One of the most perplexing aspects of modern-day supermarkets is how rarely they change. On any given day at any time of the year you can walk down a food isle and find the same ingredients stocked routinely in the same place without a thought for seasonality or food production practices.
This ubiquitous approach to food supply has revolutionised the industry, allowing consumers to stock their baskets with items they are familiar with at a price they can afford every time they visit. Indeed, we have become so accustomed to throwing the same items into our trolley at the same price that the nation was up in arms when Unilever announced the price of Marmite is set to soar because of fluctuations in the currency market. But it makes complete sense. If a company’s returns are adversely affected because of macro-economic factors then prices must go up.
What Marmitegate unveiled was the disconnect between food consumers and food producers. I mean, how much do we actually know about how our food is produced? Or more pertinently, how much do we actually care?
New research by vegan campaigning charity, Viva! Found that despite 83 per cent of Brits believing they were ‘clued up’ on the processes used to get food items on the supermarket shelves, many are unaware what cows, pigs and chicken endure as a result. Sure we know that a whole chicken costs £4 and we can expect a pack of bacon to come in at around the £2 mark, but did we know that it is standard practice to kill all male chicks on egg farms at a day or two old? Or about the tail amputation of piglets and the removal of teeth?
It seems not, and according to Juliet Gellatley, founder & director of Viva!, it’s something we should be concerned about. She said: “Most people are so far removed from the reality of industrialised animal farming that they have no idea how food gets from farm to plate.
“All the practices which they found shocking are entirely legal so we have an enormous moral gulf between producers and consumers. Perhaps it’s a case of keeping people ignorant because the consequences of having an educated public would be dire for the farming industry.”
Personally, I am aware that animals now have to be factory farmed in order to meet the demand of a growing population, but I like many people admit to knowing very little about what that actually means. I didn’t know that dairy cows are slaughtered as soon as their milk yield drops, nor did I know that most pigs are killed at just six months old, despite having a natural life expectancy of around 15 years old.
I have, however, started to buy in to non-diary products and would happily consume more milk alternatives as they increase in supply and eat more vegetarian meals as I learn more about common farming practices in the meat industry. And that’s what Gellatley’s charity is setting out to do. She says that “dispelling public ignorance” around vegetarianism and veganism is one of the key obstacles to overcome if we are to address the cruel practices in the industry.
“Increasing numbers of people are rejecting animal products entirely”, she says, partly for health reasons, partly to reduce the environmental impact of livestock reared for meat and dairy “but mostly it’s because they are shocked at how animals are treated”. We could soon reach a point where the public says no, at which time food producers will seriously have to re-think their approach.