The Five Freedoms at Fifty – Part Two

Here at SRUC we’re having our Animal Welfare Day celebrating the Five Freedoms at Fifty – a packed day full of talks, demonstrations and a panel discussion.

You can watch the talks on our live stream: here!

And you can come join the conversation on twitter using the #Freedoms50 hashtag.

Enjoy!

Science Outreach All Day, Erry Day

Hi all,

Check out this amazing blog about my good friend Lucy’s work in the Antarctic.

And if that’s not enough science for you, on the 2nd October I have wrangled some of our SRUC Animal Behaviour and Welfare scientists together to talk about the Five Freedoms at Fifty.

You can watch by signing up at the Google + Page here, or watching direct on YouTube.  If you want to submit a question, please feel free to do so by tweeting @SRUCResearch using the #Freedoms50 hashtag 🙂

You can read more about the event on the SRUC webpage.

Ethical Eating Month – Meat

The Ethical Eating month doesn’t start easily. We begin with the thorny issue of eating meat.

 

When I wrote the first draft of this post it was extremely long because I wanted to outline the ethical process that led to my personal decision to eat meat. After writing it and re-reading it, I couldn’t help feeling like I was lecturing people on why my life choices are superior to everyone else’s. I mean they are, obviously, because I’m awesome, but that’s not what you come here to read about.

So that blog, and the question of ‘should we want to eat meat’ has been shelved for now, and instead I’m going to focus on the ethics of meat production. If you don’t want to eat any meat at all, that’s your choice dudes, but this is for those who enjoy a steak now and again. How can we eat ethically?

There is a Coursera course, The Meat We Eat by the University of Florida, which many of my students have recommended. And this is really a topic that we could discuss for months on its own, so I’m going to cram a lot into this little blog post.

We’ll discuss the effect meat production has on our climate in a few weeks, today we’re concentrating on the process of producing meat. How do the most common meats end up on our table?

I often hear people saying how far removed we are from our food, or say something that either has a very idyllic picture-book idea of farming, or a gross misunderstanding based on pressure group videos, outdated or misrepresented. In the age of YouTube, there’s no excuse for not knowing what a real farming environment looks like because not only are our supermarkets, levy boards and colleges putting videos up, but so are actual farmers. I’ve cherrypicked some good resources that really demonstrate what I think of as good and realistic farm environments.

 

Chicken (Broiler Systems)

The broiler chicken is the breed we eat and they have been heavily selected for, so much so that most breeds can be patented. They grow exceptionally quickly and in intensive systems are packed into sheds without much in the way of environmental enrichment to stimulate them, which may be a good thing because they often break their bones because of their quick-growing physiology. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall made a really good program on this a few years ago, and here you can see a pretty damn good free range broiler system

 

The fact I call this a ‘pretty good’ system might surprise you, but it is. These birds are clean, active, and don’t look damaged. I agree completely with what Hugh says, that this should be the bare minimum standard for chicken production in the UK. A £1 extra per chicken, at the time of filming, that’s what you buy for it.

 

I try really hard not to buy chicken. It is the meat I am probably most squeamish about because I think their quality of life is pretty poor.

 

Which brings me neatly to . . .

 

Beef (Beef Cattle Systems)

If you were to reincarnate me as a production animal, I’d like to be reincarnated as a beef cow in Scotland. MrScottishFarmer on YouTube has a video showing the living conditions of beef steers (the castrated males we eat), and it’s a decent system I’d say. The steers aren’t too muddy, the straw is relatively clean, and they’re all calm and curious about the human.

 

The beef cows (remember ‘cow’ means female cattle) you’ll see out in the fields with calves are the mummys, who keep their calves with them until weaning age, typically around 7-8 months (although earlier weaning is a thing). Then the boys are grouped together and fattened up until slaughter. Beef cows will then have their next calf and the system starts again for them. The big welfare problems that have occurred in British beef farming systems have largely been man made.

 

Feedlots, which are what we call the area steers are raised, change country to country. Particularly in the Americas you’ll find much larger and more intensive systems.

Another video, which does contain some mild images of abbatoirs, comes from Quality Meat Scotland (and features quite a few SRUC researchers under our former ‘SAC’ banner). What you can see here is a very good beef handling system, watch how calm the steers are in handling. That’s a great sign.

 

 

Pork (Pig Production Systems)

Pig farming in Scotland has a large proportion of outdoor farming compared to many other countries producing pork meat, but we still have the intensive indoor systems.

 

You’ll be able to see examples of both in this QMS video

 

and in this great video from an Australian producer, showing a more intensive system:

 

 

Lamb (Sheep Production Systems)

Lamb is the meat of a sheep less than a year old, while mutton is the meat of a sheep older. Lamb is probably my least favourite meat (versus pork, which I would until the cows came home if I could).

 

We’re going travel south for this video, because in Scotland we tend to fling our sheep out into the hills and forget about them (gross exaggeration). Southern systems tend to be more intensive.

 

The girl who explains the lamb production system is very engaging (maybe Hugh should hire her). But how about a truly intensive system? Canada has us covered here:

 

Fish (Aquaculture)

And of course we can’t forget our fish! Fish are a hard one because it’s a huge range of species that you’re trying to cover, and we’re not so au fait with our understanding of their ability to feel pain, etc. (although note that our EU legislation considers all vertebrates to be sentient)

 

The Ethics of Meat?

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with the ethics of eating meat – well this is the welfare of how these animals live. While welfare at death is undeniably important, overall it’s a much shorter component of the animal’s overall experience. I’m more concerned about the welfare-at-life of my meat animals.

 

Farm assurance schemes such as Freedom Food  and Red Tractor  have some, possibly basic, welfare standards.  Those are two schemes that I look for when I’m buying meat as a bare minimum. There’s also the Soil Association’s animal welfare standards  if organic is a priority for you. Just as you would check calorie information, we really should be checking farming methods too before we buy.  Take a look at the welfare standards of these organisations and decide if that’s the welfare you want your meat to have experienced when it was alive, because that is what we meat eaters must understand – these burgers were animals at one point.

 

Is meat too easy? Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (such a great name to type out) used to do a show where he took a number of bad cooks and got them to re-engage with the source of their food. In this clip, he makes the point of taking responsibility for the life and death of his chickens. Definitely worth a watch:

 

I would love to live in a world where my tenement block looked after a number of chickens in our garden, but my tenement block can’t even look after our garden. Our lifestyles encourage cheap, butchered meat. The last meat I ate was pollock  steaks that I buy frozen and keep by to make curries with when I need to make a quick cupboard meal. It’s hugely convenient.

 

Reducing the number of animals we need to farm would greatly improve the overall welfare of production animals (the welfare of the farmers however is a topic to come . . . ) But is it realistic? What about people under financial pressure? Can we ask them to stop buying cheap meat? Well, yes, we can. A Girl Called Jack blogs about cooking on a very tight budget, and the majority of her recipes are meat free.

 

These are all strangely complicated questions, featuring a lot of human behaviour and many interconnecting issues that we’ll discuss later in the month.

 

But I think the biggest step in helping production animal welfare is showing people what farms are really like, and as you can see from this post, the internet is a vast repository of resources. Really, neither side of the ethical debate has any excuse to be ignorant about what real farming is like. 

Cecil the Lion and Trophy Hunting

This week’s horrible animal welfare story comes courtesy of a certain American dentist, yes we’re talking about the trophy killing of Cecil the lion.

I won’t name the gentleman (the Guardian has no such qualms), but according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, he . . .

  • Paid $50,000 for the privilege (Cecil is a well known personality of the park thought to bring in thousands of dollars annually, at a conservative estimate)
  • Spotted the lion in the park and then lured him outside of the park with bait
  • Shot the lion with an arrow, failed to kill it
  • Followed the lion until were able to shoot it with a gun, killing it.
  • Did so with no permit
  • Removed the lion’s radiotracking collar

The Telegraph rightly points out that locals who had been found guilty of hunting without a permit would be imprisoned if found guilty. I sincerely hope rich hunters have to abide by the same legal systems.

I’m not totally against hunting. In cases of overpopulation, a skilled hunter able to kill an animal quickly and humanely in its natural environment is what I would consider a ‘good death after a good life’. The hunter needs to kill the right animals (this is never the big males) and I would prefer if the animal’s body was used after death, but I’m okay with this.  I’m not even necessarily against culling lions, but I want there to be valid conservation reasons behind it. My ethical viewpoint, which is a pretty common one, is that animal use needs to be justified, and one person’s enjoyment does not allow me to approve of the painful and prolonged death this lion suffered. (I talk more about animal use in the Value post).

For a humane death we need to be using the right kind of gear. While it’s very impressive shooting things with a bow and arrow, it’s not the cleanest kill-method. Take the Makah people who live in Washington State. When they were allowed to hunt grey whales again, as part of their traditional hunting, they chose to use high powered rifles to make as quick a kill as possible. I really like the Makah’s story for a number of reasons (and frequently contrast it with UK fox hunting with my students, to varying degrees of success), including that the not all of the tribe were keen on the idea of starting up their hunting again.

A modern bow and arrow is a fearful weapon, but still not one that kill as quickly and reliably as a gun. Guns are extremely effective weapons, and short of being stunned prior to killing, a high caliber bullet to the brain is a quick and painless death.

Despite my disagreements with the method, what’s happening to this hunter right now isn’t right. We protect animal welfare because we want to be better, we should protect human welfare for the same reason. This guy should be prosecuted in a court of law, protected from the internet’s mob-happy vengeance.

Animal Welfare on Your Holidays

This week we have to revisit the Isla Nublar welfare audit to talk about one of Jurassic World’s best loved scenes . . . the petting zoo.

Of course it’s all oooh and ahhh when they’re babies and they’re cute, but the common love for this scene does raise an excellent point. While you’re out and about on your summer holidays, you might be tempted to do something animal related as an animal lover. I do this too. But think very carefully about how you use the animals on your holiday trip. Do you really want a picture of you sitting beside a declawed and defanged tiger that has a pretty poor quality of life?

But animal-focussed tourism can also bring a lot to a local economy, as well as being a pleasant experience for you, so how can you be a responsible animal lover on your holidays?

The ABTA has some good animal welfare guidance on their website and if you’ve booked through a travel agent they’ll want to hear about your experiences doing an animal-related activity. My tips would be:

  • Does the animal have access to water and shade?

This is especially important in warmer climates, but any animal performing needs to have access to plenty of fresh water and shade that it can avail itself of at any time.

  • Can the animal leave the situation?

Is the animal to get up and go if too many humans invade its space, or at the very least, if the animal displays behaviour suggesting it’s uncomfortable, will the tour operator accept this and end the session?

  • Does the animal look healthy?

A good indicator of welfare is general health. A thin, obese, flea-ridden or otherwise diseased animal is A) not going to be feeling very happy anyway, and B) unlikely to be living in a good environment.

So with that – enjoy your holidays!

Fox Hunting in British Politics

Today, the UK’s House of Commons was supposed to vote on relaxing the fox hunting with hounds ban in England and Wales. But they’re not going to. If you’re not a citizen of the United Kingdom (and even if you are) you might be very confused by the situation.

The United Kingdom is composed of several countries, check out C. G. P. Grey’s video for a very good explanation of terms. A proportion of these countries want to be independent. Recently, 45% of the Scottish electorate wanted to become independent, which manifested itself in a massive swelling of the ranks of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) elected to the United Kingdom’s government of Westminster.

Before we go further, I think I have to say something about my own voting here. I don’t make a secret of my political affiliation and you could find out without much difficulty, but in my role as communicator/educator on this blog, I want to present you with the science and let you make up your own opinion. Although I’m open to hearing if you think I should make my affiliations public in relation to this post.

The right wing conservative government therefore only has one supporter in Scotland, an MP from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.  In Scotland there is also a Labour MP who opposes the majority conservative UK government but still supports the union. And there is also one Liberal Democrat MP who outright lied about the SNP party’s leader and who is currently being sued by his constituents.

This means that 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in Westminster are held by a party who want independence from the rest of the UK and who are there to increase devolved powers (the SNP believes that independence can only come from a mandate set by Scotland’s devolved parliament, not from Westminster – the impetus for independence must come from the Scottish voters.). But what does any of this have to do with animal welfare? For this I should direct you towards another YouTube video:

For some reason, possibly because we still live in what is technically a theocracy, class matters in the United Kingdom’s politics. The conservatives are the party for the upper class, and the upper class like to go fox hunting. So despite the fact that fox hunting with hounds (note this terminology, because you won’t hear it in much of the media) has been banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act in 2004. In Scotland, similar legislation had been in place since 2002. The Conservatives wanted to relax this ban to allow foxes to be pursued by a pack of hounds, in essence to allow fox hunting as we think of it to happen again.

Although foxes in Scotland were never at risk (although our legislation is not without criticism), the SNP finally decided they would vote on this matter, and their vote would not be in favour of relaxing the ban. So we have a party which wants independence voting on an issue which does not affect their constituents (although their constituents have very strong feelings about the issue, because foxes are cute, presumably, or more cynically: because the average Scottish voter has no love of the aristocracy and hunting). And Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s leader, said the choice to vote on this issue was made, in part, to jerk the leash of the Conservative government and remind them how much power the SNP has.

Here’s the thing – it’s taken 600 words to summarise the political situation around this lack of a vote, but this is no victory for animal welfare. Nowhere in those 600 words do we consider the scientific evidence behind fox hunting. So here it is:

Hunting with hounds does not control fox populations (Rushton et al, 2006). In fact, fox numbers may increase (Lozano et al, 2013). Managing foxes as an agricultural pest needs to be done in a sustainable, long-term model covering large areas (McLeod et al, 2010). To top it off, farmers aren’t really convinced that foxes are an agricultural pest (Baker and Mcdonald, 2001) and only tolerate hunting-with-hounds that happens on their land. Pursuit hunting is not humane, and the method of death that hounds enact on hunting is not humane either. The ban is resisted because it is spoiling peoples’ fun (Marvin, 2007). Even though drag hunting is still supported and allowed, but somehow is less fun than smearing blood on one another.

We have no scientific evidence supporting fox hunting with hounds other than the fact that a very small, but very rich segment of the population want to do it occasionally and they’re slightly put out when they don’t get a chance. It’s not an effective pest control method and it’s not a humane death. Of all the issues to draw a line in the sand on, we’ve chosen one where a utilitarian would come to a clear conclusion after reviewing the scientific evidence. We’ve chosen an issue where it’s more important to posture about on what side of Hadrian’s Wall we come down on, than to review the scientific evidence.

Pig’s For Dinner

One of the things that was raised during the MOOC was scientists’ usage of euphemistic language (and also, my dislike of provocative language when I’m trying to promote animal welfare). It’s a topic I’ve been interested in for a while too.

I was browsing reddit over the weekend and came across this interesting factoid:

On a farm you see a cow, chicken, deer, sheep, etc. In a store you find beef, poultry, venison, mutton, etc.

It’s a divide between Germanic and French words in English.

nickdim

…The english speakers were the ones who raised the animals, and the normans (french speakers) were the ones who ate the meat.

roastpotatothief

I, like a lot of animal welfare people, had just generally assumed this language divide came from a sort of prissiness about naming the foods we eat. I had an idea of a 1950s housewife getting marketed to, Man Men style. In reality, I know this is silly. I have a Mrs Beeton cookbook (one of my favourite vintage books I own) that talks about poultry, mutton, beef, etc., and I have an assumption that these words were used in medieval times (based mainly on Karen Maitland and George RR Martin books). And if I think about it in more detail, I realise that my vague idea about housewives is nonsense. Another of my favourite books, Nella Last’s War, shows me that our lack of connection with our food is far more recent than the 40s or 50s.

This is a very good example of how I will start researching a problem. I start with “What do I know, and where do I know it from?”

The next question on the list is “is this the case?” and so I turned to google to explore the initial hypoethesis.

Google: etymology “pig” = old English (picbred which apparently meant acorn), middle English (pig)

Google: etymology “pork” = latin (porcus), old French (porc), middle English (pork)

Google: etymology “chicken” = Germanic, old English (cycen), English (chicken)

Google: etymology “poultry” = Old French (poulet, pouletrie), English (poultry)

So far, so interesting. There does appear to be a divide where the old French and German words are used for food, while the old English words are used for the producing. While this appeals to my inner class warrior, who is never too far from the surface, I am also aware that English is a language that “pursues other languages down dark alleys to beat them unconscious and riffle through their pockets for spare vocabulary“. I’m also vividly aware that there are some very strange quirks in the way we name and identify animals. Did you know that cattle are the only species that do not have a non gendered singular noun? In English you can’t refer to a single member of the species Bos without implying something about gender or function (cow vs bull, ox vs steer). I wrote a 60000 word thesis on the personality of beef steers and dairy cows, I am deeply aware of how awkward this little linguistic quirk can make life.

The point is that my google exercise breaks down here. We call it beef (old French) and veal (anglo Norman French) when it’s a steer (Germanic through to Old English) or a calf (Germanic through to old English), its oxtail when it’s ox (Germanic through to Old English) and milk (Germanic to Old English) when it’s a cow (Germanic to Old English).

Assuming that Google is pretty good at etymology, and at the very least I can confidently say it knows more about etymology than I do, I am reasonably confident that at least for some foods in the English language, the division of animal and food may be down to class. Now this is far from a theory, that is to say something that we would widely accept to be true, but it’s a pretty solid hypothesis.

And it’s certainly made me think differently about my old assumption. It’s a nice hypothesis, I like it, and I think it’s interesting that from an animal welfare point of view, we’ve all moved to the landed gentry – and we use the posh language, the language that provides a line of demarcation, between us and the fields.

Anatomy of a Break – Chronicles of Bobo Part One

The black and white cat you sometimes see in the Fluffy Sciences banner is called Bobo.

I met Bobo in January 2010, back when she was called Bono, and was my friend Sophie’s cat. Only six months earlier I had sat with my little tuxedo cat, Posie, in the vet’s office while we overdosed her with pentobarbitol, and let her slip away from her days wracked with arthritic pain, liver failure and dementia. Bono was a very different cat to Posie, confident where Posie would hide . . . slightly dimmer than Posie which really said something because Posie once got a fright when she thought a tree sneaked up behind her.

Come December 2011 and life has intervened, Bobo needs somewhere to stay for Christmas. I know, as friends do, that this isn’t just somewhere to stay for Christmas really, and so I begin some political machinations.

Mum, I say, poor Sophie doesn’t know what to do with her cat over Christmas, I was wondering if I should take her . . .

Sophie, I say, poor Mum misses our old cat so much, she’s been thinking about getting a new one, I think if she looks after Bono for Christmas .

One Christmas stay later, in 2012 Bono moves to my mum’s for good and after a little while becomes Bobo. I feel like a master manipulator. In 2013, my little sister moves out and Bobo becomes surrogate daughter for someone with empty nest syndrome. She is spoiled rotten, and Athena should recognise that her Aunty Bobo was instrumental in making me realise I needed another cat.

But I’m talking about Bobo for a reason. Two weeks ago now I got a frantic phonecall from my mum, on a girly weekend in York, and panicked because Bobo had been found in the hall howling and unable to walk. My stepdad assumed she’d been hit by a car and took her to the vet’s.

A vet, late on a Friday afternoon. A vet who removed my stepdad from the examination room and returned a verdict of cat bites. Prescribed antibiotics and sent her home.

When you work in a vet school, when you work with vet students, you feel a lot of sympathy for vets. I have little sympathy for this one. I cannot understand why this vet didn’t prescribe pain meds, when behaviourally the cat was so distressed the owner had to be sent from the room, when the owner assumed a car accident because of the levels of pain being shown. I can’t understand that.

I also can’t understand how in such an examination, the vet could miss a dislocated leg and a fracture at the ankle.

This week, because Bobo was still in pain, she was taken back to the vets to see her regular vet, who immediately prescribed more antibiotics, steroids and scheduled her for a general anaesthetic for a thorough examination and x-ray. 13 days after the injury, the break was discovered. Bobo’s options were a transfer to Vet’s Now in Glasgow for a risky surgery which might save the leg, or an amputation.

Which would you do?

The surgery carries risk and a prolonged period of recovery, where Bobo will need to be caged for at least six weeks. The amputation carries long term behavioural limitation. Which would you choose?

In an attempt to give my mum the best advice I could I surveyed as many vets as I could find on Friday afternoon, and the answers are mixed. There’s no clear answer here at all, and I couldn’t help but ask for photos and videos to use in teaching. What do you do?

Bobo is currently in hospital, waiting for the surgery that might save her leg. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll talk about her instead of Athena.

Athena’s grudgingly allowed this.

Kai: The Case of Paddington Ayr

Scotland’s been abuzz with the story of Kai, the Shar-Pei cross abandoned at Ayr railway station with a suitcase of his belongings. Buzzfeed has more information here.

The SSPCA has taken him in and the attention his story received has meant he has literally hundreds of homes offered to him. I’m sure his story will have a happy ending, the SSPCA are spoiled for choice, they’ll find him a good home, I am sure. The SSPCA are also fixing his eyes (the eyelids are turning inwards, meaning his eyelashes scratch his corneas – a simple surgery to fix), so he’ll find his new home, with good health.

But the ‘why’ of the story truly confuses me. If you’re giving up an animal, why not take it to a shelter? What pride stops you from taking a clearly loved animal to where you know it will be safe? Or is it some way of trying to take it back at the last minute? To return in half an hour to collect the dog you’ve ‘forgotten’, except someone makes the final choice for you? Again, Buzzfeed has an account from the alleged abandoner. I don’t buy it at all.

But the story has raised an interesting side issue. Kai was sold on Gumtree, and quite a few people have come out to say that this is why buying and trading animals online is a bad idea.

I’m not sure I agree.

In some ways, Athena was traded online. My friend Leigh was fostering Athena and her siblings and posting photos of them on Facebook. I remember, distinctly, being curled up under a thin sheet in Bellevue, Seattle, very hungover and trying to ignore the snores of my fellow geeks around me. I saw a picture of Athena cuddled up with one of her sisters. She was the cat of my idle fantasies. You know when you picture yourself as a ‘grown-up’, in a Victorian farm house with a green aga, copper pots hanging in the kitchen, a kitchen island with a sofa on one side of it . . . in my version of that classic middle class dream, there was always a little silver tabby cat sitting on the kitchen island, watching the goings on. While I had been looking for a cat for a year, seeing the perfect kitten in a picture prompted me to message Leigh and the rest is history (history currently sitting on my knee waiting for an opportunity to catch at my earring again).

What’s the difference between Athena’s story and Kai’s? Both were spotted over the internet, after all.

The difference is duty of care. Leigh and the shelter she volunteered for had duty of care of Athena, and when I messaged them hungover, fragile and on the other side of the world, I was still vetted by Leigh. I have every confidence that she would never have recommended me to the shelter if she didn’t believe I could take care of Athena. In fact, in our early days, Leigh had more confidence in me than I did!

This is perhaps where the comparison between Athena and Kai falls apart completely. Athena is lucky enough to have been under the care of people who saw pet owning as a responsibility her whole life. We don’t know what Kai’s owners were thinking. We don’t know what brought him to Ayr Station, although we may wish he had been relinquished in a more responsible manner, and we may wish his previous owners had taken more responsibility for passing him on.

None of these problems come from the medium by which he was traded.

Now if you were to ask me if dog licensing would have helped, there you might find me sympathetic.