Monday, 2 January 2017
For the Love of Meat
For the Love of Meat aired on Australian TV a few months ago, and it's taken me that long to work up the courage to actually watch it. It's a three part documentary made by Matthew Evans- chef, food critic and free range pig farmer. I'm glad that I finally did. And I'm particularly glad that I started watching it on a accidental vegetarian day. Naturally it's often confronting, but it's fascinating, and it's important.
Matthew was astonished to learn that while people eat 34kg of meat per year on average world wide, here in Australia we manage to eat our way through 90kg of meat per person per year, making us the second biggest meat eaters in the world (behind America). In that 90kg we eat 7kg of lamb, 20kg of pork, 23kg of beef and a whopping 43kg of chicken each. I was surprised that the proportion of lamb was so small, although I guess lamb is most often cooked at home, and doesn't make up a large proportion of fast food meals in the way that chicken and beef does. I can't imagine that I eat my 90kg average, but they're still sobering numbers. Matthew uses the three episodes to look at the animals that we eat the most of - chickens, pigs and cows.
Episode 1 deals with chickens. I learnt a lot of things. Meat chickens aren't housed in cages like laying chickens. 85% of the chickens we eat in Australia live in a space no bigger than an A4 sheet of paper. The average time from egg to slaughter is 35 days, and remarkably this time has almost halved in the past 40 years with increasingly intensive practices. I was most distressed to learn that these chickens are often only given 4 hours of darkness a day, so that they eat and grow for 20 hours a day. Matthew was never allowed access to an intensive chicken farm. Only 1% of the chicken sold in Australia is organic.
Episode 2 is about pigs and pork. Again I learnt a lot of things. Only 10% of our pork is free range. Pigs build nests! Free range pigs sounds great but apparently mother pigs squash 18-20% of their piglets in the wild. Which is why industrialised pig farms have farrowing crates that constrain the mother from moving while she is breastfeeding her piglets, and still with this 10% of piglets are crushed by their mother. Australia has already banned the use of sow stalls and these are being phased out by the end of 2017, while farrowing crates are "the next controversy in the pig industry". Farrowing crates prioritises the life of the piglet (and the interests of the pig farmer) over the freedom of the sow. Sows are in traditional farrowing crates for 3-4 weeks, and they do this 2.2 times per year. Farrowing crates have already been banned in parts of Europe, and the Danes have invented a convertible farrowing stall which limits the sows for the first three days when the piglets are most vulnerable to being crushed, and then gives the mother freedom to move after that. Pigs are 18-24 weeks old when they go to market. It would be great for consumers to be told on packaging if the pork they are buying was raised in ecosheds or in conventional sheds- they certainly looked vastly different experiences for the pigs.
Episode 3 deals with cattle. Half of Australia's beef cattle are in Queensland and 300,000 hectares of land was cleared last year for the cattle industry- an astonishing 40 football fields an hour. Cows of course are mobile green house gas factories, and there was an interesting comparison on the amount of gas released for different foods.
Lentils produce 1kg of greenhouse gases per kg of lentils
Chickens produce 3kg of greenhouse gases per kg of chicken
Pigs produce 6kg of greenhouse gases per kg of pork
Cattle produce 25 kg of greenhouse gases per kg of beef
The CSIRO in Townsville is doing some amazing research about seaweed/algae supplements for cattle that could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 80%
Matthew feels that we are disconnected from the meat we eat, and that certainly is true. For the Love of Meat was mainly about animal welfare for me, although it also dealt with some areas of health and environmental concerns. It's no surprise that Matthew ended up advising us that we could all eat less meat, and as the second biggest consumers of meat in the world this is obviously true.
I live with a vegetarian so I have already been eating less meat much of the time, and I ended up eat no meat on the two days that I watched For the Love of Meat. When picking my lunch the day after watching the chicken episode choosing a chicken sandwich that I was reasonably sure would contain low welfare chicken just didn't seem right- do I want to eat chickens that have been forced to eat and grow for 20 hours a day? Do I want to eat chickens that live out their life in a space less than an A4 piece of paper? No, no I don't. Do I think these practices should even be allowed in Australia? No, no I don't.