Sorry for the gap since the last blog. Last week was a bit mad, with endless trips out and about – an England Biodiversity Group workshop on the Natural Environment White Paper Green Paper thing: Meeting Andrew Wood from Natural England to discuss how we take forward our stalled “State of England’s Grasslands” report (more on this in the future); meeting Richard McDonald of the Defra-commissioned farming regulation taskforce to explain EIA (agriculture) to him (that whole topic needs a separate entry too), then meeting Linda Davies from OPAL to talk about a possible grasslands survey project next year. Phew.
Meanwhile The Sustainable Livestock Bill was given its second reading in the House of Commons, where it was “talked out”. If you have 30 minutes, you can read the whole thing here.
We’re obviously disappointed the Bill failed to progress, and it does seem rather sad that in this modern era, important legislation can be determined by a few MPs – notably David Nuttall and Christopher Chope, with some additional help from ex Countryside Alliance Director turned MP Simon Hart; Ian Paisley junior – who ended up voting in support of the bill despite opposing it in the debate; and ex MAFF minister Tony Baldry – not forgetting some interesting interventions (reciting poetry???) from Jacob Rees-Mogg – all of them talking for a long time about not very much – aka filibustering.
Friends of the Earth and its partners, including us, had actually managed to get more than the required 100MPs to turn up and support a vote on the Bill. There were just a few MPs, who seemed to be acting on behalf of the farming industry, who talked for long enough to mean that by the time the vote was called, so many MPs had to leave to get back to their constituencies (apparently for Armistice Day events), that only 62 were left to support the vote on it, not the 100 needed. Here’s the detail of who support the vote, and who opposed it, thanks to CIWF.
Thanks to the Conservative MPs who voted for the Bill especially Jane Ellison MP for Battersea who offered to host the launch of our State of Engand’s grasslands report last June before it fell foul of the new rules governing lobbying by quangos.
Sorry, I can’t help pointing out some nominative determinism – Mark Field voted to support theBill, but David Heath voted against. Heaths need grazing just as much as fields do David!
There were some frankly peculiar statements made in the debate, but there were also some valid criticisms of the Bill, though they missed the point. It was never intended to be perfect, but that the detail would be agreed at the next, committee stage.
So why is Soya fed to cows? It is partly down to us, the great beef-eating British public. We have got used to cheap beef, and lean beef. Cheap beef is produced by maximising the efficiency of every step in the process of producing beef cattle, from gestation to slaughter, packaging and sale. This means cows are finished (that is the last stage in their growth after they have been growing more slowly by eating grass or silage) quickly, often indoors, on high protein diets including soya protein. As well as being efficient (and cheap) this gives just the right sort of meat that the market demands – lean meat, because a high protein diet converts feed into muscle (meat) whereas cows finished on grass convert the energy less efficiently, and turn more of it into fat.
So I guess if we want to break the link between soya production in South America, and all that entails, we need to choose which beef we eat, according to what it is fed and where it lives.
But that’s not the whole answer. Governments regulate where there are market failures – that is why we have things like wildlife legislation such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. That’s also why we have speed limits on our roads, planning restrictions which prevent developers building what they like where they like, and it’s also why we have all the laws and regulations that exist. Sometimes Governments have to act to raise standards in an industry (eg to reduce workplace accidents) – and The Sustainable Livestock Bill would have done this.
The Government eventually came out against the Bill, and in favour of the self regulation being promoted by the Farming industry.
Which reminds me – at one point David Nuttall said
“If any industry-if we are calling farming an industry, which I consider to be an unusual term…”
David Nuttall should take a look at how most beef in this country is produced, and he would see the industrial approach adopted in every step of the process. What else is farming if not an industry?
Minister Jim Paice did offer to attend a conference to be organised on the subject next year, but did not offer to organise it.
All in all it’s rather a disappointing outcome for us, but one small crumb of comfort is that at least the pros and cons of the modern livestock industry was debated in the House of Commons.