If Britain Factory Farmed Labradors

This blog is based on my recent meeting with Rosie Boycott, journalist, food campaigner, writer and activist, for my Big Table podcast, which you can download here.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking at the Hay Literary Festival and was fortunate enough to sit down with Rosie Boycott. A long-time friend and Trustee of Hay, Rosie has spent much of her career in the media world. There isn’t much she hasn’t achieved; she’s been Chair of London Food, a well-known journalist and newspaper editor, travel editor, smallholder and a consistent champion of healthy eating.

We took the time to discuss our mutual passion for animals and the countryside as well as our concerns for our broken food system and animal welfare, but first I wanted to find out how Rosie came to be involved in this fascinating festival. ‘Hay is an extraordinary creation. We began as a festival for books and writers and ideas,’ she passionately explains. ‘There’s an open feeling and masses of conversation going on around the site. I can listen to you talking about cheap meat, I can listen to Ruby Wax talking about mental health, I’ll be able to listen to a whole range of subjects as wide as the world is wide.’

I too love the variety Hay has to offer and the opportunity to interact with other speakers, authors and members of the public. Rosie has much to speak about, especially factory farming and what it has done to society and the environment: ‘I’m not a farmer now but I have been and I do spend a lot of time talking to farmers. I was very passionate about my pigs, at one point I had 150. We would play football with them, they lived in a wood, they had a caravan, I became devoted to them all. You realise they had incredible characters and were terribly smart. I always used to say, if Britain factory farmed Labradors, the whole country would stop but we are quite happy to factory farm an animal that is just as intelligent, with just as much character, loyalty and fun as a Labrador. We’re very hypocritical about how we treat our animals, we’re prepared to turn a blind eye.’

I agree that people have become distanced from their food and don’t think about the sentient animals behind the antiseptic plastic packaging. Our current food system is broken, as Rosie explains, ‘Big machinery and big chemicals dominate the farming system. People produce increasingly cheaper food by sourcing the world, by cutting down rainforests, by factory farming animals, by absolutely flagrant and irresponsible use of antibiotics through the food chain’.

With Brexit looming, I wonder if Rosie believes this is an opportunity to really shake things up and make substantial changes? ‘Brexit can be the moment where we reward farming in terms of both its production and the willingness of farmers to caretake the landscape and to rear their animals holistically.’

So where are we now? ‘We’re now stuck with the fact it’s an unsustainable situation. The planet is running out of soil, we are facing tremendous issues of climate change and we’re facing tremendous health issues, all of which could start to be resolved if you change the food system. When you look at Paris climate talks, we’re still talking about clean air, we’re talking about energy and food is still on the fringe.’

Since our meeting, Rosie’s incredible path continues with her appointment as a Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords next month. I’m sure that her presence there will do much to increase awareness of the grave concerns we share about our current food system, the plight of factory farmed animals and the need for urgent change.

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