Wednesday, 9 January 2008

The Lie of the Land

I watched two interesting, but disturbing programmes last night. The first was the second part of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'Chicken Run' programme.

Hugh is highlighting the plight of the cheap supermarket chicken by setting up his own intensive chicken farm and rearing 4,000 birds. It's not a pretty sight. Only a few days from slaughter the birds were virtually unable to stand amd all they did was stagger between the food and water. Visitors - including Jamie Oliver - were horrified. "Why aren't they walking about?" Jamie asked, appalled. They couldn't. Their bloated bodies (the bits we eat) were too heavy.

The birds had no space to move around in, no access to the outdoors and no natural light. Hugh ended up in tears after having to kill yet another sick bird. Part three is tonight (9pm, Channel Four). All he wants is for consumers to pay £1 extra and buy a free range bird. It's not too much to ask is it?

Later I watched Molly Dineen's documentary "The Lie of the Land" in which she followed some of the protesters from the pro-hunt demonstration in London home to see how someone lived when their life depended on the countryside. She watched as the huntsman spent his days going from dairy farm to dairy farm shooting day old 'worthless' dairy crossbreed bull calves. She interviewed farmers who didn't know how they were going to continue farming when everything they produced was sold at a loss.

One farmer said of the supermarkets: "They are superpowers. We're nothing really. They just buy it where they can get it cheapest."

Another said: "The welfare standards of imported food is a damn site worse that we've got here. All you are doing is exporting your problems."

Another, who had been shooting foxes he said would have been much more humanely killed by dogs said: "Everyone's focussed on sport, because you can see it. But nobody's interested in how their food is produced. Look at battery chickens. Why is that acceptable, but hunting and shooting isn't?"

I can't help but think that both programmes were probably preaching to the already converted. I don't think that the anti-hunt supporters shouting at the pro-hunt "privileged toffs" to go home would watch such programmes and if they did would they watch them with an open mind? Do they realise that some of the "privileged toffs" are just hard-working ordinary people - like themsevles - flirting with poverty? They're not all rich princes and earls. Some are, of course. The ones shown on the documentary were not.

The divide between city and country seems to be widening. Farmers are portrayed as fat, greedy, money-grabbing and cruel. In the suburbs it seems to me that the general opinion is that farmers do not love their animals. Last night they would have seen that, when the huntsman was shooting these doe-eyed calves, only one farmer was present. The others could not bear to be there when the knackerman came and instead left the money in a carrier bag (ironically a Tesco carrier bag in one case). One even left a bag of fudge. For the life of a calf.

The programme ended with a farmer, a dying breed, he said, who has a suckler herd. He described his business as 'borderline'. He then went to a field gate and called to his herd which were grazing two fields away. At the sound of his voice the cows and calves lifted their heads and started replying. They ran down the slope to a hedge and mooed enthusiastically.

"They can't get out down there," said the farmer. "If they really love me they'll go back up the hill and through the other gate."

Molly Dineen was astonished.

"They come when you call?" she asked.

"Of course," said the farmer. "They're my girls."

They loved him.


  1. Well actually I wanted t reply in a light hearted manner to your post something like:"Glad you found yourself something to do while the girls are away" But it seems rather inappropriate AFTER reading the blog.
    Yes we western Europeans are supposed to be the most civilised humans on earth and look how we treat our fellow creatures just for the want of money... No "barbarian" would torture his fellow creatures like this and we do support the torturers,by buying these products.

  2. I saw the HFW one, too, PM, and what a shocking programme. Shocking that that single mother (who could subsitute a meat meal for a lentil meal to afford the difference) was doughty in her refusal to see anything wrong in eaten the bloated sacks of rotten fowl despite having seen the means of production. It all seems so bleeding obvious, doesn't it - but apparently "we" want it. Like we "want" pictures of Britney Spears falling out of a taxi with no knickers on. Last prog tonight - wired into the recording machine to make sure we don't miss it. (oh, and v sad when both children at big school, still invokes a tear and mine are 9 and 11 and I'm not a wetty, really!)

  3. Our village butcher only has free range chicken and they aren't that much dearer than the supermarket ones. I try very hard not to buy meat from supermarkets, but then I am lucky to have access to a local butcher. The only way to change it is to make sure we either refuse to buy the stuff or bombard the supermarkets with letters demanding they change their ways. Also, check where the chicken comes from whenever you eat out or buy a takeaway and don't buy it if the food outlet can't reassure you that it is free range.

  4. We only use local sources for meat and they only use free range birds/ Tesco shopping consists of bleach, washing powder, toilet rolls ...the grot stuff...would never buy fruit, veg or meat other than from local farm shop or similar

  5. I also only use local sources. It dosnt take much to shop around!

  6. Just wanted to comment on your reference to 'The Lie of the Land', PM. That ending where the cattle came running at the sound of the farmer's voice had me in tears - literally streaming down, but my boyfriend started laughing at my reaction. I guess because he's never worked with animals he didn't get it - but oh...I'm going to start again....thanks for reminding me of that scene.

  7. I am reading this saying "yes" and "yes" and "yes" again. I also watched the HFW programme and again tonight. I have felt for years that the furore about hunting is extraordinary in a country which turns a blind eye to chicken welfare. Now that I have my own chickens I am even more sure that they are meant to live an outdoor life. I am not a vegetarian and have no problem with eating meat, but have a big problem with factory farming which has no regard for the health, welfare or dignity (yes, mean it!) of the animals.

  8. One of the many sad things about the HFW programme was that people talked up the price difference between free range and standard chicken - till it became the ludicrous "I'm not paying £22 for a chicken". Well nor would many people.
    Our butcher too sells only free range. Perhaps it is legislation that is needed to drive everyone away from the idea that chicken should be a cheap meat eaten every day.

  9. Why were the day old calves being shot? I hate the fact that these lives are so cheap and unimportant . . .I don't understand why we only value human life and yet it is us humans who are busily destroying the planet. Good hard hitting blog.


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