All the fuss about the royal wedding made us wonder about factory farming in the UK. How does it compare to factory farming here in the US?
The big difference seems to be with the level of awareness of consumers in the UK, which in turn influences the behavior of agribusinesses and legislators. British consumers in general are more advanced in their views on factory farming than their American counterparts. This description from World Society for the Protection of Animals explains the mindset of many British consumers:
The UK has broadly high welfare standards in the UK, as well as strong consumer awareness regarding eggs and meat. As a nation of animal lovers, free range eggs are an everyday item and shoppers by and large try to buy ethical and high welfare meat products.
However, milk and dairy products are less well understood and our dairy industry as we know it is under threat to intensify production.
In response to the dairy industry threat, British charities and nonprofits are fighting the applications of mega-dairies seeking to set up shop in the country, because, as we know, factory dairy farms are bad for the environment, bad for the animals, and bad for consumers. Currently, the WSPA says, the average dairy farm in Britain is home to only 113 cows, with very few farms housing more than 200 cows; compare that to the US where some mega-dairies pack over 15,000 cows into cramped indoor quarters.
Other ways Europe is ahead of the US in farm animal treatment: the UK has an Animal Welfare Minister and government-created Farm Animal Welfare Council to enforce farm animal treatment standards; the EU outlawed battery cages (effective next year), pig tail docking, veal crates, and pig gestation cages (effective in 2013); and the EU banned the administration of growth hormones, growth-enhancing drugs, and human antibiotics to food animals. The concept of animal sentience is much more accepted in Europe: that animals are intelligent and feel emotions.
It seems that, like the hats they wear to fancy events, British consumers and legislators are quite sophisticated regarding animal welfare. Even if we Americans don’t want to adopt their headwear fashions, we should at least strive to emulate their outlook towards livestock.