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A monthly newsletter brought to you by Free Range Dairy Network
Volume 1, Issue 4
November 2015

Editor’s Comment


Free Range Dairy has joined the Labelling Matters Campaign. We believe that people want to know where their dairy comes from and without a clear label system it’s just a guessing game. You can find out more about the campaign in this month’s newsletter.
 
In last month’s newsletter I wrote about Morrison’s Milk for Farmers and this month there have been a few articles about how transparent Morrison’s have been about their payments made to British farmers from this initiative. Free Range Dairy believes that farmers should be paid more for their milk but we want to see farmers rewarded for sustainable farming practices that work in harmony with their environment and local communities.  
 
It was great to get a mention in The Independent recently saying that people are prepared to pay more for milk from cows that get the freedom to graze. Looking at new research released this month showing the impacts intensive farming is having on animal health and welfare but also the potential threat it poses for human health we urgently need to rethink our food and farming stratgey. I can see more and more pressure being put on animal welfare, biodiversity, public health and the environment as intensive farming systems negatively impact our lives and planet, something has to give. A blog I’ve written this month called A Big Planet on a Small World looks at climate change and explores the part seasonal pasture based dairying can play in trying to reduce our carbon footprint. We need positive strategies that can provide food without leaving too big a carbon footprint not the opposite.
 
I hope you enjoy this month’s newsletter.

Best wishes,


Carol Lever

Co-Director
Free Range Dairy Network

 

In this Issue


1. Intensive Farming Link to Bovine TB 

2. Labelling Matters

3. Free Range Dairy at Cup North

4. Intensive farming and antibiotic apocalypse

Intensive Farming Link to Bovine TB


A study by the University of Exeter, funded by BBSRC and published in the Royal Society journal Biological Letters, has found that intensive farming practices such as larger herd size, maize growth, fewer hedgerows and the use of silage have been linked to higher risk of bovine TB. The study analysed data from 503 farms which have suffered a TB breakdown alongside 808 control farms in areas of high TB risk.
 
Patterns of crop production and feeding were also important, with the risks increasing with practices linked with higher productivity systems. For every 10 hectares of maize – a favourite food of the badgers that play a role in transmitting the disease – bTB risk increased by 20%. The feeding of silage was linked with a doubling of the risk in both dairy and beef systems. Landscape features such as deciduous woodland, marshes and hedgerows were also important. For example, on farms with 50km of field boundaries, each extra 1km of hedgerow was linked with a 37% reduction in risk. This is likely to be because there is less contamination of pasture by badger faeces and urine in hedgerow-rich areas.
 
Dr Fiona Mathews, Associate Professor in Mammalian Biology, who led the study, said: “TB is absolutely devastating for farming, and it’s essential that workable solutions are found. In the worst hit areas, farms are frequently affected over and over again with crippling consequences. If lower intensity production means better animal health, it offers a sustainable long-term strategy in high risk areas.”
 
The paper, ‘Environmental Risk Factors Association with Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle high Risk Areas’, is published online.

 

Labelling Matters - Please don’t keep us in the dark?


When I go shopping for meat and dairy products I expect food labels to give me basic information.  How much is the product?  Is it healthy?  Is it good quality? 
 
But I also want them to answer another question.  How was the animal kept?  Was it reared indoors in a barren, intensive farm system – or was it reared outside, in an organic or free range system, or inside, in a well-managed extensive system?
 
It’s not easy!  If I look hard enough, then I can usually search out ‘organic’ food.  Sometimes I can find RSPCA Freedom Food.  But if it takes too long then I end up with one child screaming and another pulling down some delicately balanced aisle-end display.  It feels like there’s a big effort to keep me in the dark – when all I want to know is where my food actually comes from!
 
Free Range Dairy is brilliant.  Until now, when I buy milk in the UK, I’ve been offered two opposite choices.  Either bog standard milk, which may have come from a fully indoor dairy herd, or organic milk, which has guaranteed higher welfare outcomes but which is also quite a lot more expensive.  Free Range Dairy offers something in between – meaning that higher welfare just became an option for more consumers.
 
Since 2012, Labelling Matters has been trying to achieve farm system labelling for all meat and dairy products, right across the European Union.  The campaign is a partnership project of Compassion in World Farming, Eurogroup for Animals, RSPCA and Soil Association. 
 
We want consumers to be able to tell at a glance whether the drumstick, sausage, or slab of cheese they’re about to buy has come from an animal that was reared outdoors, indoors in an extensive system – or indoors in a barren, intensive system. This form of labelling already exists – we’re not trying to re-invent the wheel. 
 
If you buy a box of eggs then you can instantly tell if they are ‘eggs from caged hens’, ‘barn eggs’, ‘free range’, or ‘organic’.  This labelling system was introduced by the European Union in 2004 – and since then the proportion of cage-free egg-laying hens in Europe has risen by 25%, to 44.7% in 2013.  In the UK, over 50% of eggs are now from hens living cage-free lives.
The good news is that we’re winning the argument. 
 
We have shown that three-quarters of consumers want mandatory ‘method of production’ labelling extended from shell eggs to all meat and dairy products.  We’ve shown that farmers will benefit from this change – and we know that consumer demand will ensure that more farm animals live better lives.
 
The European Commission is listening.  In 2012 we faced a steep uphill battle – but now more and more Commission staff agree that mandatory method of production labelling is a good idea.  We also have the support of the influential Animal Welfare Intergroup of more than 100 Members of the European Parliament.
 
If you want to know whether your meat and dairy products are free range or intensively produced – then please help us campaign for clear, honest, method of production labelling.
To find out more, and to get involved, please visit Labelling Matters
 

Free Range Dairy at Cup North


Cup North was a fascinating event bringing together coffee roasters, baristas, coffee machine suppliers and coffee connoisseurs from all over the country.  There were films about the origins of coffee, ‘cupping’ competitions and barista demonstrations, all engulfed in a heady aroma of fresh coffee.
 
Whilst some people like their coffee black, milk is one of the key ingredients in coffee shops where the flat white is king and lattes abound. In fact, one aficionado told me that something like 60% of the coffee made for their customers contains milk. And the milk used at the festival was provided by our pioneering Pasture Promise partners, Stephenson’s Dairy from Morecambe in Lancashire.
 
The milk was a big hit with the baristas and they take their coffee beans and milk very seriously. The way in which milk behaves when steamed by a barista has a big influence on the cup of coffee they serve. Without pretending to understand all of the science behind this, it seems the frothing capacity of milk is influenced by its freshness, because as proteins break down in the milk the capacity to froth is reduced. Baristas also said that the ‘sweetness’ of the milk is key in delivering great coffee. What they find is that milk not produced on pasture doesn’t have the same frothing abilities and can block the machines, which turns out to be an expensive repair.
 
Neil was at the event and met one coffee shop owner who has recently switched to buying Free Range Dairy Pasture Promise milk from Stephenson’s Dairy.  He’s put up a sign in the shop asking customers to try their coffee before they add sugar due to the milk’s natural sweetness. That shows how fresh and natural milk produced from Free Range Dairy standards is for our customers.
 

Intensive farming and antibiotic apocalypse

For years scientists have warned us that we could be on the cusp of a "post-antibiotic era", which means that infections we can treat with antibiotics would kill once again, while surgery and cancer therapies, which are reliant on antibiotics, would be under threat.
One area identified as posing a potential problem for misuse of antibiotics is intensive farming. Antibiotics are routinely given to animals so they can remain healthy within an intensive farmed system and this is where a new bacteria that is antibiotic resistant has been found.
Chinese scientists identified a new mutation, dubbed the MCR-1 gene that prevented colistin from killing bacteria. Colistin is considered the antibiotic of last resort when all other treatment has failed.

The report in the Lancet Infectious Diseases showed resistance in a fifth of animals tested, 15% of raw meat samples and in 16 patients. And the resistance had spread between a range of bacterial strains and species, including E. coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. There is also evidence that it has spread to Laos and Malaysia.

Prof Timothy Walsh, who collaborated on the study, from the University of Cardiff, told the BBC News website: "All the key players are now in place to make the post-antibiotic world a reality.

"If MCR-1 becomes global, which is a case of when not if, and the gene aligns itself with other antibiotic resistance genes, which is inevitable, then we will have very likely reached the start of the post-antibiotic era.

"At that point if a patient is seriously ill, say with E. coli, then there is virtually nothing you can do."

"The transfer rate of this resistance gene is ridiculously high, that doesn't look good," said Prof Mark Wilcox, from Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. His hospital is now dealing with multiple cases "where we're struggling to find an antibiotic" every month - an event he describes as being as "rare as hens' teeth" five years ago.

The concern is that the new resistance gene will hook up with others plaguing hospitals, leading to bacteria resistant to all treatment - what is known as pan-resistance.

Intensive farming is seen as a way to provide cheap food for the growing population but cheap food comes with too big a price tag for our public health and environment. We waste up to 25% of our food and we supposedly consume up to 20% more calories than we need, so with better food management policies we could double the availability of food without having to intensify our food production. We should be looking at better, smarter ways to produce food that doesn’t put humankind on the brink of a disease epidemic. 
 

If you have any stories to contribute then please contact Free Range Dairy at info@freerangedairy.org.

Copyright © 2015 Free Range Dairy, All rights reserved.




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