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LIVING IN A MOTOR HOME: FAQ's

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Intensive Future: Progress isn't always a forward direction

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.netImage courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net30th June 2016

I've decided to write a series of articles looking at some of the serious issues we are currently facing regarding our health, food, intensive farming and fulfilment – all of which are intertwined in a complex web of cause and effect. I'll tell you now it's going to be a long and hard read, as has been my own personal journey to get here.

The series will be broken down into three parts and will cover so much more than just the usual animal rights and pro/anti GMO arguments so stick with us, these articles may just change your life and I know that's no small claim!

Part 1 – Dairy cows & meat animals.

Don't eat meat or dairy? Good for you, but make sure that you hang around for the next two articles as there is still a lot that ties the whole picture together by examining the chemicals we eat, drink and expose ourselves to everyday!

We live in an age of miraculous technology, the boundaries of which seem to be expanding exponentially. These are exciting times for we are able to produce record quantities of food, especially when you consider that agriculture was very different, almost primitive in comparison, just a few generations ago. We now have enormous fields of cereal crops tended by robotic tractors, production line poultry, and mega dairies with new breeds of cow producing truly unbelievable amounts of milk – and considering the steadily increasing world population we're likely to push for it all to become bigger still. But at what cost? Has this push for progress already reached it's limits in terms of the physical quantity produced, the quality of the food itself, and the moral aspect of the organisms involved? Should we continue to make this already disconnected system even more intensive or should we be looking in another direction for the farming future of mankind? Now you see how big a topic we're going to be discussing!

To help get us started, let's build ourselves a little picture - of the extreme end of the intensive agriculture scene. Imagine for a moment that you are a cow in a mega dairy, a pig in a factory farm, or perhaps even a chicken. Come on, I said stick with us! It's horrible but I have a point.

Imagine that you are denied the simple freedom of going outdoors. Imagine spending day after day forced to live in the same dingy and cramped conditions, and when you feel like laying down the only option is a cold, hard, and filthy concrete floor or the uncomfortable mesh of a cage... Straw is an expensive luxury that requires upkeep so you can't have any of that to lay on. The only food you have to eat is a cheap and unnatural mix of grain and fillers – whatever keeps the costs down and your belly full. The inactivity, coupled with the restrictive diet, dirty conditions, boredom and stress cause you to become ill – a lot. To keep you alive (happiness doesn't matter here), your keepers feed you a barrage of medications and antibiotics. No, this is not the intro to a horror movie but the day to day life of some dairy cows and meat animals all over the world, the UK included. If you're on social media you've probably already seen the heart breaking images of male chicks being tipped alive into the grinding machine. It's a vastly different picture to the sunny green field and farm yard graphics offered to us on the product packaging and adverts isn't it?

 

No!” you say, “not in the UK - we're a nation of animal lovers! We have the RSPCA and I've seen cows AND pigs in fields near me so I thought they were all free range!”

I too once believed that it was just chickens that were subjected to the battery farming treatment here in the UK and that was bad enough, after all you can't exactly cage a pig like that can you? Unfortunately you can. If you still don't believe me, have a look here:

>Biogen - Bedfordia Farms, Bedfordshire. https://happypigsmakeperfectpork.wordpress.com/tag/biogen/ & http://animalaid.org.uk/h/n/NEWS/news_factory/ALL/2920//

>How about these poor guys here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3274762/Shocking-footage-reveals-pigs-crammed-tiny-cages-left-shivering-floor-farm-supplies-Morrisons.html

>And sadly, here too: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/plummeting-milk-price-prompts-rise-of-2000-cow-mega-dairies-in-britain-a6744501.html

Apparently it's all legal too. Lovely!

 

So it's legal, what's the problem?

As much as our game of 'pretend' can be insightful and invoke an empathetic response from us, I'm still not anthropomorphising cows and pigs here. I'm not trying to say that they feel humiliation and the confines of captivity in the same way that we humans do. Some species do better in captivity than others and our food animals have been selectively bred over hundreds of years to become more docile and much more efficient in what they 'produce' for us. Technically nowadays we need fewer cows than before to be able to produce more milk and so we could argue that fewer individuals are being 'tortured' in this way than what might have been the case if science and genetics had not stepped in.

Despite this, domestication has not been able to eradicate the minds and basic instincts of these creatures, they are still that - individuals. We need to remind ourselves that given the choice a cow will eat the best grass and other nutritious wild herbs and plants it can find, they are inquisitive creatures so need some mental stimulation, a pig still feels the call to make a nest in which to give birth, and most importantly they wouldn't choose to lay on hard concrete to sleep if grass, or even straw, was available.

> Natural behaviour studies. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168159106001067 & http://www.farmhealthonline.com/health-welfare/pigs/pig-behaviour/

The problem is that these creatures are being denied the very simple pleasure of health and well being that we as free humans take for granted. Comfortable bedding, exercise, and a natural varied diet are all things that at the very least should be awarded to our providing creatures. My point is that we shouldn't require laws to tell us what is morally right or wrong - we use these creatures for their milk and, ultimately for some, their meat. Personally I believe that for their destiny and in gratitude, our meat and dairy animals should be treated with the HIGHEST of honours in life and in death.

 

Why should we even care if the cows are happy? We need food!

Even if you disagree with the 'happiness and well being' aspect of this article, studies have shown that free range and organically reared animals have better general health than those that are intensively farmed, requiring far less medications and chemicals in the first place – all of which risk entering our own bodies when the product is consumed. Perhaps it's the lack of stress hormones in their systems, or perhaps it's down to being able to personally seek out the nutrients in the field that they know they need that are otherwise are missing from the cheap feed... Either way the science is there - the final product tastes better, contains MORE nutrients, and is safer to consume.

>River Cottage Spring – s11 episode 4 http://www.channel4.com/programmes/river-cottage/on-demand

In the above episode of River Cottage they quote a study clearly showing that eating fat unhealthy birds make us as the consumers fat and unhealthy also. We are what we eat after all! They go on to report that the study showed ten times more Omega 3 in a free range organic Waitrose chicken compared to the battery standard. TEN times! The study may even go as far as to show why, despite an increase in the availability and affordability of food, many of us are experiencing health issues related to the deficiency of important vitamins and minerals at the same time as suffering from obesity. We think that we're eating enough but in reality it's empty. Organic and free range meat is more expensive to buy yes, but not by ten times so you're definitely getting more nutrients for your money by buying Organic.

 

Wait how can I claim that organic and free range meat is safer than factory farmed when the arguments are still ongoing?

Despite the expensive clinical trials and studies that have apparently proved that the medications given to our providing animals are safe enough for humans to consume indirectly, let's face it the only thing safer still is to omit them altogether. No medication = no risk to even debate! There is also the fact that the very nature of these intensive mega farms create an environment brimming with filth and disease. E Coli, MRSA, and Salmonella are all big nasties that regularly cause serious health problems and food poisoning outbreaks, all of which are known to flourish in such places – and they're bigger and badder than ever! Internal infections aside, slice into an animal that has lived its life immersed in such nasties and the chances of transferring some of it onto the face of the meat is extremely high.

>Rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria in farms: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/overuse-of-antibiotics-in-pig-factory-farming-leading-to-rise-of-antibiotic-resistant-superbugs-in-a7025031.html

 

Happy pigs is all well and good but moral farms can't feed everyone!

In its current super-sized state our food system is still under great pressure. Despite the scientific leaps in machinery and robotics, selective breeding, fertilisers, pest control, and even genetic engineering, many of our farmers are still struggling to stay in business and make ends meet – but then the efficient scientific solutions cost money to install and work with. Despite affordable access to fruit and vegetables from all over the world at any time of year, cancers, heart disease and other related health problems in the population are worse than ever. Also to consider is the fact that despite the apparent demand for more and more, our food waste from field, supermarkets, and our own homes is appallingly high suggesting that the answer to our food and money woes doesn't lie purely in the production end of the system itself.

 

So to wrap up part 1 of the series, I remind you that the main title is 'Progress isn't always a forward direction.' Something, somewhere, and some how, has gone seriously wrong with our food production morals and techniques. What started out as a more efficient way to grow food for a growing world population has become side tracked by profits and convenience, and has gone too far. The animals involved, the environment we call home, and even our own health, is suffering because we are cutting corners.

 

Now that we know this much, what should we do now?

Is it down to us as consumers, the struggling farmers, or the government to fix? Well I'm sorry to say I personally don't have all of the answers, but that's OK! We have evolved from and are still part of, however much we try to distance and kid ourselves, a complex web of life on this planet working together as one organism. As a species we seem to love waiting for the one person to come along and fix things or at least tell us what to do, but these days a discussion on the internet is able to involve and inspire people from all over the world and from all kinds of backgrounds - we'll fix it together and be stronger for it too.

Of course we have invested a lot of time and money into the current intensive farming system so, as long as money is still the driving force anyway, change will likely take a long time – if we have it. We may already be too late to stop the ravages of climate change affecting us, and if so we shall need a better system of food production all the more as the pressure increases. I know I'm not the first person to raise the alarm on these issues but since there has not yet been a major change for the better then I figure someone needs to keep shouting! There are projects and successful businesses all over the world experimenting with combinations of new and old techniques for producing Organic food (no-till, closed loop, and hydroponics to name but a few examples) many of whom are boasting fantastically productive results. This leads me to think that progress isn't always so black and white, not all forwards and backwards. Sometimes just the one half step back leads to the discovery of an entirely different and diverging path to success, and sometimes that one more step 'forward' can be the one that takes us over the cliffs edge!

For now, we as consumers can start by changing our own habits for more sustainable ways and by remembering that each pound spent is a vote for what we want to see more of. So next time you are considering which milk and meat to buy perhaps choose the free range, local, or organic product. Make sure you stop wasting quite so much of what you've already paid for, and for what some creatures have made the ultimate sacrifice to produce. Let us tell the corporations and our governments that we want quality over wasted quantity. We want innovation, but not at our own expense!

 

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for the next article where we'll dig even deeper into this Intensive Future and look at the chemicals we eat, drink and expose ourselves to everyday in the name of progress. Read part 2 next week, 'This article may cause side effects'.

 

We welcome discussion on this important subject so please do get involved by commenting below. Let's put our heads together for a thoughtful future! Share your experiences with us and other readers whether you are a farmer, gardener, scientist or consumer - though before you do so please remember to adhere to our community rules to be sure to keep this a positive place. I know that these subjects can cause high emotions but let's all keep our responses in check. I'm serious about that now, I had better not see any personal attacks, name calling or mocking language from either the Organic or pro-Intensive Farming camps... you have been warned! ;) Sarah

 

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About us:

My name is Sarah and in 2011 my husband Ryan and I decided to buy and re-fit an old motor home - we named it Waki and now live in it full time in the UK!

We live neither on or off-grid, rather somewhere in between, and are not the first and I dare say not the last to choose this way of life... read more>> 

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