Animal welfare is a tricky topic. Should we be talking to our children more about meat and how it is ‘made’?
It can seem unnecessarily upsetting. Especially if you already struggle to feed fussy eaters a balanced diet. But if children learn about animal welfare from an early age, it might not only improve their health. It could help raise the standard of welfare for animals destined for our dinner plates.
‘Cheap Cheap’ Meat
Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) is an animal welfare organisation. They report that two out of every three farm animals in the world are now factory farmed. All to feed our demand for cheap meat.
Industry organisations say that factory farming doesn’t compromise animal welfare. They tell us UK standards are among the highest in the world. However, in reality conditions are crammed, unhealthy and cruel.
What if we consider the environmental impact too?
Healthy Planet, Healthy People
Factory farming and our insatiable appetite for cheap meat causes huge environmental problems. Land used to grow animal feed is subject to ‘monocropping’, where only one type of crop is grown in a large area, year after year.
These monocrops have a huge impact on wildlife diversity and degrade soil quality. The vast amounts of water used to grow this food causes a runoff, which pollutes water courses. Deforestation to grow animal feed destroys natural habitats and contributes to global warming.
That’s not all. Excessive meat consumption leads to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. We need to slow down and eat less meat for our health and the planet’s health too.
Simply eating less but better quality meat can reduce health problems. It can also soften the impact of unsustainable farming practices. It could even solve the ‘problem’ of organic free-range meat costing more.
Quality, Not Quantity
There’s a difference in the quality of factory farmed animals and those with a better life, and this has changed over time, too. A factory farmed, low cost chicken has a third less protein and three times more fat than it did 40 years ago. We know that cheap meat tastes of nothing. Yes, organic, free-range meat costs more, but eating less of it will save you money too.
Compassion and cash concerns aside, there is a real factory farmed health risk for us. Farm animals account for almost two thirds of all antibiotics used in the EU. Conditions are so bad that animals get frequent infections, and antibiotics are used to prevent this. Given The World Health Organisation (WHO) regularly warns against overuse of antibiotics, isn’t this an unjustified and dangerous practice?
Talking to Kids About Animal Welfare
It’s important to answer all your child’s questions about meat. Especially questions about how animals should be treated fairly.
I’m vegan, but my six year old son isn’t. He can make up his own mind in the future when it comes to his diet. For now he eats organic, high welfare meat three times a week and ‘loves it’.
Talking about meat is a parental choice. No doubt it’s a tricky subject. One method that works well from my own experience is the welfare label.
The Label Hunt
Understanding welfare labels can help us improve animal welfare, and our own health. This is where children can really get involved.
Organic – animals have natural light and space to move. Individual animals are only given antibiotics if absolutely necessary.
Free range – animals are kept outdoors until sent to slaughter.
Outdoor bred – animals are born outside and left outside until they’re weaned. They’re then moved indoors. This can be as soon as four weeks old.
RSPCA Assured – the RSPCA’s improved standards scheme. This is dedicated to raising animal welfare standards, but doesn’t guarantee organic or free range.
The Red Tractor – indicates that farmers adhere to agreed standards. It means nothing for animal welfare. For example, the inside space available for chickens must be no more than 19 birds per square metre, with no outside space required.
No label? This meat is factory farmed. Other misleading labels are ‘farm fresh’, ‘natural’, ‘corn-fed’ and ‘country fresh’. None of which mean anything.
Make seeking out the good labels fun when you’re out shopping. It will help increase kid’s awareness of compassion for living animals. The ‘label hunt’ can lead onto deeper discussions on animal welfare when you think it’s the right time.
The next generation can make positive changes to better animal welfare. And in doing so, to their own health and the planet’s sustainability too. We just need to show them how, instead of covering up what we don’t want them to hear.