Thursday, January 14, 2016

the red tractor





Yesterday evening Laura and I called into the local Toby carvery for dinner. It's a good place to get a cheap mid-week meal. (At the week-end, on the other hand, you may find you're driven crazy by double-queueing, buying drinks you don't want while waiting for your buzzer to vibrate, and significantly higher prices.)

I went for our usual meat-free option (you get given a square plate, so they know to charge you less), but Laura, concerned about her protein intake, decided to have a slice of turkey. Not being much used to the business of meat, the sight of a steaming new turkey being bounced into place on the carvery deck nearly made her change her mind, but she stuck with it.

Over dinner we speculated about the meaning of "Succulent British Farm Assured" and the accompanying Assured Food Standards symbol (The red tractor with a union jack background). The shadowy standards used by the mainstream non-organic food industry can be quite hard to pin down.

One thing it apparently does mean is that the turkey was farmed, processed and packed in the UK. (In contrast to the mere presence of a union jack, or the words "100% British",  which mean nothing of the sort.)

For the rest, "Products bearing the Red Tractor logo have been produced to some of the most comprehensive and respected standards in the world". Products are "regularly" checked by an independent body. Standards cover safety, animal welfare, traceability and environmental impact. I quote from http://www.redtractor.org.uk/ . The scheme is about building authority, respect and trust, valuable to an embattled industry.







The actual standards, or some of them anyway, are here:

http://assurance.redtractor.org.uk/rtassurance/schemes/Standardshome/Standards2014.eb

Disappointingly, none of the online material covers turkey. I had a look at the broiler standards instead. (The broiler is what you and I call "chicken". Unlike the egg-laying type, it's a hybrid between two different jungle-bird species).

Examples:

Planned stocking densities must not exceed 38kg/m2 for broilers and 30kg/m2 for poussin. 
24 hour rhythm includes periods of darkness lasting at least 6 hours, with at least 1 uninterrupted period of darkness lasting at least 4 hours.  (Notoriously in the turkey industry, very long periods of low-light have been used to boost productivity.)
Windows of size at least 3% of floor area are a recommendation but not compulsory. 
Stockmen walk within 3m of every bird and encourage them to move.
There's a separate standard for lairage and slaughter, which talks a lot about the snagging-line.

To be fair, the bulk of these documents are about elements of farm management good practice that, unless you are a farmer yourself, you won't have envisaged at all (the bait plan when using bait to eradicate rodents, the managed manure plan, forbidden and allowed sludges, and so on). It certainly is comprehensive.

Basically the logo affirms that industry good practice has been followed: nothing more. Bernard Matthews Farms are among those accredited and maybe it's they who supply the turkeys found on Toby carvery decks.


Broad-breasted Whites, the most popular breed in intensive farming

[Image source: http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/redditch-farmer-mike-attwell-donates-380216]

The turkeys we roast never breed. They're slaughtered before sexual maturity; their short lives are spent piling on the pounds with their fellows in what is effectively an elongated fledgling-life. Their home is a gigantic rearing-farm (old aircraft hangars are sometimes used). The eggs come from a separate breeding-farm. The weight of the mature male Broad-breasted White would injure the hen so artificial insemination is used. Breeder's meat is too tough for roasting but it can be used in processed meats.

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