Readers' Letters from Ethical Consumer Issue 158
The ethics of pet ownership
Thanks for your in-depth look at animal food and in particular your discussion on vegan cat food. It’s a shame though that the column was essentially undermined by the cartoon which drew the debate to a close with a cat stating quite emphatically it didn’t like vegan food.
The missing issue though was the ethics of having a pet at all – the reduction you discuss in your editorial. If we care about animals, having a pet and feeding it the equivalent of 10 dead fish, or one dead chicken a week is morally flawed. Even a rescue animal would be better euthanised to save the hundreds of murdered and caged animals it consumes across its lifespan. Better still, let it go feral. Stray animals are in shelters not for their benefit, but for the benefit of humans who prefer not to have them in the wild.
We consume pets like we consume other consumables. We might ’love‘ and care for our pet, but ultimately it exists (bred or ’saved‘) for us to derive pleasure, love and comfort from. We ’love‘ what it does for/to us. This is the same as others might love, care and derive pleasure from their four wheel drive and what it does emotionally for them. If we exhort drivers to consider the fuel their cars consume on the drivers behalf then we must consider the pet food that is consumed by our pets on the owners’ behalf. We can’t squirm our way out of it and blame the pet; that’s like blaming the car, not the buyer. Buying or “saving” a pet and feeding it meat has no moral justification, whatever the emotions – save the caged chickens first.
Dr. Olivier Ratle (by email)
The meaty issue of vegan pets
I read with interest your extensive article on the pet food trade (EC157 Nov/Dec 2015) especially the part about vegan/vegetarian food for pet cats. Up until then, I had not realised that many vegans and vegetarians wish to ensure that their pet cats follow their own ethical stance. I say “follow”, because obviously those cats then have no personal, individual choice in the matter of their sustenance, especially those with no access to the outside. And if they do have access, can such cats be monitored all the time to ensure they do not catch prey and consume it? And would any Pet Insurance company pay out for a cat with problems if fed a vegan/vegetarian diet?
PETA must be applauded for recommending pet food manufacturers who do no testing on animals, but personally (as a non-carnivore) I believe that a non-meat diet for cats is cruel, irresponsible and dangerous to the cat’s health in the extreme, despite any added chemical supplements. And it would appear that many correspondents to PETA’s website agree, certainly with more eloquence than I can ever hope to write here.
Again, in your article, there does not appear to be any dietary input advice from a Vet, except to “consult one”. Surely this would have brought some balance to the argument? Many charities such as Animal Aid, CIWF, PETA, etc., do sterling work to improve the lives of animals “from farm to fork”, which is often full of abuse and horror. Of course, the struggle for excellence will probably never end, but the more contributors to these charities the more they can lobby, protest and change minds of governments for the ethical treatment of all animals. I believe those of us with a conscience about every animal, should cast their votes for the politicians who state they put animal welfare very high on their agendas – politicians’ salaries are publicly funded after all.
Margaret Keynes (by email)
Rainforest Alliance responds
Simon Birch’s recent Inside View column criticising Rainforest Alliance certification was misleading and missed the larger point about global progress in sustainable agriculture. But first things first: he’s quite right that there is no excusing substandard conditions discovered by the BBC on Rainforest Alliance certified tea estates in Assam, India. This is, as Mr. Birch said, “Not good.”
What he didn’t say is that we and the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), which manages certification standards for the farms, took immediate corrective action. We investigated the tea estates, de-certified one group of farms and instituted unannounced audits for others. The SAN, which was already working on a 2016 update of its standards, decided to accelerate improvements in standards for drinking water, sanitation, housing and other worker safety and living conditions, which come into force December 1, 2015. Farms not in compliance have 60 days to present a plan showing they’ll correct the conditions. Certification will be cancelled for farms that don’t comply with the improvements and deadlines in their plans.
Assam is part of a recent global expansion in certified sustainable agriculture. The first tea farms in South India complied with SAN standards in 2008. By 2014, production of Rainforest Alliance Certified tea in India went from zero to 15% of India’s output. That mirrors fast growth in certified agriculture globally over the last five years. Today 1.2 million farmers in 42 countries grow 101 different crops on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.
With such expansion come benefits for workers and the environment, as well as instances of non-compliance that need to be uncovered and acted on effectively. As certification scales up, it may sometimes happen that investigative reporters find instances of non-compliance faster than our on-ground inspectors do (this is true as well for other certification schemes). We’re committed to finding them, being transparent about them and correcting them quickly.
Meanwhile, evidence (publicly available on our website) shows that expansion of certified agriculture is an overwhelmingly good thing, causing farmers worldwide to adopt sustainable practices that protect workers and the environment, making for more productive farms, higher incomes, better living conditions, less deforestation and many other benefits. Research also finds that it is a persistent challenge for some crops to comply with certain criteria, including worker housing and wastewater management, which pose challenges for farmers in many countries. But compliance improves the longer a farm is certified, and walking away from the challenges will help no one.
That’s the larger point of certified agriculture: driving continuous improvement over time so that all farms everywhere become more sustainable. The way to get there isn’t to get cynical about certification when non-compliance is discovered. It’s to be vigilant and transparent in confronting and correcting it, while working to make global agriculture sustainable.
Vice President of Markets Transformation, Rainforest Alliance
Mainstreaming Ethical Consumption sounded like a great conference from your Editorial. I shall have to come next time! I would thoroughly welcome a regular column on reducing consumption, the elephant in the room; and indeed an insert into each product guide on the value to stopping, and alternatives to consuming the products under review – is it worthwhile cutting down on chocolate, or better to axe a beer, or a bath?
Kate Soper’s keynote address sounded inspiring and the fundamental part to communicating an attractive vision, rather than the usual one of denial. It would be great to have a full feature summarising her work and the area. Some personal stories on how ‘regular’, as well as ‘radical’, people have reduced their consumption and upped their quality of life would also be welcome. Particularly how they’ve negotiated the skills needed, values and resources available. Indeed I can imagine a whole issue looking at reduction across the various realms of life: travel, home, food, leisure, consumer goods … I’d be happy to volunteer my own journey of reducing my income over the years to constrain me to buy less and the increasing joys of life that’s brought.
Mark Westcombe (by email)
Can you help in the quest for the ethical wedding?
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Abigail Herron (by email)
Ed: We will happily pass on any letters to Abigail, should you wish to write to Ethical Consumer direct.