Some people just don’t like efficiency, do they?

There’s plenty you could do to make it a more sustainable industry. You could slow the growing time and give birds more room on farms, using less engineered breeds that take 12 weeks, rather than just over a month to reach slaughter weight. That would help curb some of the cruellest aspects of the business, which see densely packed, overbred birds, prone to disease and bacterial infection, collapsing under their own weight. But that would cost more. In the factory you could slow the speed of the lines, so that cross-contamination of carcasses was less likely, and workers’ jobs less relentlessly tough and unpleasant, thus easing the pressure to break hygiene rules and making the sector more attractive to local staff. But that, too, would cost more.

We know roughly how much more, since the top end of organic production already does these things, and a posh chicken from that sort of outlet is three to four times as expensive as a conventional supermarket one. But there are hardly votes in arguing we should pay that much for our chicken. Politicians dare not say it for fear of sounding Marie Antoinette-ish. But the price of cheap is too high, and we should probably be eating something else.

Felicity Lawrence in The Guardian. We should all be paying much more for our food because…..well, actually, because Lady Muck here thinks it’s all too cheap.

25 thoughts on “Some people just don’t like efficiency, do they?”

  1. ” If the grain that is currently used to feed animals were fed directly to people, there might be just enough food to go round when population peaks. If instead we continue to spread our industrial meat habit to poorer countries, we’ll need three planets to feed the world. The ethical argument is overwhelming: we need to get back to thinking of meat as a luxury, to be enjoyed occasionally, if not entirely forsworn.”

    ‘Let them eat carrots!’

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    I really hate this, I really do. Look, I like the fact that we have solved the world’s hunger problems. I like the fact that the West is now obese because food is so cheap, but is that worth paying any price for?

    You could slow the growing time and give birds more room on farms, using less engineered breeds that take 12 weeks, rather than just over a month to reach slaughter weight.

    This is killing me to say, but I do think she has a point here. Chickens now grow so fast that they have reached the limit of what their bones can do. You often find chickens in shops with broken leg bones simply because the chicken grew too fast and pulled its leg apart. This is kind of horrific.

    We are past the stage where the Germans are threatening to starve us into submission. Well, I hope. We are past the stage where the Third World will hit cannibalism by next Thursday because of population growth (apart from doing it for fun and laughs which is more the norm these days). We can afford slightly more expensive chicken. If we can improve the lives of these animals at a reasonable cost, well, why wouldn’t we do that? You don’t have to be too much of a raving Greenie lunatic to think that maybe a modest increase in chicken prices in exchange for a significant improvement in their lives would not a bad thing.

    In the factory you could slow the speed of the lines, so that cross-contamination of carcasses was less likely, and workers’ jobs less relentlessly tough and unpleasant

    And you know, I might agree with this too. The pressure on slaughter house workers is pretty intense these days.

    Politicians dare not say it for fear of sounding Marie Antoinette-ish. But the price of cheap is too high, and we should probably be eating something else.

    She even admits she sounds like the Lady of the Manor. And she does. But if you believe that God made mankind the steward of all creatures, then the aim should be to be as benevolent a tyrant as possible. Not a despot who is indifferent to the suffering of others. Even if they are chickens.

    Three to four times as much for our chickens? How much suffering should we inflict on them to keep prices low? I mean chicken is pretty damn cheap already. I am not as doctrinaire about it as I should be, but I am happy to pay that already for a properly free-range orchard-raised chicken. I would hope most people would if they could afford it.

  3. @SMFS

    I see what you are saying, but fuck ’em- they’re chickens. My dinner is more important.

    (Seriously- higher welfare as an option for buyers: yes please, the choice is good. But access to cheaper food is a more important thing, and whilst I like your more nuanced view, the OP and her seeming desire to enforce a standard that will triple the price of my Sunday dinner can fuck off)

  4. Fast grown chickens taste bland.

    Emphasize taste over cost and most of these issues go away. It’s an area the French understand, which is why they buy bugger all factory chicken.

    Attacking on price is useless. I will buy the cheapest. The cheapest nice tasting.

  5. If instead we continue to spread our industrial meat habit to poorer countries, we’ll need three planets to feed the world.

    Next week, Felicity lambasts worldwide obesity and calls for Socialism to solve the problem.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    John Square – “I see what you are saying, but fuck ’em- they’re chickens. My dinner is more important.”

    I am not trying to interfere with anyone’s dinner. But chicken is already so much cheaper than pork which is so much cheaper than lamb or beef. It is so cheap we don’t even eat much of the bird – Americans eat even less but both sides of the Pond are inclined to reject a lot of the “dark meat” on a chicken. Which is insane.

    Tescos will sell me a whole chicken for £2.75 a kilogram. A pork loin joint for £3.75 a kilo. A lamb shoulder for £7.50 a kilogram.

    You know, I think animal welfare could be improved a little before cutting into anyone’s dinner. If you could reduce the pain suffered by a chicken for the price of the Times, would you?

    “(Seriously- higher welfare as an option for buyers: yes please, the choice is good. But access to cheaper food is a more important thing, and whilst I like your more nuanced view, the OP and her seeming desire to enforce a standard that will triple the price of my Sunday dinner can fuck off)”

    The authoritarianism of it all I find off putting. But choice is good. But so is a relatively humane food production system.

  7. I haven’t a problem with hunting, fishing and shooting, providing whatever you’ve killed is going to be eaten. However I’m becoming soft in my old age, and so-called factory farming is one of my bete noires. Although I eat meat four days each week, am always one step away from becoming a vegetarian. Part of rationalising my carnivorous streak is to assure myself the animal has been raised in decent conditions. As a consequence I pay £10-12 for the average chicken, more if it’s something special. Am fortunate in that I can afford this. If I couldn’t I would not buy so much meat – and would become vegetarian rather than eat a ‘Three for £6’ supermarket chicken. When I was a kid, chicken was a treat on 3-4 occasions during the year. I suspect a generation or two from now it will be much the same, and most of our ‘meat’ will come from a lab.

  8. She makes a very confused argument but certainly animal welfare should be a major consideration. Let the industry be efficient at humanely producing wholesome meat.

  9. “We know roughly how much more, since the top end of organic production already does these things, and a posh chicken from that sort of outlet is three to four times as expensive as a conventional supermarket one. But there are hardly votes in arguing we should pay that much for our chicken.”

    But there *are* votes – every day in fact. Multiple times a day. As people wander down to the market and look at chicken and decide which one they want and buy it.

    Hardly anyone is voting for the ‘organic’ option.

    So, of course, since hardly anyone is making the choice Lawrence thinks they should make she’s all for getting the government to force them to do so or die.

  10. Bloke in North Dorset

    I’m in the same position as Bernie, although I don’t eat chicken at all. I don’t think I could do without fish so I’m closer to bang a pescatarian.

    My problem with people like Felicity isn’t their concern, it’s that their first instinct is top down authoritarianism and they never get past it. She’d have my support if she wanted to start a bottom up movement. We can’t trust her sort, as the anti-tobacco crowd has demonstrated.

  11. “So Much For Subtlety
    October 3, 2017 at 8:14 am

    This is killing me to say, but I do think she has a point here.”

    Then pay for it. The option is already there. Convince enough people of that and the factory ranches disappear. Bam. Gone out of business. Outcompeted by the ‘organic’.

  12. We know roughly how much more, since the top end of organic production already does these things, and a posh chicken from that sort of outlet is three to four times as expensive as a conventional supermarket one.

    I wonder how much of that price premium is the extra cost of organic farming and how much is a markup exploiting the fact that their customers are wealthy, middle-class and guilt-ridden?

  13. Agamammon:“Hardly anyone is voting for the ‘organic’ option.”

    Good! They keep appearing on the ‘knock down, buy it today, reduced’ section, which is where I snap ’em up!

  14. Chester Draws is correct – traditional, generally slower-growing breeds raised in social groups on open land with some tree cover and a good ration simply taste better.

  15. If the grain that is currently used to feed animals were fed directly to people, there might be just enough food to go round when population peaks.

    This will happen itself, through the price mechanism. There’s no need to force it ahead of time. For example, meat consumption in Venezuela has fallen dramatically in the last couple of years.

    This is the same nonsense we see with electric cars. At some point many decades into the future, petrol might become too expensive. Or it might not; we simply don’t know. Nevertheless, we must throw money into electric cars (£4,500 grant per car), despite them not being necessary for another couple of decades at least.

  16. The next stage is cultured meat.

    There are moves but scientistic dickheads seem to be going down the wrong road–trying to “knit” beefburgers from a synthesised standing start etc.

    Take a few meat =muscle/organ cells from a living animal. Can be done without harm. Then culture meat in clean vats. Essentially pieces of the animal without any CNS or brain. Controlled, clean, growing at a fantastic rate for pennies. Use the animals to breed better quality meat but take cells and culture for a world where every supermarket groans with Peter Luger-style steaks for pennies. And not a single creature killed.

    Simples

  17. > The next stage is cultured meat.

    Yup. One advantage of having all this low-quality chicken & beef around is that it lowers the barrier for competing faux-meats. It’ll be nigh impossible to make a plant-based steak which tastes as good as a grass-fed beef steak; but it should be relatively simple to beat a Big Mac.

  18. ‘because Lady Muck here thinks it’s all too cheap’

    The Left wants you to spend more money on food. So you’ll have less money to buy the things they don’t want you to have. Like fun.

  19. So Much For Subtlety

    Agammamon – “But there *are* votes – every day in fact. Multiple times a day. As people wander down to the market and look at chicken and decide which one they want and buy it. Hardly anyone is voting for the ‘organic’ option.”

    Well organic perhaps. But Free Range is kicking ar$e in some areas. Like eggs. I don’t know about your neck of the woods but in the supermarkets near me it is damn hard to find non-free-range eggs. Virtually everywhere does some free range chicken as well.

    Agammamon – “Then pay for it. The option is already there. Convince enough people of that and the factory ranches disappear. Bam. Gone out of business. Outcompeted by the ‘organic’.”

    I do. I encourage others to do so in a mild way as well. But is that enough? We do not allow people to torture animals for their own enjoyment. It has virtually no impact on the rest of us but it is a crime. It is hard to see that having sex with an animal harms anyone much – as long as we are talking about larger farm animals, say sheep and bigger, and not chickens. We can kill them, we can eat them, but we feel a need, most of us, to make shagging them illegal.

    Do some farming practices rise to the same level? I come close to thinking so for fishing. What is the point of putting a sharp metal object through a fish’s mouth and them pulling on it for ten minutes? We would not allow it for a mammal. Even worse if you do not eat it. Personally I think that some chicken rearing facilities ought to be illegal simply because they are too cruel. You may differ. But I think it is within the reasonable limits of the law to ban them.

    And I say that as someone who is more than happy with hunting in most of its forms, bull fighting, and cock fighting.

  20. I remember a childhood when corned beef was the cheap affordable meat-like food substance and chicken was a gather-the-family occasional treat. I did a double-take last week when I noticed corned beef is now priced twice as much as chicken.

  21. @So Much For Subtlety, October 3, 2017 at 8:14 am

    As John Square said:

    I see what you are saying, but fuck ’em- they’re chickens. My dinner is more important.

    (Seriously- higher welfare as an option for buyers: yes please, the choice is good. But access to cheaper food is a more important thing, and whilst I like your more nuanced view, the OP and her seeming desire to enforce a standard that will triple the price of my Sunday dinner can fuck off)

    Plus, you may exercise your free choice and be “happy to pay that already for a properly free-range orchard-raised chicken”; don’t deny, or even consider, denying me to purchase what I choose.

    You are free to think “I would hope most people would if they could afford it.” – never exceed that.

  22. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I mainly buy chicken breast and it’s labelled as free range but it’s bloody pricy—about £9 per kg (all meat is expensive here). If it were much more than that it would be price-prohibitive. Chickens are barely sentient. In a chicken and mushroom pie it’s a toss-up which of the two main ingredients is stupider.

  23. So Much For Subtlety

    Pcar – “Plus, you may exercise your free choice and be “happy to pay that already for a properly free-range orchard-raised chicken”; don’t deny, or even consider, denying me to purchase what I choose.”

    Normally I wouldn’t. But this is like someone saying that I am free to have whatever sex I like and I should respect their right to have whatever sex they like. Which happens to include torturing a lamb to death while embedded in its entrails. Well, not exactly like that but pretty close.

    OK. There is an argument to be made that torturing animals for sexual pleasure ought to be legal. But there is also a case that it should not be.

    Does cheap chicken out-weigh the suffering of the animal? I am not convinced that it does. I am willing to consider legal options to make some basic conditions mandatory. Especially if it can be done at a reasonable price.

    Animal suffering is a trade off. The use of rats in the curing cancer? Sure. The enjoyment of many? I have no problem with bull fighting. But is it necessary here and should we tolerate it? Is it worth it?

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