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Channel 4 tackles our relationship with farm animals and food

News Section Icon Published 10/01/2020

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Earlier this week (8th January), Channel 4 aired two programmes back-to-back, looking at our relationship with food, the disconnect between where our meat comes from and the impact this can have on animals, people and the planet. The documentaries asked: Do we know where our meat comes from? And, are we eating ourselves into a global catastrophe?

What happens when your supper comes to stay?

‘Meat the Family’ is a three-part documentary following families who welcome farm animals into their lives, effectively as pets. After caring for the animals for several weeks, they must then decide whether the animals will go to slaughter, or the animals can go to a sanctuary but the family must then commit to becoming vegetarian. What will each family decide?

In this episode, a family of committed carnivores received two saddleback pigs to look after and a separate family received three broiler chickens.

During the program family members were exposed to the reality of intensive farming. On visiting an industrial broiler farm, the ‘chicken family’ father asked: “So these animals never see sunlight?” The sad truth is no, they don’t.

Insightful and well researched

The show was insightful and well researched. Instead of simply focusing on the animals that ‘came to stay’ it educated both the families and viewers. It delved into the different types of breeds used for broiler chickens and revealed just how intelligent pigs are.

The Production team were in contact with us during development of the program and we were able to help with many of their research queries, as well as providing relevant facts and figures.

When people are connected to the food they eat, they tend to make better choices – whether that is eating no meat or eating less and higher welfare. We look forward to watching the rest of the series.

Is it possible to prevent ecological catastrophe?

‘Apocalypse Cow: How meat killed the planet’ was the follow-up programme, presented by environmental campaigner and writer, George Monbiot.

The hour-long special highlighted the devastating impact our broken food system is having on the planet. During the show, George said: “We all know the world is in trouble. We’re facing a man-made disaster of global scale…the…culprit that hardly anyone is talking about is the food industry that is destroying the living world. And it appears to be insatiable.”

Intensive farming isn’t the answer

While we agree with much of the programme’s claims, there is one area where we differ greatly. Monbiot states: “My biggest problem with livestock farming, is how inefficient it is. We keep being told that we should change to free range meat. But it causes more damage than indoor farming – it uses more pasture.”

Our CEO, Philip Lymbery, counteracts this point, saying: “In my view, we should be clear that intensive farming is nothing more than an exercise in hugely damaging short-termism. Animals are caged, crammed and confined and fed grain from vast acreages of precious cropland."

“Extensive farming provides animals the scope to lead more natural lives in ways that enhance that life-support system, being more beneficial for essentials like soil health and farmland biodiversity. It uses less oil-based fertilisers and water, all big pluses in the sustainability stakes.”

Less and better

Like George, we believe that rewilding is part of the answer, as is using technology to turn animal stem cells into cultured meat.

However, we believe that regenerative, pasture-fed animal farming is also part of the answer. Eating less, higher welfare meat is part of the transition process that we must go through if we are to end the biggest cause of animal cruelty – factory farming.

Find out more

If you want to know more about the devastating impacts of factory farming and intensive agriculture, check out Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat or Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were both authored by our CEO.