 million farm animals (hens, sows, rabbits, ducks and quail) spend some or all of their life confined in cramped, often barren cages.  Cages should be consigned to the history books and food production should be developed using extensive, outdoor and cage free systems.

Sustainable farming that nourishes our health, the environment and promotes higher animal welfare must become the rule, not the exception.

For further information on these issues, Compassion in World Farming has produced a Charter which sets out a proposed future direction of travel. It can be found here and is supported by further details in briefing notes, which can be found here:

I hope you will feel able to support these policy suggestions and work towards realising them – in the UK and by taking a lead in Europe.

Yours sincerely,

Myles Cook

Only one reply so far…

The response

Dear Myles,

Thank you for getting in touch with me about an issue that is important to you. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you - I get hundreds of emails a week and it sometimes takes me a while to give each one a considered response.

The Labour Party believes that there are huge challenges facing the food and farming industry. It is clear that we need to produce more food without damaging the natural resources that we all depend on whilst promoting the highest possible animal welfare standards.

British food and farming is our largest manufacturing sector, employing over 3.5 million people. That is why the Labour Party is committed to delivering a long-term vision for a sustainable and secure food system. The next Labour Government will ensure that Britain becomes a world leader in food policy and production to ensure that everybody has the chance to eat safe, healthy, affordable and sustainable food, now and in the future.

To achieve this we will reinstate the Food 2030 strategy to coordinate food policy, so that everyone across the food system has a clear role to play. We will champion consumer choice, to better inform consumers about the food they eat, empowering them make informed choices.

We will work with food producers, farmers and fishermen to help meet the global food demand and participate in international food markets but at the same time protecting and enhancing our natural resources.

The Labour Party believes there should be no arbitrary trade-off between food production and wider issues of sustainability, or between food affordability and the natural environment. Those who argue that you can either have affordable and plentiful food, or you can protect the soil, the water and biodiversity, are simply wrong to set out such a binary choice.

That’s why the Labour Party believes we must continue to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and work towards the delivery of multiple objectives.  To do this the Labour Party will make better use of CAP money going towards protecting the natural environment whilst at the same time supporting farmers. This is clear commitment from the Labour Party to make sure that the Common Agricultural Policy does far more to protect nature, support a vibrant rural economy and gets the best value for money.

We will also continue to maintain the highest possible standards of animal welfare because our Labour values tell us that we have a moral duty to treat the animals we share our planet with in a humane and compassionate way. No other major political party has such a proven track record of decisive action for animals at home, on farms and in the wild.

Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your important views about sustainable food and farming. If there's anything else you'd like to speak to me about, please do let me know.

Best wishes,


I will post any other replies I get or any follow-up questions I pose right here!

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