Free the Animal

Let’s hear it for our favourite retailer (this week) – the Co-op. The management team of the grocery chain commissioned a large-scale survey to find out their customers attitudes to issues such as animal welfare, climate change and fair trade.

They discovered that shoppers were far more concerned with animal welfare and fair trade than they were with climate change. According to the Co-op’s head of ethics, Paul Monaghan, this reflected shoppers’ view that they could improve animal welfare and trade justice through the choices they made in-store. On the question of climate change they felt powerless and thought this was more a matter for corporations and governments.

On the basis of their findings the Co-op has already stopped selling eggs from hens kept in cages. And the 2,700-strong supermarket chain is planning more changes to its trading practises to reflect the concerns of consumers.

Well done the Co-op we say. And here’s some good news for their customers. Buy choosing to buy poultry meat and eggs from hens raised on pasture rather than in cages you’re doing more to combat climate change than you realise.

There was a time not so long ago when most of our food animals were raised on fresh green pasture. The great thing about producing food naturally from clover-rich grassland is that the soil beneath the turf slowly takes up carbon from the air and locks it away safely as organic matter. So the more livestock that run on the pasture – dairy cows, beef cattle, sheep, poultry and pigs – the more fertile the soil becomes.

Sadly in the past few years we’ve been duped by the fertilizer companies, the energy corporations and the politicians who are supposed to be in charge of farming to raise livestock on industrially-grown grain crops. These require massive inputs of pesticides and energy-rich chemical fertilizers, and the animal foods they produce are less healthy than those raised naturally on grass. What’s more these industrial crops rob the soil of fertility and shove carbon back into the atmosphere where it hastens climate change.

Whatever the vegans say, the scandal is – not that many of us enjoy animal foods – but that two-thirds of the world’s grain is squandered on producing them.

So the message for the Co-op and its ethical customers is when you buy pasture-raised poultry you’re not just being kind to the birds, you’re also doing plenty for the planet. Now having set the chicken free, the next thing is to put cattle and pigs back on pasture too. That way we’ll not just get better food and healthier animals. We’ll turn our farming from being an environmental polluter to the friend of the environment it ought to be.