04 Sep FACTORY FARMING, HONEST LABELLING AND STRICTLY
This blog is based on my recent meeting with Deborah Meaden for my Big Table podcast, which you can download here
Deborah Meaden is a shrewd and successful business woman and a household name thanks in part to appearances on TV shows such as Dragons Den and Strictly Come Dancing. She is also known for being a passionate animal lover, a committed supporter of many animal charities and a champion of animal causes. Most recently Deborah played a significant role with TUSK in getting ivory banned from the UK. I had the opportunity to sit down with her to discuss our views on the industrial farming of animals, our campaign for honest labelling and our fight to stop live transport. I even had a chance for a quick catch up on Strictly!
‘The truth about factory farming isn’t advertised on food labels because it’s an unsavoury one. I’m signing up for the #HonestLabelling of meat and dairy products. We all need to make informed choices‘ Deborah Meaden
Sitting in the garden of Deborah Meaden’s stunning country home as chickens and ducks peck away in the fields, it feels a million miles from London and the business world. I ask Deborah if she has always been an animal person and how it came about. She shares some of her childhood history with me ‘I had a snail hospital because we had thrushes – the thrush would be smashing their shells, and I’d pick them up and put them underneath this – well it wasn’t much, it was a plank basically but I called it a snail hospital. So, I’ve always, always loved animals but I have no idea where it came from. My parents are kind people but they’re not huge animal lovers. There’s nothing in my background that would really say why, but you know, animals have just always been the centre of my life’
I am interested to know how Deborah has built a lifestyle that is animal welfare conscious. ‘I am careful about what I eat and where I eat. My poor husband has to put up with new rules every week as I learn more,’ she jokes. However, she is not saying this from a veggie point of view, ‘I’m an omnivore, I eat meat, but I’m careful about the meat I eat and I’m fortunate to be able to say I only eat free range. I always ask the question and that’s something I say to people, if you care about something, voice it.’
She admits she is lucky to know about farming systems, having had animals and also about current environmental issues. We both recognise that there’s no point telling everybody to stop eating meat ‘That isn’t going to happen. People are going to eat meat. So, you know, we need to be a bit more progressive than that. We need to say, ‘okay, so how are we going to make sure that the animals have got a high standard of welfare?’
She is aware of our Honest Labelling campaign and our quest to ensure that the way meat and dairy is produced is recorded on the label, not surprisingly Deborah has strong views ‘We all want to be able to make choices but you also can’t have a product that’s just got nothing but a load of labels sticking on it. So I think there needs to be an understanding of what’s important to be on there, what actually matters to people and where can they find that information out. At the moment I’m not sure they know where to go. They’d have to sit down for an afternoon and Google ‘Organic’, ‘Free Range’, ‘Red Tractor’ and work it out for themselves. The truth about factory farming isn’t advertised on food labels because it’s an unsavoury one but we all need to be able to make an informed choice’
We continue our discussion in the sunshine and I ask what she feels are the key animal welfare issues ‘When I think about our animals, there are two things I worry about: the life they live and the way they die. Animals should be able to exhibit normal behaviours. We shouldn’t be farming animals that cannot be kept in an environment that mimics their own and where they cannot exhibit natural behaviours. The respect they are given when slaughtered to me is also hugely important, so I welcome CCTV in slaughterhouses. I think there should be more local slaughterhouses too. It’s ridiculous that the farmer down the road here has to send animals many, many miles away. It’s the same as live exports: having to load them up for their last journey and take them hundreds of miles to slaughter on the other side of the country or across the world. Crazy. So I think that’s really important‘.
As we talk about about worldwide live exports Deborah also shares my concern that the government has committed to look at banning the live export of animals for slaughter, but not the export of animals for furthering fattening, which permits, for example, calves to be exported from the UK to be fattened in veal production systems that would be illegal under UK law. ‘It’s such a shame to take an issue and not go far enough that it actually deals with the issue. If you honestly believe it’s the wrong thing to do, shut it down!’ she says.
So what does Deborah think about the work of Compassion in World Farming? ‘I greatly respect Compassion’s aims and the work that you do. It’s so important to educate and empower people to make informed choices and to help them understand how they can make a difference’. Deborah continues ‘The biggest question I get asked on Twitter when I show people something is ‘what can I do?’ nobody wants to feel constantly helpless’.
However, Deborah believes that as a species, we can change, ‘We need to teach very early on, about climate change and food nutrition. Eat less and eat better, that’s it. We throw away 30% of the contents of our fridge and then we complain that we haven’t got enough money to spend on the things that we want to do. That’s crazy! That is actually mad!’
As we finish our meeting, I ask about Strictly and she laughs. ‘Do you know, I’ve been in business for thirty-five years, and everybody wants to know about Strictly. Do you know what I love about Strictly? Strictly is very authentic. It’s as lovely as you see. Everybody wants you to look your best, they want you to feel your best, they want you to be your best and all of the other people you’re competing against, they are rooting for you. I just felt terrified every step of the way when I was dancing. Nothing scares me but Strictly did. I felt that the audience, if they could have, they would have picked me up and carried me around. Do you know, that’s rare in life. It’s very rare that in a competitive environment, everybody genuinely wants the best for you’.
It’s been wonderful meeting Deborah, we resolve to keep in touch and she kindly pledges to do what she can to help.
And if you are a UK citizen please click here to support a comprehensive ban on live exports here. Never has there been a greater need for everyone to get involved and make our voices heard