I’m a big fan of eating meat, and my experience of working with it has taught me both to value and thoroughly consider every piece I put in my mouth. Over the last 12 years, I’ve visited farms, abattoirs and processing plants in every corner of the globe.
I worked in an abattoir soon after graduating from uni. My job was to manage quality, of which animal welfare is a part. Standing in the unloading area (usually called a lairage) it is hard to avoid eye contact with the animals. It’s a very strange feeling looking into the eyes of a majestic, gentle, half-ton beast, knowing it has minutes left to live.
From that time on, I have gained compassion and respect for every animal that lives and dies in order for me to enjoy a diet in which meat has a place. This work is a key pillar of what we do at Jamie Oliver; helping meat eaters make well-informed, responsible choices.
In 2015 we are in a place where many people are comfortable eating meat but struggle to touch it raw, let alone have contact with the animal before its death. Retailers have become experts at packaging meat to look like any other commodity, so the act of purchasing it feels no different to picking up biscuits, beer, or loo roll. However, in the developing world, it is still not unusual to visit a market and have your chicken killed before you to order (although I’ve seen many of these, and for purposes of hygiene and welfare, I’d rather stick to the supermarket stuff).
There is a major problem with pre-packaged meat, however; it is so far removed from its origin and production that it is too easy for people to ignore the reality of what they are buying.
At Jamie Oliver, we believe it is a meat eater’s duty to care about animal welfare. By this, we mean the way that animal has been raised from birth, all the way to slaughter. Globally, farming techniques are becoming more intensive, where animals are more frequently treated as cogs in an industrial system of food production, than respected as individual, sentient animals. As a responsible consumer, you have the option to choose the meat you buy based upon knowledge of where it came from and how it was treated.
It has recently become quite trendy for supermarkets to talk about animal welfare as part of their marketing, and this is good news for the animals. However, not all supermarkets are on the same level – some supermarkets have more meaningful programmes in place than others. A recent detailed report called the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare highlighted M&S, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op as the UK retailers which have the highest transparency and communication on farm animal welfare in the UK, meaning that they have farm-animal welfare as a key part of their business strategies. Organisations that do this are highly likely to ensure animal welfare is managed at a higher, more responsible level on the farms that supply them, which is good news for the animals.
For those who choose to eat meat, and have a conscience about the life and treatment of the animals that produce it, there are a number of things worth remembering:
- Choose to buy meat from a retailer that has strong and meaningful practices in place covering animal welfare. For more information on how to shop for meat more responsibly, go to ciwf.org.uk/your-food/ and download ‘The Compassionate Food Guide”. It’s a really handy short guide to navigating the meat isle in your local supermarket.
- Look out for products carrying the “Freedom Food” or “RSPCA Approved” logo. This means that the farms and supply chains have been audited against standards set by the RSPCA. For more on what these standards cover, see freedomfood.co.uk
- Choose free-range or organic, wherever you can afford it. In Europe, this means that pigs, chickens and egg-laying hens have access to the outdoors, and generally a better environment in which to move freely – giving them a happier, healthier, better quality of life.
- Don’t be fooled by misleading packaging! Names of farms, pictures of countryside and leafy logos are no guarantee animal welfare is any better! Look out for meaningful names such as “outdoor-bred”, “free-range” or “RSPCA approved”.
- Eat a bit less meat, but choose a better product. Cutting meat out a few days of the week, or reducing your portion sizes, will enable you to spend a bit more on the meat you do buy. Choosing the cheapest available product from discounters and supermarkets often supports a system of lower animal welfare. Vote with your wallet!
- Be choosy about restaurants and cafes. So often retailers are forced to be transparent about where their meat is from, yet restaurants get out of it. Choose where you eat and what you order based on animal welfare. When you’re met with a menu that tells you nothing about where their meat is from, it’s best to go for a vegetarian option!
It’s a real cliché, but it is so true – quality over quantity is the formula for better meat!
For great meat-free inspiration, have a look through our Meat Free Week collection!