Left or right. Remain or leave. Hard or soft. It feels like for every public debate nowadays we have to pick a position, a side. All nuance and rational compromise in between has been lost forever in the scrabble to be right, or at least popular on Twitter. It’s the case with Brexit of course, every word uttered in the House of Commons, and every viral tabloid-esque tweet. And increasingly it’s also true with the ongoing debate around meat.
Our global consumption of meat has been one of the other big stories of 2018. From its links to climate change to health and welfare, its rarely been out of the news, with all manner of high-profile people scrapping on TV to stick their flag in one camp or the other. The choice, or so it would appear, is between becoming a vegan hardliner screaming ‘murder’ at every meat-eater you come into contact with, or defiantly stuffing steaks into your mouth at every meal, and eschewing all scientific evidence around its impact on the environment, and your cholesterol.
And increasingly, that need to box people into one view or the other has seen all meat producers blithely bundled into the murderous meat-eating camp regardless of how sustainable their supply chain or how high their welfare standards. Producers that place huge emphasis on humane treatment, conditions and slaughter, and farm livestock using sustainable methods are seen as no better in the eyes of the opposing camp than those that exemplify the worst in animal welfare.
The problem with that stubborn polarity is that there is a difference. There is a big gap between the best and the worst, and failing to acknowledge that leaves farmers and producers with little commercial incentive to do better. Even those that are strictly vegan, and see all meat production as inherently wrong, must accept that if meat remains on shelf – and let’s be honest, it isn’t about to disappear – it’s better if it comes from animals treated as humanely as possible.
Which is why it’s so interesting to see the announcement from Compassion in World Farming that they’ve partnered with French supermarket Casino Group to add a new animal welfare labelling scheme to meat products. Following two years of work between the two, the new labels will now flag up whether a product’s levels of welfare are Standard, Quite Good, Good or Superior based on 230 criteria, including birth, rearing, transport and slaughter.
The first of its kind in France, the announcement will no doubt set tongues wagging here in the UK. Not only does it create far more clarity and transparency around the welfare credentials of meat for consumers, but creates a clear competitive edge for suppliers not to be right, but to do better. And crucially to start a conversation about the big gap between opposing sides, where there is less shouting and more answers, and perhaps a few less ‘likes’.