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Dog days are over: what’s behind the decline in pets?

The following article was written by Patrick Barkham for The Guardian, 13th June 2016. Full link to article appears at end.

Purrgatory … are we no longer offering pets sanctuary? Photograph: Yizi/Getty Images/Flickr Flash

Are Bella, Tiddles and Ginger an endangered species? The companion animals of the once great pet-lovers of Britain appear to be falling out of favour.

Pet food sales are in decline and the pet food market is stagnating, according to Mintel’s Lifestyle report on consumer trends. Mintel pinpoints demographic changes: an increase in older people less likely to own a pet and Generation Rent, for whom pet ownership may be prohibited.

Queen Victoria popularised dog ownership and anointed the world’s first animal welfare charity, the RSPCA, but after decades of the number of dogs and cats in Britain increasing (from an estimated 4.7m dogs and 4.1m cats in 1965 to 9m dogs and 7.9m cats in 2014), a Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association survey last year found a fall to 8.5m dogs and 7.4m cats last year.

These stats are based on a relatively small sample, but the trend is mirrored in other affluent, English-speaking countries: dog and cat ownership in the United States, Canada and particularly Australia all seem to be in decline.

But why is this? Urban living may be a factor. “Older people – more than a third of us will be over 55 in the next five years – don’t tend to have really high pet ownership,” says Ina Mitskavets, a senior analyst for Mintel. “The market is driven by families with kids, who tend to have the most pets per household.”

Peak Stuff – the preference for experiences over possessions – may also be reducing the appeal of pets. “I’ve recently got a couple of kittens,” says Mitskavets, “and my life has completely changed. So I can understand it’s a huge commitment, and a lot of people shy away from commitments these days because the pace of life is so incredible.”

Commitment-phobia is also cited by Marc Abraham, the TV vet and animal welfare campaigner. “People are reluctant to commit to pet ownership, especially dogs, because they require walking twice a day and live to 15 years old. That’s a huge commitment, and we want to go on lots of holidays,” he says. “Maybe the human need for companionship is being delivered now more by social media than getting a pet.”

“I can’t bear it, it’s heartbreaking,” says the novelist Jilly Cooper of the decline in pet ownership. Cooper, who campaigned for the Animals in War memorial in London and whose new novel, Mount!, has “dogs on every page”, believes that red tape is contributing to the reduction in the number of dog owners.

“It’s almost impossible to get a dog from a dogs’ home now,” she says. “Friends of mine fell in love with a greyhound [in a sanctuary] and after five meetings and walks and interviews were told they couldn’t have him because they were both out of work.” Many parks and landowners also demand that dogs are walked on a lead and, she says, “walking a dog on a lead is no fun for the dog or anybody”.

Cooper found her greyhound, Bluebell, “a huge comfort” after the death of her husband, Leo, and believes dogs are particularly beneficial for grieving or lonely older people – a view supported by a review of scientific literature in the BMJ. “The one panic for older people is that the dog might outlive them,” says Cooper, “but it’s worth the risk for the joy.”

Abraham agrees with Cooper. The apparent decline in pet ownership is tragic, he says, “not only for the clear health benefits that pets bring to us, but for what it teaches not just children but adults about empathy, compassion, commitment and looking after something more vulnerable than you”.

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2016/jun/13/dog-days-are-over-whats-behind-the-decline-in-pets

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The truth about animal charities, cats and dogs

Article by William MacAskill and Amanda MacAskill for The Guardian UK:

As we approach December – the month when almost a third of all charitable giving for the year takes place – many of us might be wondering where we should be sending our charitable donations. Some of us will choose to give to charities such as Against Malaria Foundation, which helps to protect people in the developing world from a disease that kills almost 3,000 children every day. And yet, despite the great needs of humans around the world, many people will choose to donate to charities that help animals. In fact, it has recently been reported by the Mirror that “bequests to animal charities beat donations to human causes”, and that donations bequeathed to animals “dwarfed” those going to vulnerable and abused children.

kitten in hand

Is it true that donations to animal charities outstrip donations to human charities in the UK? The simple answer is no. The Charities Aid Foundation, which surveys people about the donations that they have made in the last 12 months, found that in 2014 only 7% of the total amount that people donated went to animal charities. This is much lower than donations to human-focused charities such as medical charities, children’s charities, and hospitals, overseas charities, and religious charities. These five causes collectively received 62% of total donations, and every one of these causes individually received more than animal charities did.

But what about bequests to charities that people make in their wills: do animal charities sweep up the biggest share of these types of donations? Again, the answer is no. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations reports that in 2009-2010, environmental charities, which includes animal charities, received only 22% of all legacy donations, while social services, research, and health charities jointly received 62% of legacy donations. The animal charity that received by far the most legacy donations was the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (£74.9m), which received less than either Cancer Research UK (£157.4m) or the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (£93.8m).

Of course, some individual animal charities do receive more than some individual human charities, as the Mirror article highlights. But this is pretty uninformative if what we want to know is whether animal or human charities received more money. When we look at the numbers, it’s clear that donations to human charities dwarf donations to animal charities, and not the other way around.

Although animal charities receive less money than charities that help humans, animal causes are clearly important to many people. So if you want to help animals, what should you do? As the Charities Aid Foundation survey shows, most people find it difficult to know which charities to give to when there are so many charities out there, and they also want to know that their money is actually helping. This is where effective giving comes in. When we give effectively, we give to those charities that we have the best evidence are making the biggest difference in a given cause area.

If we want to donate to charities that make the biggest difference to animals, it’s important for us to realise that animal suffering and death don’t just affect domestic animals such as dogs and cats. In fact, Animal Charity Evaluators – an organisation that researches the effectiveness of different animal charities – points out that for every individual dog or cat euthanised in shelters in the US, about 360 farm animals were killed. In the UK alone, about 90 million chickens are slaughtered every month. And 94% of these are raised intensively in sheds that contain about 17 chickens per square metre. Farm animals such as pigs, cows and chickens are capable of sadness and joy, just as cats and dogs are. But they are suffering and dying at much greater rates, and are receiving a tiny proportion of current donations to animal charities.

The good news is that more research is being done into how we can most effectively help animals, and our donations may be able to go a long way.

Just as with human-focused charities, there are huge differences between how much good different animal charities do. And even if we are not likely to give the majority of our money to animal charities this giving season or in our wills, we can do a lot of good by giving the money that we do choose to donate more effectively.

Article taken from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/19/charity-animals-cats-dog

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Has the Threat to the Hunting Act Passed? Not on Your Nellie…

Dr Toni Shephard, Head of Policy and Research at the League Against Cruel Sports discusses the threats to the Hunting Act in Huffington Post column. 

fox

There has been much talk about the threat to the Hunting Act, and expectation that the government’s promised ‘free vote’ on repeal would be mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. It wasn’t. Does that mean the Hunting Act is safe?

No, it doesn’t.

There are a couple of potential reasons as to why it wasn’t mentioned. The first is that repealing an existing Act is not seen as the kind of material that should be included in a speech of this magnitude. The second, perhaps more likely, is that mention of the free vote was quickly scribbled out of the speech following the mass of opposition that has made itself clear over the last couple of weeks.

The Queen’s Speech included many important issues, such as the economy, education, the NHS. It talked about ‘one nation’, about empowering the north and the devolved nations, and about working on the global stage. Perhaps repealing an act that stops huge amounts of animal cruelty on behalf of a vocal minority didn’t really fit in.

But don’t think for a second that the issue has gone away. In some form or other, the vote to repeal the Hunting Act will be proposed. It may happen quickly, or it may be delayed for a more opportune moment, but it will happen.

And when it does, it’ll be a real slap in the face for democracy. Around eight out of ten people in this country want hunting to remain illegal. The opposition to hunting stretches across both rural and urban constituencies, giving lie to the pro-hunt claim that it is supported only by ‘townies’ who know nothing about rural affairs. People in the countryside don’t want hunting either.

My personal opposition to hunting is both subjective and objective. I have a personal loathing for animal cruelty of any kind, but as a scientist I also need to know the truth. And in this case, the undeniable truth is that hunting is cruel.

Suggestions that hunting with dogs leads only to ‘wounding actions’ by the dogs has been disproved many times. Nor are foxes dispatched by a single nip to the neck. Autopsies have shown the bodies of foxes ripped apart by bites, but without evidence of a bite to the neck.

There’s nothing natural about ‘the hunt’. It is not natural for example for foxes to be chased by a pack of hounds trained to cover long distances and supported by riders on horseback and quad bikes. Deer are chased to an exhausted standstill. Hares forced to take part in coursing events are released to be chased by two dogs, which will often catch it then rip it apart in a gruesome tug of war.

Science clearly shows that chased animals suffer, whether or not they are eventually killed. The stress they endure during such an unnatural chase causes damage to their muscles and blood cells which is extremely painful.

I could go on, but the message is clear. Hunting is cruel. 80% of the British public understand that hunting is cruel. There is no justification for hunting with dogs, no pest control or wildlife management reason. The Hunting Act is doing a good job, with over 400 successful prosecutions to date. At the League Against Cruel Sports we feel it could be strengthened to ensure the spirit, as well as the letter, of the law is upheld, but basically it’s a good piece of legislation. Repealing it will be a disastrous backwards step for a One Nation government.

If you would like to contact your MP about how they will vote on repeal of the Hunting Act, you can take this simple League Against Cruel Sports action.

Article taken from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-toni-shephard/hunting-act_b_7450334.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

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Around the manifestos

With just two weeks to go, OneKind takes a look at the General Election manifestos to see what commitments are being made for animals.

The good news is that most parties do make some mention of animal welfare, and some already have longstanding policy commitments.  But there are, it seems, many different views of what animal welfare really means …

The parties within the devolved administrations – such as the Scottish Greens, Scottish Labour and  Scottish Liberal Democrats make little reference to animal welfare in their Westminster manifestos.  This is probably because these parties deal with animal welfare at the devolved level – and so for fairness we have removed them from this analysis.  We do however include the independent parties SNP and Plaid Cymru who would otherwise not be represented.

The Labour Party was first into the race in February with a dedicated Animal Welfare Manifesto. Labour pledged to review the rules on breeding and selling dogs and cats, ban wild animals in circuses, end the badger cull, defend the Hunting Act, reduce animal cruelty on shooting estates and – like several other parties – lead the fight against global animal cruelty.

Labour intends to review the practice of snaring, although it stops short of pledging a ban. Regarding shooting estates, a Labour government would “undertake an independent review” on how to end the illegal persecution of birds of prey, such as the hen harrier; prevent non-target animals getting trapped in snares; and ensure the humane treatment of game birds.

Labour says it would lead international efforts to combat illegal wildlife crime and would push to end all commercial whaling, and prevent the poaching and near extinction of endangered species such as elephants, rhinos and tigers.

The main Labour Manifesto reprises the animal welfare pledges:

“We will build on our strong record on animal welfare – starting with an end to the Government’s ineffective and cruel badger cull. We will improve the protection of dogs and cats, ban wild animals in circuses, defend the hunting ban and deal with wildlife crime associated with shooting.”

The Conservative Party manifesto sends out a mixed message on welfare.  There are a number of detailed and specific commitments, such as a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, but also a commitment to foxhunting and to upholding the use of non-stun slaughter in UK slaughterhouses.

“The quality of the food on your plate, and the economic security of our farmers, depend on us upholding the highest standards of animal welfare. We will push for high animal welfare standards to be incorporated into international trade agreements and into reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.”

“We will ban wild animals in circuses and press for all EU member states to ensure that animals are only sent to slaughterhouses that meet high welfare standards. We will encourage other countries to follow the EU’s lead in banning animal testing for cosmetics and work to accelerate the global development and take-up of alternatives to animal testing where appropriate.”

On slaughter: “We want people to integrate fully into British society, but that does not mean they should have to give up the things they hold dear in their religion. So while we will always make sure the Food Standards Agency properly regulates the slaughter of livestock and poultry, we will protect methods of religious slaughter, such as shechita and halal.”

The Conservatives also declare their commitment to tackling the illegal international wildlife trade and ending the poaching that kills thousands of rhinos, elephants and tigers each year. In addition:

“We will oppose any resumption of commercial whaling, and seek further measures at the EU and internationally to end shark-finning. We will promote effective worldwide measures for tuna conservation, press for a total ban on ivory sales, and support the Indian Government in its efforts to protect the Asian elephant.

“We will press for full ‘endangered species’ status for polar bears and a ban on the international trade in polar bear skins, as well as for greater attention to be paid to the impact of climate change on wildlife and habitats in Polar Regions in the Arctic Council and other international fora.

Domestically, however:

“We will protect hunting, shooting and fishing, for all the benefits to individuals, the environment and the rural economy that these activities bring. A Conservative Government will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote, with a government bill in government time.

By contrast, the Green Party would maintain the ban on hunting and add a ban on snaring.

The Greens have by far the most comprehensive section on animal protection – too long to reproduce here – covering many of the policy issues of concern to OneKind.  For example, there are detailed measures to mitigate the problems of industrial farming:

“Sustainable farming means animals freed from cages and returned to the land. We will end factory farming and enforce strict animal welfare standards.

“One particularly constructive proposal is for the creation of a new Commission on Animal Protection, which would cover animal protection issues in all the areas specifically addressed below.

There is a commitment to fight wildlife crime and a proposal to ban the import of exotic pets and the keeping of primates as household pets. The Green Party has been strongly opposed to the badger cull from the outset, saying that all the evidence showed it would be both inhumane and ineffective at tackling bovine tuberculosis.

Greens want to see an end to all animal experimentation and would ensure that research funding is directed away from failing animal disease models and towards modern human biology-based techniques.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto contains a section entitled “Protecting nature”, which says:

“Liberal Democrats believe in the highest standards of animal welfare. We will review the rules surrounding the sale of pets to ensure they promote responsible breeding and sales and minimise the use of animals in scientific experimentation, including by funding research into alternatives. We remain committed to the three Rs of humane animal research: Replace, Reduce, Refine.”

On farming, the Liberal Democrats pledge to continue to improve standards of animal welfare, and to review the use of cages, crates and routine preventative antibiotics. They also say they would introduce effective, science-led ways of controlling bovine TB and only support extending the existing cull pilots if they are shown to be effective, humane and safe.

The SNP manifesto mentions issues that are current in the Scottish Parliament and states that it will support measures to improve welfare with a global focus.  It does not say what the party’s position would be on domestic issues affecting England, such as wild animals in circuses or a potential repeal of the Hunting Act.

In a section entitled Species Protection, the manifesto says:

“While responsibility for animal welfare is devolved to the Scottish Parliament –and the SNP in government is already working to improve the conditions of kept animals, including consultations on responsible dog ownership and wild animals in travelling circuses, and giving consideration to further protection at slaughter, the registration or licensing of horse establishments and a review of tail docking in working dogs – at Westminster we will support further animal welfare measures with a global focus. This includes action to end the illegal ivory trade and protect species such as polar bears and bluefin tuna.

In its farming manifesto Plaid Cymru also seeks clear and unambiguous food labelling. The main Plaid manifesto contains little on animal welfare, presumably because, as in Scotland, this is a devolved issue.  Plaid does make an EU level commitment – “We support the introduction of a European-level Animal Welfare Commissioner and adoption at all government levels of the new and comprehensive Animal Welfare law to end animal cruelty.”

UKIP supports country of origin food labelling, to include  information about whether an animal was stunned before slaughter.  It also pledges to increase penalties for animal cruelty, tightly regulate animal testing and keep the ban on animal testing for cosmetics, challenge companies using animals for testing drugs or other medical treatments on the necessity for this form of testing, ban the export of live animals for slaughter, insist on formal non-stun training and certification for all religious slaughtermen and enforce the highest standards, install CCTV in every abattoir and deal severely with any contraventions and to end the slaughter of dolphins by banning pair trawler fishing for bass.

One more thing – OneKind has its own animal welfare manifesto which you can read here.  And please take the OneKind election action and ask your candidates to sign our animal welfare pledge.

We think every candidate needs to be told that animal welfare is a priority for voters. Loud and clear.

Article taken from: http://www.onekind.org/live_onekind/blog_article/around_the_manifestos

Related articles: https://catdraggedin.co.uk/tag/general-election-2015/

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Plight of Britain’s hen harriers sparks one of the countryside’s fiercest debates

Two weeks ago, Jake Fiennes witnessed a rare sight: a male hen harrier flying across the country estate he manages in south Norfolk. “It was a beautiful sight,” says the brother of the actor Ralph Fiennes as he drives his Land Rover down a narrow track on the 5,000-acre Raveningham Estate. “I’ve seen all sorts of raptors here and 90 species of other bird. We have wild hares, of course. But a hen harrier – I was very lucky indeed.”

The tale of the hen harrier is a grim one. There is enough habitat in England and Wales to support 300 breeding pairs, but only three or four pairs remain.

hen harrier - male in flight

The birds’ plight has triggered one of the countryside’s fiercest debates. Conservationists accuse gamekeepers on upland grouse moors (and elsewhere) of slaughtering the birds on sight to protect grouse chicks.

Raveningham doesn’t have a grouse moor, but Mr Fiennes is acutely aware of the controversy surrounding the raptors’ sharp decline. “The view that all country people are bloodthirsty killers is just wrong,” he says. “We want the same thing as the conservation lobby.”

Mr Fiennes may be estate manager, but he’s not a tweed-wearing apologist for the shooting lobby. Rather he’s a trailblazing conservationist who has spent his working life pursuing a maverick approach to land management. On his watch, Raveningham has been transformed from a spread of farms and woodland into a haven for wildlife composed of low-intensity farmland, biodiverse wetlands, rich coppices, streams and hedgerows thriving with life.

His reward has been accolades from the Game and Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust and Natural England. Take a drive across the estate, however, and it’s clear that the real payoff is a “rich harvest of biodiversity”.

On a late afternoon in spring, the estate is alive with animals, from swooping lapwings and red shanks in the wetland to fields full of hares. As night falls, barn owls cruise silently in the twilight. It feels like a nature reserve, but it isn’t. Raveningham is a working estate with arable and livestock farms, coppiced woodlands and even a small quarry.

Unlike most estate manger, Mr Fiennes readily admits that shooters need to learn to compromise over wildlife issues, and in some cases reduce the amount of wildlife they kill.

“In truth, conservationists and the shooting lobby really want the same thing,” says Mr Fiennes, who picks up a gun about half a dozen times a year. “And that’s to be good custodians of the part of the planet we find ourselves on for the time we find ourselves on it.”

The estate remains profitable despite the fact that Mr Fiennes has reduced the area under cultivation by 30 per cent in the past 10 years. He says his most important harvest comes in the form of a “conservation crop”, which includes a large hare population, one of Norfolk’s few populations of wild cornflower, a healthy number of endangered lapwings and a growing number of critically endangered grey partridges.

The slow and steady management style has baffled some of his neighbours, who politely grumble at his methods and bemoan the fact that there is shooting on the estate only 10 days a year. But his approach has earned him an invitation to appear as the voice of “shooting moderation” at a Tooth and Claw debate at next month’s Norwich Festival. The debate, which has already created a buzz in the conservation world, will feature him discussing the plight of the hen harrier alongside Mark Avery, the RSPB’s former director of conservation, as well as more combative members of the shooting lobby.

Mr Avery, who is campaigning for a ban on grouse shooting in Britain’s uplands, says: “I’ve heard good things about Jake and obviously we need compromise, but we can’t get away from the fact that in the uplands there is real conflict over the hen harrier. We know that 99 per cent of our hen harriers are missing, and we know they are illegally being killed on grouse moors by grouse shooters because they eat red grouse.”

For his part, Mr Fiennes wants to be a “voice of moderation”. He says: “The actions of the few cannot be allowed to tarnish the good work carried out by others.”

Article taken from: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/plight-of-britains-hen-harriers-sparks-one-of-the-countrysides-fiercest-debates-10156343.html

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The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

For a nation of animal lovers, we are surprisingly unconcerned about the food we give our pets. Julian Baggini reports on why there is such a lack of ethical options and the hypocrisy at the heart of the way we show animals love.

cat food

In every town and city in Britain, you’ll see domestic cats patrolling their gardens and dogs taking their human slaves for walks. We are famously a nation of animal lovers. And yet our love for animals appears to stop at our pets’ feeding bowls. Interest in free-range meats for humans is growing, but the only animal welfare that seems to count when buying pet foods is that of the beast being fed. Scan the shelves of the pet-food aisle and you’ll struggle to see anything carrying an assurance of higher livestock welfare, such as an RSPCA Freedom Food label or organic certification.

This lacuna is especially incongruous in April, decreed National Pet Month by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) and the National Office of Animal Health, which represents the UK animal-medicines industry. The month is supported by a number of pet health and welfare organisations, but farm animals are not invited to the party. It aims to “help promote responsible pet ownership” but ignores the issue of responsible husbandry. This year it will “shine a light on the positive impact pets have on the elderly and highlight the need for forever homes for older pets”, but barns, pastures and farmyards are being left in the dark.

Given that the average shopper doesn’t like to think too much about where even steaks come from, it is not surprising that few seek to find out more about the provenance of their pets’ food. As research released today proves, there is little public interest in finding out what the food they buy for their pet actually contains. A spokesperson for the PFMA told me that “pet-food manufacturers use raw materials which are by-products of the human food chain. For instance, the industry uses a lot of offal, which is no longer consumed that much by the UK consumer. These ingredients come from animals which have been passed as fit for human consumption under veterinary supervision before their slaughter.”

The PFMA stresses that because these ingredients come from the human food chain, the animals that they are taken from meet the same welfare standards as those from which our steaks and chicken breasts are carved. So it might seem that animal welfare is no more or less an issue for pet food than it is for human food.

Organic cat food in Germany

Organic cat food in Germany

The problem with that argument, however, is that it assumes the welfare standards for the human food chain are as high as they should be, something that many experts would dispute. Very little human meat and poultry is produced according to higher welfare standards. Most merits only the Red Tractor label, which Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) ranked the lowest in a study into how different welfare standards compare. CIWF says the label “was found often to offer little more on animal welfare than compliance with minimum legislation”.

CIWF points out that this legal minimum allows dairy cows to be housed year-round in zero-grazing systems; mothering sows to be kept in “farrowing crates so narrow they can’t even turn around”; and broiler chickens to be “crammed into sheds at stocking densities that allow very little room to act out natural behaviours such as foraging and dust bathing”.

The mismatch between the conditions these farm animals live in and the pampered homes of the pets that feed on them is extraordinary. As CIWF’s chief executive, Philip Lymbery, put it: “How many pet owners would be shocked to learn that their beautiful sentient creature is being fed on the misery of another?”

In fact, not only will you struggle to find any pet food carrying the Red Tractor logo and the limited assurances it provides, but not all UK farming even meets even this standard. Red Tractor accounts for around 90 per cent of UK pig and poultry production, 82 per cent of beef and 65 per cent of lamb. And 20 per cent of the raw materials used in UK pet-food production come from outside the UK. So although the PFMA is correct to say that British meat used in pet food is “sourced from approved abattoirs whose operations are monitored under the Food Standards Agency to ensure animal welfare standards are complied with”, these standards are not as high as they could be, and not all the meat passes through British abattoirs anyway.

So why is it that we are so selective – if not downright hypocritical – in how we show animals our love? John Burns, the owner of Burns pet-food company, suggests that being “animal lovers” is part of the problem. Burns says vets such as him “are not allowed to be animal lovers” because such people become “too sentimentally attached” to animals. He would rather be described as “concerned for animals”. “There are people who are sentimentally attached to their pets who will feed them to death,” Burns says. “They don’t think about the wider aspects, they only think about the health of their own animals” – and even then, they often get it wrong.

Battery chickens at a farm in France

Battery chickens at a farm in France

I met Burns because his is one of the few manufacturers which puts any emphasis on livestock welfare. His 300-acre Penlan Farm on the outskirts of Kidwelly, Wales, provides most of the ingredients, including free-range eggs, for his moist dog food. But even Burns is limited in how high he can raise his standards. His dry food is made by someone else, and he can’t use free-range animals for that. “The chicken that goes into our food is probably broiler chickens, which are reared intensively, but they aren’t caged,” he tells me. “The best we can hope for is that these chickens which are being reared intensively get a better standard: more room, for example, smaller numbers, even.”

There are, however, a handful of small pet- food manufacturers using solely higher-welfare meat, such as Laverstoke Park’s raw-food range, which is largely organic. Honey’s Real Dog Food also uses wild and free-range meats, and claims to be “the only dog-food company [to] visit the farms we are buying our ingredients from to ensure their welfare”.

Burns, however, claims he could not go free-range tomorrow because “the ingredients are not available in any quantity”. He calculates that around a hundred tons of chicken each month goes into his dry food alone. He once did the arithmetic to see if he could use his own chickens and found it just wasn’t feasible. “If the human food market in free-range expanded enough, then perhaps that could happen. But from an animal-welfare point of view, the best we can hope for is that animals that are reared primarily for human consumption should be reared in a better way, and I think to de-intensify is as much as we can hope for. Anything that happens in pet food follows from the human food.”

That is the nub of the problem. As the PFMA says, “no animals are reared and slaughtered specifically for pet food”, because it uses only by-products. And “because of the way the by-products are produced, it would be difficult for many manufacturers to specifically request meat from animals with a higher animal welfare status”.

Honey’s and Laverstoke show it can be done. Honey’s told me that “we mainly use the parts of the animal that tend not to be used so readily in the human food chain, rather than use whole carcasses from animals killed specifically for us”. Laverstoke also says it mainly uses offal and “we don’t use cuts that humans would eat”.

Both are small, niche operations, however, and it does make the resulting food comparatively expensive. A kilo of Laverstoke’s raw dog food costs around £5.50 at Ocado, whereas for around £1.50 more you can get three times the quantity of Pedigree dry food. An organic terrine of Waitrose’s own-label dog food, however, is 55p compared with 42p for conventional, which suggests that with enough will, higher-welfare pet food need not be prohibitively expensive.

Burns thinks the larger pet-food manufacturers are dodging their responsibilities when they say they are dependent on what the human food industry is doing. “They’re basically saying, ‘It’s not our problem, it’s nothing to do with us,'” he says. “If the pet-food industry said, ‘We’re not going to buy your stuff if you don’t improve animal welfare,’ that would put pressure on.” But then, as he asks himself, is the pet-food industry big and powerful enough to do this? I doubt it. It would be like expecting the scrap-metal industry to be able to demand cost-raising changes in car design.

“Sadly, the pet-food industry helps prop up factory farming by using meat and by-products from animals all too often kept in the most appalling conditions,” Lymbery argues. “There is a real need for the pet-food industry to look closely at the ethics involved in the ingredients they may be using.” The PFMA itself acknowledges that “smaller manufacturers that buy directly from the human food chain would be able to specifically request meat from animals with a higher animal welfare status”, pointing out that “a number of our members actively promote their animal-welfare credentials, which extend beyond the meat ingredients, for instance sourcing free-range eggs and using Marine Stewardship Council-certified fish”.

It is nonetheless true that mainstream pet- food production works with the grain of the larger meat industry and is constrained at least in part by how it operates. The fact is that there is still not enough demand for higher-welfare meat, even for humans. And the bottom line is that people are sometimes not able, but more often not willing, to pay the price for more humanely reared meat. “People are thinking, ‘How much does this cost?’ not, ‘How does it get there?’ – not just for animals but for their own food as well,” Burns says. “It’s become a way of life for us that no matter how much other things cost, food should be cheap.”

Major changes would require co-operation between the human- and pet-food industries. Is this feasible? I don’t see why not, since both sectors could help to solve each other’s problems when it comes to making higher-welfare meat economically viable. I remember Nick Hindle, the senior vice-president of corporate affairs for McDonald’s in the UK, once explaining to me why the company had not switched to using free-range chicken. “We would not see the uplift in sales or preparedness to pay more by going free-range,” he said. “I know, because we’ve done the research.” His customers want breast meat, which would leave McDonald’s with millions of premium-price de-breasted carcasses to get rid of, and there just isn’t the market for them. But couldn’t a forward-thinking pet-food company create that market? Of course, it would still be more expensive than other pet food, but perhaps not so much as to make it unmarketable. The maths would look even more attractive if the carcass share were with a KFC or Nando’s, which take wings and thighs as well.

The bottom line, however, is that this will never happen if pet-food companies don’t feel the demand for higher-welfare pet food from customers willing to pay for it. In the absence of that demand, it is not an issue that the industry seems eager to engage with. The PFMA provided me with a statement, but despite weeks of trying, neither it nor I could find a member company willing to discuss it further. I went back and forth with Mars Petcare, whose brands include Whiskas, Pedigree, KiteKat and Sheba, but in the end its PR simply said that “having reviewed the PFMA statement”, it “stands behind the PFMA and industry view and wouldn’t be able to add anything to this”.

Pet owners who are real animal lovers should realise that this is not good enough and demand more. If National Pet Month means anything more than another opportunity to indulge our sentimentality for animals, it should be a time to start waking up to the double standards we expose every time we open a can of pet food.

Article taken from: http://www.independent.co.uk/property/house-and-home/pets/features/the-ethics-of-pet-food-why-are-we-are-so-selective-in-how-we-show-animals-our-love-10147366.html

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What does your vote mean for animals?

In the run up to the general election, the pressure is on to ensure whoever is elected doesn’t forget about a voice for animals in the mess of all the other priorities facing the incumbent government(s).

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To make sure we’re fully equipped when deciding how to vote, IFAW have come up with a short five question survey we can send to our local candidates, asking them where they stand on animal welfare. To send the questionnaire to those standing in your area, visit this link:

http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1720&ea.campaign.id=34981&spMailingID=10824239&spUserID=MTE2ODAzNzU4NzY2S0&spJobID=500447411&spReportId=NTAwNDQ3NDExS0

Just enter your postcode in the box to see a list of your local candidates for the General Election, and their responses to the critical questions IFAW ask of them. This will help ensure the person we vote for will work to protect British wildlife and endangered species and their habitats across the world, as well as marine animals such as whales and seals.

The five questions asked of MPs are:

1) If you were re/elected, would improving the welfare of animals be one of your top priorities?
2) Do you think that the UK should continue to lead international efforts to combat the illegal trade in endangered wildlife and wildlife products?
3) Do you support an end to commercial whaling?
4) Do you think the Hunting Act should remain in place?
5) Would you be likely to support initiatives to better protect native wildlife species?