In my role running the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, I have had many meetings with farmers, meat and animal produce manufacturers, supermarkets, and even slaughterhouses. The purpose of these meetings have been to find ways in which we can get those involved in the use of farm animals to work humanely and always with animal welfare at its core. This is much easier said than done because fundamentally they are there to make money and they are doing this against international competition particularly from the often heavily subsidised states within the EU who may not have the same level of animal welfare requirements for their farmers.

So I have had long conversations about better labelling, humane slaughter, free range, Red Tractor and other Farm Assurance Schemes and the key message that has come out of all of it is that the suppliers will always do what the consumer asks of them. Forcing their hand via legislation is difficult and the will is not really there but if the customer wants it that becomes their main focus. So for example you will notice a real trend towards “British” where retailers are advertising their pork or chicken is British reared because people want to think their meat is fresh and is helping the farmers here. That is good because already the UK have higher standards than say Poland or Spain and it is far more sustainable to have trucks moving across counties rather than countries.

However, what really needs to happen is consumers needs to engage and start conversations with the retailers to let them know that they do care and they want to know. Often the supermarkets have said in the meetings that the customer does not want to know if the meat has been pre stunned or not stunned, if it is hahal or kosher or how it was killed. Therefore, they do not see the need to have a label or start any sort of conversation on this. I disagree because I think the majority of British customers would avoid buying a piece of meat that came from an animal that had not been stunned before slaughter and had been fully conscious with its throat cut and bled to death if they knew about it. Withholding information of this kind is disrespectful to the customer and suggests they have limited understanding and do not need to know. By getting a label with information on how the animal was kept and slaughtered we can help consumers make conscious choices – the more that chose not to buy the bled to death meat, the more the providers of that meat will have to listen and will have to provide the meat from an animal that has been slaughtered humanely. I am not saying huge lengthy labels but a small stamp that states “stunned” or “non-stunned” just like the “British” stamp. Then we can see that the product is reared in Britain meaning no long live transportation and a good level of husbandry, that it is free range or barn kept and that it has been slaughtered in the most humane way possible. Conscientious Meat!

Recently a lady called Fiona engaged with the Parliamentary group because she feels very strongly about these sorts of issues. Armed with the information she has been gathering she went into the supermarkets and asked questions of the manager. Generally any good manager wants to walk about his work and actually they spoke to her at length. She then wrote to the supermarkets asking for their views on the meat and animal produce they sell and on the whole they really engaged with her and were open to speaking about it. I have to say disappointingly Marks & Spencers were one of the poorer ones who were not that helpful despite all their rhetoric about high welfare and customer information. The most outstanding so far was the Co-Op who set some of the highest standards for animal welfare of all the retailers – I will be writing a more detailed post on the Co-Op for all of you who want to ensure you support animal welfare by choosing the best shops.

Fiona has made the supermarkets recognise that animal welfare does matter to customers but she is only one person. We need lots of people doing the same; asking questions, showing an interest and holding retailers to account. This is the best way of obtaining change and creating awareness. It only takes 5 minutes of your time when in the supermarket to ask the questions or even better to write an email to the supermarket. Anyone can help raise the profile of animal welfare in the products they consume. Even if you are vegetarian you can ask about the diary products and even if you are vegan you can still ask questions about the cleaning products and the cosmetic items on animal testing policy etc.

Furthermore, do not just limit this to supermarkets – ask in the local cafe if they are using organic milk from grass fed cows or where they source their eggs from. Many cafes try to cut costs by buying horrible cheap milk from farms that have the poor cows lined up in tiny pens or they buy the meat from the cheapest provider. Make sure they are aware that the customer wants to know there the produce is coming from.

There is no excuse for not having the answers. It might not be the answer you want but they still have to respond to you and that way you can let them know that what they are doing may not be sustainable for the future and that more people are going to lift the veil and look behind the stacked shelves and the shop front to see what goes on behind. You are the customer and you are the one holding the cash which gives you the power to make a difference.