One of them was a little story, nothing more than a novelty for the London newspapers, which landed one evening when I was an editor at Time, in 2000 or 2001, as a new arrival from Australia via Bangkok. It was an RAF helicopter called in to rescue beasts that had fallen over a cliff in northern Scotland.
One of the reasons it stays with me is that after the first edition I was raging around the office, pointing out that these beasts were either cows, oxen, or bulls. They couldn’t be all three, as we had managed to call them in a short story.
Many Oxford PPE graduates and Cambridge English majors stared in bewilderment, unable to see what the problem was. As a former Australian rural journalist who nearly won the “Guess the Micron of the Sheep’s Fleece” contest, I was horrified by rural illiteracy.
London media have little understanding of agriculture or rural life, as a circular email from the Time newsdesk a few years later demanding that a “traditional rural spectacle” be identified for the coming weekend: “must be within 40 miles of London”.
But the other thing I remember about this story was my initial reaction, a very Australian reaction that I later recognized: “Why don’t they just shoot them, rather than make all these costs and what potential danger for humans to save them? “
It was a reflection of my experience working on a range of breeding farms around NSW and Queensland.
I had been exploited as a work experience student by a wheat / sheep farmer who disliked sheep, and left me alone at 20 to hand shear horribly beaten crossbreed sheep. the fly with 18 months of wool on them which I would have been thrown away after suffering horribly in midsummer. This farmer threw the dead carcasses in the shade of the trees “so that the neighbors could not see them”.
About a hundred miles west of Dubbo, in what you might call the Inner Outback, I fell from a horse into a galvanized burr bush while trying to round up some young wild cows carrying their first calves which had not appreciated their few contacts with humans.
They were small cows, due to undernourishment, but the bull they were placed with and their calves were large, and many were unable to calve. In one case, the farmer tried to extract a calf with a rope and a Land Rover, which left a dying cow with a broken pelvis.
These experiences all date back 30 years, but there is no evidence of significant improvement in animal welfare in Australian agriculture. In fact, farms are generally larger and even more manned, so ‘domestic’ animals have even less human encounters, except on the giant new American-style feedlots with a whole different range. animal welfare, health (and environmental) concerns – including the use of ‘hormone-injected beef’ that we were promised last year would not be permitted for UK imports.
Despite considerable pressure, sheep mulseing (a major operation performed without anesthesia) remains common. The increase in imports of agricultural products can in no way be aligned with the UK government’s relentless wind of ‘maintaining standards’ – something it has steadfastly refused to put into legislation.
The debate over an Australian trade deal has tended to focus – understandably and rightly so – on the potential impact on UK farmers.
How can a farmer who checks his animals twice a day, calls the veterinarian when they are sick, takes care of their well-being, can he compete with a breeder operating on a scale of tens of thousands of hectares, who brings back the herd? in two or three? times a year, maybe by helicopter, harvesting almost wild animals, left to live or die inexpensively – like on a farm I worked outside of Longreach in North Queensland?
But there is also a question of how the increase in food imports from such a destructive, extractive and damaging system, which has massive impacts on climate and biodiversity, can even be envisioned year round. of COP26?
At a time when Covid-19 has highlighted the fragility of our global systems, why would we further lengthen our supply chains, rather than ensuring our food security (and spreading prosperity in our countries) by supporting a expansion of small independent power supply? producers – especially vegetables and fruits?
Before Brexit, we and mainland Europe traded rapidly increasing amounts of ice cream in a business that stands out for its utter uselessness. Now the government intends to trade beef with Australia, in yet another exercise of unnecessary and not so creative capitalist destruction.
Baroness Natalie Bennett of Manor Castle is a peer of the Green Party. She lives in Sheffield.
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