Ethical Animal Farming

What is ethical farming?

The word ethical relates to what one believes to be morally right or wrong. For some, killing animals for our own dietary needs is completely immoral and so they choose to follow a vegan diet. However, for those who have a more carnivorous nature, the boundaries are a little more blurred. For some of us, it can be difficult to eradicate meat entirely from our diets — it might be necessary for optimum health, a matter of culture, or simply that we enjoy the taste. What we can do however is ensure that when we are selecting meat, we are doing so with an ethical mindset.

I’ve been working in and around farming for my entire life, having grown up on a farm and now as the proud owner of Grassfruits - a small farm and online farm shop based in the north of the UK.  It is my passion to share the importance of ethical farming in relation to animal welfare, human health and the effects on our planet.

So, what is ethical farming? Ethical farming is farming which enables the animals to express their natural behaviours, eat a diet suited to their anatomy and be given the respect of a stress-free final day. Whilst no-one likes to think of this part of the process, it is something that can be done as humanely as possible. For me, it is incredibly important that our animals travel as short a distance as possible to slaughter. We are incredibly lucky to have a small family run abattoir only two miles from our farm, which means that the animals spend very little or no time at all in distress as opposed to the slaughter-house images we are all too familiar with. This is not common and, with small abattoirs closing at an unprecedented rate, the local food economy is becoming more and more difficult for small farms and landowners. 

Aside from the end of life process, when it comes to farming, there are countless other ethical issues to bear in mind; from pesticides such as glyphosate to farrowing crates and caged hens, mono-cropped fields, and the distance food needs to travel to our plates and its subsequent impact on our planet. 

Let’s take agrochemicals for example. Should we be using Glyphosate on ethical farms? This is currently a hot topic as the agrochemical giant Monsanto - the owner of Roundup — a glyphosate-based weed killer — has recently been ordered to pay out $2bn in damages to an American couple. A jury found Roundup to be responsible for causing their cancer. This is the third case of its kind where Monsanto has been held liable for illness caused by glyphosate. So, the use of glyphosate on food that we eat… ethically right or wrong? Some would argue the farmer is more at risk of harm than the consumer. It’s damaging to our watercourses, our wildlife and our soils, however, would we have enough food without it? Questionable. Is it ethical not to use it? It depends on what side of the fence you stand on. At Grassfruits we definitely stand on the ‘lets ban the stuff’ side of the fence as we prefer to use more holistic methods of pest reduction.

Ethically farmed meat

Coming back to the original moral dilemma, do I think it’s ethical to kill a chicken and eat it? Yes. However, to rear them by the millions just so we can have an endless supply to satisfy our insatiable appetite for fried chicken on our way home on a Saturday night… probably not. When it comes to livestock we enter a slightly different territory, one that involves death — the intentional killing of an animal so that we can eat. But, as pointed out earlier, we can do this in an ethical way. While walking down the freezer aisle in Aldi this week, I noticed the frozen chicken section. Intrigued to know where these chickens had come from I had a rummage around; chicken breast fillets produced and packed in Poland, chicken breast strips produced and packed in Thailand... Do we really need to eat chicken that regularly that we’re bringing it in from halfway around the World to satisfy our cravings?

Personally, I feel ethically farmed meat has a place in our fridges. But, as people become more detached from where their animal protein comes from, what is regarded by the public to be ethically right in farming is becoming more blurred, or should I say hidden. Our consumerism is driving the mass production of meat. Chickens are being imported from Thailand because we demand that. I regularly witness members of the public browse our stand at a farmers market to hear them whisper to their friend or partner “£18 for a chicken! You could get four from Asda for that price!”. Does that person need four chickens from Asda though? Should we instead be paying more for meat and eating a little less? Then there would be no need for us to ship chicken from Thailand so that we can enjoy poor quality mass-produced chicken six or seven times a week, and instead, we can enjoy quality, tasty, locally produced meat that we know has come from an ethical UK farm. 

There are farms out there — Grassfruits included — that try to tread as lightly on our planet as possible, but unfortunately, this currently comes at a price. However, can we afford not to pay this price? We’re hearing more and more about how our mass consumerism is affecting the planet, so lets all vow to do our bit to be more ethically-minded when choosing meat in the future — search for ‘ethically farmed meat near me’ to find a local farm to where you live, or head to our store page to view our locally sourced, ethically-raised pork and chicken. We also stock grass-fed beef from a local farm, who shares a similar vision to us, as part of our mixed meat boxes.