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Systemic sex abuse discovered on UK factory farms

Systemic sex abuse discovered on UK factory farms

Exposed - human perverts molesting animals on an industrial scale

Culture
Choke Me - air pollution centre stage in Sheffield

Choke Me - air pollution centre stage in Sheffield

Doppelgangster - activating young people as agents of change through theatre-making

Technology
The dirty shame of the UK government's addiction to coal

The dirty shame of the UK government's addiction to coal

A proposed new coal mine reveals this government’s deep commitment to out-dated, polluting technology

Nature
The top 4 health benefits of magic mushrooms

The top 4 health benefits of magic mushrooms

It is the season when many people ingest our fungal friends - beyond a fun time - what are the benefits?

Nature
Artifishal - the fight to save wild salmon

Artifishal - the fight to save wild salmon

Patagonia just made their feature film free to view here

Culture
Who watches the watchmen?

Who watches the watchmen?

Palm oil watchdog’s sustainability label is still a con

Today's reading
Culture

Systemic sex abuse discovered on UK factory farms

Exposed - human perverts molesting animals on an industrial scale

A female pig is a beautiful thing.

She is sentient, caring, alert, alive and fierce. In the wild, she will choose her mate carefully after due time allocated for mating rituals. In UK factory farms she will be impregnated repeatedly by humans until her body fails to produce litters of 10 or more piglets over twice a year. The most intimate aspects of her existence are torn open and turned over to the mass production of cheap meat.

After working for a year for a UK based animal welfare charity it was time for some further education. All staff are expected to be initiated by touring: good farms, less good farms and the worst - animal factories where meat is produced as cheaply as possible with the minimum possible spent on animal welfare. I didn’t need the initiation. I love animals and have spent my life working to protect them but, I trusted the process and breathed deeply to steady myself as I shuffled off the coach with my more experienced colleagues leading the way. The trip worked. I have never been more determined to help animals.

I had been dreading visiting the factory farm for months. Nothing could prepare me for the full horror. By the time I left I was a weeping mess. I had seen appalling cruelty executed remorselessly on generations of animals crammed into grubby concrete stalls. What tore at my heart was the desperation in their eyes. Their constant state of distress was obvious. Much of my Grandmother’s family was killed by the Nazis, so I do not casually invoke the holocaust, but the efficiency of the torment of these pigs and the intensity of their suffering can only be compared to a concentration camp.

A typical factory farm

We were greeted by a factory employee who escorted us along the outside of the building. We could peer in through grimy windows. Large, young pigs were jostling against each other in their miserable prison cells. Occasionally there would be a scuffle and loud screeching. The frustrated animals had nothing to do. There was no: mud to root in; plant material to nest with - no nature at all. These animals can carry out none of their natural behaviours. They are trapped in an eternal hell created by humans and now I was being taken on a guided tour. I felt profoundly sick.

Halfway along the giant warehouse there was an entrance. As we walked in, I grimaced as I hit a visceral wall of smell and noise. I was physically repulsed as if by a force field. I gagged and stepped forward into the acrid stench. The heat, smell and noise was overwhelming. The sticky ammonia-drenched air was inescapably close and the animal’s piercing screeches were weirdly human-like and unsettling. The pigs are kept perpetually at an unnaturally high density so they become aggressive and bite each other. The cost effective solution the monsters that run these places have come up with is to cut the animal’s tails off and grind down their teeth (without anaesthetic) to reduce the damage to the meat. Occasionally, fights break out in the stalls and you hear a pig scream as it is bitten by another animal driven mad by boredom.

Now we came to the worst bit. To maximise profit the animals are grown as quickly as possible so that they can be slaughtered at six months old. As soon as they are old enough to survive (3-4 weeks), the piglets are wrenched away from their mothers. These intelligent baby mammals will be deep into the bonding process when suddenly they are dumped into a stall which will be all they know until death.

Their mothers are not given time to grieve. They are dragged back around and crammed back into the sow stalls which look like medieval torture implements. The metal cage is clamped around them. Hanging from steel girders above each machine is a plastic sack like an IV drip. We were told these contain semen extracted from a sad lonely male pig. Shortly after she is locked down again, humans will invade the grieving mother and force her back into pregnancy with steel implements. The man giving the tour had a pallid face and sunken eyes. I wondered if he gets nightmares.

Farrowing crates

Following this the mother pigs are locked up in farrowing crates. They cannot move but they can gnaw at a bar in front of them to vent the agonising frustration that must set in as the slow days grind by. Wild pigs can live to be 10–14 years old. A breeding sow on a factory farm will be killed at around three years after their peak productivity fades after being repeatedly ravaged producing six litters, back to back, without a break.

Over 1 billion pigs are killed globally every year. Of these, over 99% never experience nature and never leave the confines of their concrete cells. To feed them, wild habitat somewhere else must be turned into feed. The global economy is so debased and robotic it fails to register the priceless beauty of our living world. It sees rainforest and calculates a better return turning it into plantations to create fodder to feed tortured animals on factory farms on the other side of the world. If you eat the meat - you are paying to chop down the trees.

Brazilian rainforest on the left with all its biodiversity is chopped to make soya plantations on the right

Soya production has risen annually following global demand up to approximately 350 million tons. Don’t blame tofu or healthy milk. Nearly all (over 90%) of this soya is used to fatten factory farmed animals. As the rainforest is lost, along with the creatures within it, our wild world loses capacity to produce oxygen, regulate the climate and circulate water. The forest fires currently ravaging our planet’s last wild places escalate our crisis to beyond emergency. These are the last moments available to us to right the grievous wrong we are perpetrating on our fellow earthlings, the natural world and future generations.

If humans cannot love and care for other animals there is no hope of saving the amazon rainforest and maintaining the global ecological systems we need to sustain civilisation. The vicious cruelty inflicted on factory farmed animals is the same dull violence flattening the rainforests and burning our world. As we put factory farmed meat into our mouths we connect our bodies to the very machine that threatens to end humanity. Cheap meat is the noose we hang around our necks.

I stared in disbelief at the uncaring face of the factory farm worker but his determined ignorance is exactly the same as that of anyone person buying cheap pork. Factory farming made sense to economists, corporate goons and sick money men but it savages all decent people hold dear. At a time of acute climate emergency there is no longer any defence for this grotesque savagery.

Factory farming must end.

—-

Some things we can all do now:

Culture

Choke Me - air pollution centre stage in Sheffield

Doppelgangster - activating young people as agents of change through theatre-making

Photo credit - Becky Payne

In the dark days of the Cold War, the spectre of nuclear apocalypse posed the greatest existential threat to humanity. Everyone, it seems, was ducking, covering and stocking their basements with tinned food, in preparation for that single outburst of anger - that one dramatic lapse of judgement - culminating in an all-encompassing, merciless, and exciting bang! In response, artists from Warhol to Kubrick, and Meyer to the Sex Pistols, took their worry, fear and anger and used it as a catalyst for change, innovating through art, music and film; giving the shadowy figure of nuclear war a recognisable face and offering audiences a taste of what their future might hold.

While the anti-nuclear movement has been placed on an artistic pedestal in popular culture, the climate crisis hasn’t quite found It’s footing, despite the earnest efforts of Extinction Rebellion, BP or Not BP and other climate activists. Maybe it’s because the end of the world no longer carries the thrill of humanity jumping off a cliff. Instead, we’re rolling slowly down a slope, everyone waiting for the person next to them to pull the handbrake. Maybe the mystery of when and how has gone. With melting ice caps, natural disaster and extinction on every screen, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the world won’t end with an elaborate jazz solo, but a few distant coughs over TV static.

Nobody understands this better than the award-winning neo-punks Doppelgangster, whose latest project Choke Me treats the audience to a talented cast of young artists, coupled with a noxious setting akin to a London Pea Souper. The Sheffield/Melbourne based production company are known to pull no punches in addressing climate issues, with their previous work TREEFXXXERS presenting private contractor Amey as a sex doll during the Sheffield tree felling scandal last year. If you were to describe their current play in a few words, it would be ‘The Air’s Polluted, Everyone Dies’, which sums up the kind of ride this performance offers.

Photo credit - Becky Payne

When you are handed a facemask and ear plugs on entry, you’d be daft to expect anything less than a brutal assault of the senses. The post-dramatic nature of the performance is the antithesis of comfort and escapism, never giving you a moment to drift; instead, slapping you awake at every opportunity. The audience were heavily incorporated into the performance and held important roles, shouting ‘Die!’ along to a children’s poem, having inflatables thrown at them by the agitated cast, and playing the Void itself. In all its barminess, insanity and profanity, Doppelgangster’s theatrical style is purposed to ground you in reality and force you to come to terms with it, whether you want to or not.

And what better city to ground your senses than Sheffield. The Steel City is still plagued by its air pollution record, which has once again come to the forefront of discussion this year as part of a city-wide consultation about air quality. With pollution levels twice the legal limit set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) there are five hundred related deaths a year in Sheffield alone. The worst affected areas harbour health risks equal to passive smoking. Given that Sheffield is one of forty-seven cities currently at, or to have exceeded, WHO limits, it’s no surprise that more than half of all heart and lung related deaths in the United Kingdom stem from air pollution.

The soot-encrusted jewel in the crown of Doppelgangster’s latest production is the portrayal of inaction in the face of death. A woman sits in her bath and complains about the loss of the Internet. Two police officers argue over the maintenance of authority in a world that already has one foot in the grave. Meanwhile, the fog steadily increases in intensity until it consumes the whole set. It is obvious that the production targets more than air pollution, or even Sheffield for that matter. Instead, it identifies a top-down system of distraction, corporatism and the loss of control by the old institutions at both a local, national and international level.

Reminiscent of last year’s warning from the United Nations that twelve years sit between us and unsalvageable damage to the Earth, the chronology of Choke Me counts down “twelve years until the end of the world”. Five clocks hang at the back of the stage, all set at five minutes to midnight: strangely, a more generous prediction than the current time set on the Doomsday Clock, which itches impatiently on 11:58. Condensing twelve years into sixty minutes is a feat only truly possible in theatre, and through this visceral form Doppelgangster hammer home that the luxury of time is no longer with us.

When the twelve years are up, the audience are cast as “The Void”. Their lines projected in front of them as they discuss the end of the world with Death and Mother Nature - Gaia - who is described as a ‘stripper and single mother’. While the latter is just happy mankind is dead, Death is insistent on having one last crescendo moment with the audience before we are consumed; a grand ritual that would at least allow humanity to go out with a ‘bang’. Maybe this is an enactment of mankind’s last attempt to take control of its fate, which ultimately passes it by. In this way, Doppelgangster urges its audience to be a driving force for change while it still matters. There are five minutes left on the clock. There is still time!

Choke Me is, pardon the pun, a breath of fresh air in a city where supply is scarce. Dr Tom Payne, Co-Founder of Doppelgangster, described the aim of Choke Me as a push to “activate young people as agents of change through theatre-making”, and with a magnificent ensemble of students from Sheffield Hallam University, it is a startling example of how art can be used to engage in a cultural movement which desperately needs to sharpen its teeth and grow its claws. If we are going to go out, it should at least be with a sense of awareness, a call for change, and a good deal of yelling.

Photo credit - Becky Payne

Technology

The dirty shame of the UK government's addiction to coal

A proposed new coal mine reveals this government’s deep commitment to out-dated, polluting technology

When the UK government declared a climate emergency in May this year, no one knew exactly what this meant. Still, it comes as a shock that the government has just approved a new coalmine in Cumbria, the UK’s first deep mine for 30 years. West Cumbria Mining is set to build the new £165 million mine near Whitehaven, extracting coking coal from under the Irish Sea.

This Tory government’s hypocrisy is particularly astonishing: approval for the coal mine comes in the same week that the Treasury launches a review into how the UK can end its contribution towards global heating. How can it take such a backwards step and still claim, with its Net Zero Review, to be ‘leading the way’ on tackling the climate crisis?

In 2015 the UK announced a phase-out of coal by 2025, so what is going on? It is clear that a wealthy elite, heavily invested in fossil fuels, are yet again guiding policy decisions and perverting the course of climate justice. This operation could extract up to 3 million tonnes of coal a year for 50 years, driving air pollution, climate change, ocean acidification and all the associated harm that will affect the least well off around the world worst.

Keeping coal in the ground is vital to an appropriate response to the climate emergency. Also, burning coal releases a host of toxic elements like mercury and arsenic into the environment, harmful to humans and wildlife. And coal mines disfigure local landscapes and ecosystems.

A live petition by Keep Cumbrian Coal in the Hole and South Lakes Action on Climate Change is urging central government to ‘call in’ the decision, and re-consider the development in light of its responsibility to build a climate-safe future.

Simply put, coal mining is the pits and massively dangerous to those on the frontlines of climate change.

Kayford Mountain by Jo Syz

‘Fractured Earth’ films: showing the scars of coal mining

Jo Syz, a documentary cinematographer working with Anxious Activism film co-op, has spent many years investigating the profoundly negative impacts of coal extraction on communities and landscapes. His ‘Fractured Earth’ films on coal are a powerful mix of expert testimony and striking visuals, exposing the scars left by this dirty industry.

‘Transition Coal’ documents how indelibly communities in the UK, USA, Russia and Colombia have been affected by the coal mining industry. Speakers implore us to move to renewable energies – not as an ‘alternative’, but as the only sane option.

Jo’s impactful film was submitted to the UK government’s consultation about the 2025 coal phase-out. But it’s disheartening to see how little has changed in the last few years: the pledge to phase-out coal has yet to be written into law, whilst the Cumbria coalmine approval represents, in Cumbrian MP Tim Farron’s words, “a kick in the teeth in the fight to tackle climate change.” ‘Transition Coal’ is of enduring relevance as we try to move through this transitional zone faster – which cannot involve exporting the problem – and hold the government to account.

Strong words from Reclaim the Power, Biofuelwatch, Anne Harris of the Coal Action Network, Natalie Bennett of the Green Party, United Valleys Action Group, and of course 350.org Founder and campaigner Bill McKibben are still spurring us on.

People power is the essential theme of Jo’s short film ‘End Coal’, which frames the 3000 activists who took part in the Ende Gelaende climate camp in Germany, May 2016. Protesting the production of brown lignite coal – one of the world’s most polluting fossil fuels – they occupied the Welzow Süd coal mine, train lines and power station for 48 hours. With infectiously vigorous music and dance moves, ‘End Coal’ makes its case with aplomb.

Protest can be a party too, and this pacy film certainly gives an idea or two if the government can’t see reason in Cumbria.

And then, sometimes it helps to remember what and where we’re fighting for. The place that Coal Action Network, other organisations and locals are protecting is a beautiful part of the UK, and one held dearly by filmmaker Jo ­– as these lush, lingering shots attest… ‘Reflections on the Desolate North’ (2015) is a visual ode to where Jo goes in Cumbria.

Wetness has a counterpoint here: the film was made for an Arte TV climate change project, showing a region severely impacted by flooding in recent years. Jo points out the sad irony if Cumbria were to be lumbered with a coalmine that will inevitably worsen climate change, causing further flooding and hits to the county’s key income sources of farming and tourism. Jo reflects, “I have visited Cumbria regularly since I was a youngster, when my father took us camping there as a child. Like many people, I am drawn there for the wild beauty of its' mountains and lakes. It is a rigorous, working landscape, but coal is a fuel of the past, which is where it now needs to remain.”

Leaving coal underground, in the dark of deeper time, the question remains: How is the government going to meet its reduction targets and transition to a safer future?

If Cumbria county council chair Geoff Cook thinks the number of jobs offered by West Cumbria Mining outweighs concerns about climate change, there’s something wrong with his scales. Does it really need restating that there are no jobs on a dead planet?

To put the situation more positively, Jo says, “To move into the future we need to build a vibrant economy based on the development of renewables and energy conservation industries. Britain led the industrial revolution but now has the opportunity be a world leader in developing a new, sustainable economy. To do that we must leave fossil fuels in the ground, there is no place in our shared future for new coal extraction.”