I had two opportunities to get in at Defra Qs today – one as a supplementary to someone else’s question about farm animal welfare standards, and then again at Topical Qs. Predictably useless responses. (You might like, when it appears on www.theyworkforyou.com to go in and give your opinion on whether or not the Minister has answered the question. Unfortunately there is not a “Is the Minister a patronising ******?” option. And don’t bother counting the asterixes – I can assure you it’s a randomly generated number!)
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I was very reassured to hear the Secretary of State say that animal welfare standards were important, as well as the British origin of the food. If the application for an 8,000-strong dairy factory farm in Lincolnshire is approved, will she join me in urging a boycott of battery milk by the public sector, and does she support the World Society for the Protection of Animals’ “Not in my cuppa” campaign?
Mrs Spelman: The hon. Lady is talking about welfare standards and examples of planning applications—well publicised in the press—for large-scale units which, to date, have not been accepted. Logically, however, it is not scale that is the determinant of welfare: there can be animal welfare problems at both small and large-scale units. It has everything to do with the quality of the husbandry.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Further to the response that the Secretary of State gave me earlier, does she believe that keeping cows indoors in cubicles for more than 10 months of the year when they are in milk, milking them three times a day instead of the usual two and their having an average lifespan of five years, as opposed to the natural lifespan of 20 years, is compatible with good animal welfare standards?
Mr Paice: I suggest that the hon. Lady should learn a little about dairy farming. In the natural world a calf suckles its mother many times a day, so milking three times a day instead of twice is hardly a welfare problem. Of course I recognise that there are concerns about that issue—that is why DEFRA has commissioned a three-year study by the university of Edinburgh into housing cattle all year round. That report is due next year and obviously we will study it carefully.
At the risk of putting you all off your cornflakes, can I suggest that when it comes to women breastfeeding – and in this case I am certainly not an expert, in fact I’m rather squeamish – there would be quite a difference between feeding a baby on demand several times a day, painful though that often is, and being overfed so that you produce far more milk than is needed, milked by a machine three times a day, and kept indoors in a cubicle for months on end until your milk has run out? Not to mention being culled if your mastitis means you’re no use for breast-feeding anymore? So is it really any different for cows? (N.B. Contrary to popular opinion, cows do not produce milk for our benefit; they do it only because they have babies. No babies, no milk).
* I’ve never heard this Elvis song, but it appears from the lyrics that he might be comparing his woman to an old milk cow. In which case it’s not surprising she’s left him.