Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Welfare standards of food served in The University of Edinburgh’s Canteens

A Blog Posting from student – Mary Baxter
Listening to Sean Wensley give his talk on ‘The Vets Role in Improving Animal Welfare’ was one of those brilliant moments where he might as well have been describing my feelings going into the veterinary world.
The focus on economics and productivity, and the repeated presence of oxymorons such as the ‘problem of broodiness’, bothered me throughout my undergrad. Sean highlighted the self-confessed gap of many vets in their ability to accurately assess or understand animal welfare, and that inaction when presented with potentially welfare damaging scenarios, such as sending an animal to a slaughter house where it will not be stunned, is often interpreted as tacit acceptance.
In the question and answer session following the lecture, conversation turned to the consumer’s role in choosing higher welfare food and how, in a talk Sean had given, the students were very keen not to source pizza containing meat that may have come from an animal that had not been stunned. I realised that, as an Edinburgh University student, I had no idea about the provenance of the food served in the University’s canteen.
But, surely, as Edinburgh is so well known for its welfare education, the food served here would be from the highest possible sources? I decided to find out and began emailing people I hoped would be able to point me in the right direction. I got in touch with the kitchens manager, assistant director of catering at Edinburgh and Campbell Brothers (who supply meat to the University) to find out the welfare standards of the food offered. Everyone was very helpful and I was able to establish that all eggs are free range and the meat provided is produced under the Red Tractor Assurance Scheme. When I asked if there were any plans to improve these standards, as the Red Tractor Scheme holds the lowest welfare standards above legal minimums, it was confirmed that there are currently no plans to source meat from higher welfare farms. The reasons given were a mix of economics, the University’s reluctance to support one lobbying group (i.e. Soil Association) and the bafflingly complicated world of contracting authorities and the legal block on discriminating against one meat supplier over another on grounds of higher welfare.
Edinburgh University has already made giant leaps in meat and animal product procurement and is the only University to have been awarded a Bronze Food for Life Catering Mark. As a forerunner in welfare education and with over 19,000 undergraduate students alone, Edinburgh University represents a huge consumer force. As part of that consumer force, we have a unique opportunity to pull together and initiate change. The change may take a long time to push through, but registering our interest in higher welfare food at the University, and steering clear of a perceived tacit acceptance, is the first step in setting all the cogs in motion.

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