Presenter: Madonna King
Param Satya, a Hare Krishna chef at Govinda’s vegetarian restaurant believes the people are becoming increasingly interested in the food they eat.
When it comes to food, most of our energy goes into chopping it up and preparing it for eating, rather than considering what the food’s gone through before it makes it to our plates.
In his book, The ethics of what we eat, philosopher Peter Singer asks people to spend a bit more time considering exactly what happens during the farming and production of our food – and to question whether this affects how we feel about eating it.
He says that chicken farming practices are a good example. “I certainly don’t think many people would choose to just pick up a standard factory-farmed chicken at their supermarket,” he says.
“These birds never get to go outside, for their whole entire lives, they’re kept in a huge shed. When they’re first put into the shed as baby chicks, they seem to have a reasonable amount of space, but they grow very fast – they’re actually bred to grow extremely fast. The chickens that are sold in supermarkets are about 45 days old, so they’re really still babies and by the time they’re close to market weight, they’re really covering the entire floor of the shed – it just looks like a carpet of white… Because they’re bred to grow so fast, they suffer a lot of health problems, like broken legs… because their legs just aren’t mature enough to take the enormous weight that they achieve at the age of just 6 weeks.”
John Cherry, the CEO of the Queensland Farmers’ Federation disputes Singer’s claims about chicken farming. “I think some of the views coming out from people like Peter Singer are at the extreme end of the ethical debate,” he says.
“What we’ve seen across al our industries is a significant improvement in these areas, particularly the chicken industry – that’s a classic one, because that’s been under the microscope for so long… If you look at the chicken meat farms in this state, the chickens do have the run of the shed… so there’s plenty of room for scratching… You look at control of heat, you look at control of light, you look at control of a wide range of things because, frankly, if the chickens are stressed, it’s going to be a cost to the farmer…
“We’ve actually seen a review of all of the codes of practice in QLD for the animal welfare of chickens in the last few years. We’ve seen an increase coming through in the cages for egg production – by 2008 all the cage sizes will be increased. We see labelling of eggs coming into production so people know where they’re coming from. We’re seeing some significant improvements.”
Param Satya, a Hare Krishna chef at Govinda’s vegetarian restaurant believes the people are becoming increasingly interested in the food they eat. “There are a growing number of people who are concerned about what’s involved with the food they eat because we can see that what you eat becomes what you are,” she says.
If the public was more aware of how their food was produced, then that would put more pressure on the politicians
For Satya, the food’s history is more important than the food’s expense. “What I feel is more important than cost, because if I have a clear conscience that no harm has come even to the vegetables or the environment or the persons who are producing it, then the cost is no issue…. Everyone has to make the choice themselves, but we have to give them the knowledge about what’s happening because most people don’t know what’s involved in their food.”
Cheery agrees that it’s important to get information about the food out to consumers. “I think it’s important that consumers have the information to make the choice. We’ve supported very strongly things like country of origin labelling for fruit and veges, which finally came in last year…
“The frustration for us is, a lot of our producers would like to be able to produce their food in a more environmentally friendly way, and a whole lot of other things, but sometimes that costs money, and trying to get that premium from the consumer comes back to good labelling, good brand development, they’re the sorts of things we’re trying to develop.”
Dr Mike Selgelid, a bioethicist from the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the Australian National University believes that as the public learns more about their food, politicians will be forced to respond. “If the public was more aware of how their food was produced, then that would put more pressure on the politicians to make it a higher priority on their agenda, so maybe there’s an importance for grass-roots awareness building among the public, because that would be a way to make it a political priority.”