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Why cheap meat costs the Earth

Why cheap meat costs the Earth

http://gu.com/p/3tg93 – Seriously concerning!

 

From breeding animals that feel no pain to cruelty in the slaughterhouse – our demand for meat poses huge moral dilemmas, says Alex Renton in this edited extract from his new book

Whole chickens on display at a Costco Wholesale Warehouse Club.

We consume 52 billion chickens each year in the rich world. Photograph: Kristoffer Tripplaar/Alamy

In the rich world, each of us consumes or uses 30 or more animals a year (the bulk – 52 of the 59 billion – are chickens). We don’t, in the nutritional sense, need these animals to feed us – certainly not in those numbers. Yet, in order to eat them at an acceptable price we have to imprison them, alter them genetically and chemically, and kill them. We have moved inexorably into ever greyer ethical territory. Any planning for a food future that still envisages using animal products and meat must debate the “moral cost”.

I am not sentimental. I have killed and butchered many kinds of animals, and have been on prearranged visits to slaughterhouses in Britain and abroad. I have seen the job done carefully and kindly. It would have been better if I had just dropped in to those abattoirs, but the business of meat production is secretive; if it were public, it would lose customers. In some places, the meat trade is less shy: I’ve seen puppies blow-torched in tiny cages to remove their hair before butchering – a normal village practice in Vietnam.

Many moral meat eaters think the horrors of the slaughterhouse are exaggerated. But impartial research by American scientist (and abattoir designer) Temple Grandin reveals extraordinary and unnecessary horrors. She reported “deliberate acts of cruelty occurring on a regular basis” at 32% of the slaughterhouses she visited in the US: 26% of the chicken-killing facilities had abuses that should have meant immediate closure; chickens scalded to remove their feathers, thrown in the trash and found later, still alive; a worker dismembering a fully conscious cow; cows, which are usually stunned then bled while their hearts are still pumping, “waking up on the bleed rail”.

“What went on when she wasn’t looking?” asked Jonathan Safran Foer, in his fascinating moral dissection Eating Animals. Cheap meat means corners cut on safety, health and welfare: humane treatment generally slows down a production line. Safran Foer quotes research that shows “demand for lean pig meat … has led the pork industry to breed pigs that suffer not only more leg and heart problems, but greater excitability, fear, anxiety and stress … We have focused the awesome power of modern genetic knowledge to bring into being animals that suffer more.”

But animals that feel more pain may not be the worst moral horror on the menu. Genetic modification by gene splicing offers the chance to make infinite changes – removing unwanted features or introducing characteristics from any living thing, be it mammal, fish, insect or flower. Already Chinese scientists are tampering with the genes of laboratory mice to see what they can get. In her book Frankenstein’s Catfood science writer Emily Anthes describes what she saw at Fudan University in Shanghai: “Peek into the 45,000 mouse cages and you’ll see a collection of misfits. By randomly disabling the rodents’ genes, the scientists here are churning out hundreds of odd animals, assembly-line style. They have created mice studded with skin tumours and mice that grow tusks … One strain ages at warp speed. Another can’t feel pain.”

The worry for the moral meat eater is in losing the benchmarks by which we can judge animals’ treatment. How will welfare legislation, applied to specific vertebrate species, adapt as the species do – to, say, a pig with no pain reflex? Academic philosopher Adam Shriver said in 2009 that it may already be possible to “genetically engineer factory-farmed livestock with a reduced or completely eliminated capacity to suffer“. He cites research at Washington and Toronto universities, where the brains of mice have been altered so that, although they still feel pain, they don’t avoid it as untampered mice might. GM scientist Professor Helen Sang, of the Roslin Institute, told me such changes could be pursued using gene-editing techniques. She manipulates poultry genes, splicing together parts of DNA to achieve useful adaptations. What she does is no more than a different way of modifying genomes – something humans have been doing since they first domesticated animals 10,000 years ago. She explains this with patience and some wariness – the Daily Mail has described her workplace as “Frankenstein’s farmyard”.

Her most famous work, so far, has been in treatments for human illnesses, but her interests lie in more than disease resistance: in GM there are environmental benefits – as well as productivity and quality improvements – that will be advantageous to food security and society. Her view is that these benefits can’t be achieved by conventional breeding. “There’s nothing innately wrong in genetic modification, as long as … you characterise the effects of that carefully – and you don’t put in antibiotic-resistance genes, or anything like that. But, becausepeople are very suspicious of using these technologies, you can argue that we should concentrate on using them for things that can’t be achieved by selection.”

For Sang, there are ethical issues. She is not alone. Judging by the response to an op-ed by Shriver in the New York Times in 2011, people who care about animal rights believe we should stop factory farmingrather than modify animals not to suffer. Commentators such as agricultural economist Simon Fairlie say Shriver’s proposal is an attempt to make animals into the “automata” that the philosopher Descartes said they were three centuries ago. Fairlie doesn’t like Shriver’s “lunatic” notion, and neither do I. And, of course, the driver will not be better meat, but meat that is less trouble. Indeed, it should demand a whole new round of debate over meat eating: if society sanctions meat-machine animals with no feelings and no rights, the only feasible way to oppose it would be to be against all meat eating.

This is an edited extract from Planet Carnivore: Why cheap meat costs the Earth (and how to pay the bill), published by Guardian Shorts(ebook, £1.99).

Permanent link to this article: https://animatedscience.co.uk/2013/why-cheap-meat-costs-the-earth

How would fingerprint technology benefit iPhone 5S users?

How would fingerprint technology benefit iPhone 5S users?

http://gu.com/p/3tjym

Will the criminals start chopping off fingers?

Permanent link to this article: https://animatedscience.co.uk/2013/how-would-fingerprint-technology-benefit-iphone-5s-users

Plastic banknotes: Bank of England plans to modernise from paper

Plastic banknotes: Bank of England plans to modernise from paper

http://gu.com/p/3tjmf  well done to the Chemists….

Public consultations to begin on smaller, tougher notes, due for release starting in 2016

banknote plastic

Bank of England displays the ‘tougher, neater, smaller’ banknote due for release in 2016. Photograph: David Oliver

Plastic banknotes with a see-through image of Britannia are likely to replace traditional paper notes from 2016 under plans being drawn up by the Bank of England.

The Bank said the wipe-clean polymer notes will be less tatty, tougher to counterfeit and last up to six times longer than cotton-paper based notes. They will also be 15% smaller, bringing English notes into line with sizes in other countries, but will remain larger than existing euro notes.

The public will have the chance to look at and feel the new notes at shopping centres across the country in a consultation process that starts immediately, with the new governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, taking a final decision on the go-ahead in December. The Sir Winston Churchill £5 note will be the first to be made in polymer and launched in 2016, with the Jane Austen £10 note following in 2017. All the notes will continue to feature the Queen and use existing colours.

Plastic notes have been in circulation in Australia for more than two decades and are being rolled out in Canada, Carney’s home country, but the Bank said its polymer project began long before the new governor was appointed.

Scotland and Northern Ireland, where seven banks have the right to issue notes, will be free to continue with paper notes, opening up the possibility that cash machines in Carlisle will issue in plastic but across the border in Gretna will continue to supply in paper.

The Bank of England said that in tests, the new plastic notes do not melt until at least 120C and survive washing machines much better than existing paper notes. Despite being made from polymer pellets, the Bank said the notes will be more environmentally friendly as the manufacturing process does not use the same intensity of water as cotton-paper manufacture.

The new notes will cost around 50% more to produce, but the Bank estimates it will save £100m as it will need to replace the notes far less frequently. But the Bank ruled out importing plastic money from China. The notes will continue to be produced at the Bank’s ultra-secure plant in Debden, Essex, although subcontracted to a private company, likely to be either De La Rue, the existing maker, or Innovia, which manufactures most of the polymer notes currently in circulation across the world.

The deputy governor of the Bank of England, Charles Bean, said there was no question that the introduction of plastic notes was a “done deal” and promised to listen to feedback from the public before going ahead. “Polymer banknotes are cleaner, more secure and more durable than paper notes. They are also cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

“However, the Bank of England would print notes on polymer only if we were persuaded that the public would continue to have confidence in, and be comfortable with, our notes. The results of the consultation programme on which we are embarking will therefore form a vital part of our assessment of the merits of polymer banknotes.”

In recognition of the need for groups such as the blind to handle the change, the Bank will continue to issue notes in size-ascending order, so the new fivers and tenners will continue to be slightly different in size. There is no switchover date yet proposed for when or if £20 notes – the most common note in circulation – will be changed to polymer.

In Canada, where high-value notes are already made of polymer and lower-denomination notes will be introduced later this year, there have been some complaints that the notes tend to stick to each other. But the Bank of England said it did not expect this to be an issue, although it did accept that brand new notes will have a more slippery texture than cotton-paper ones.

The extended time scale for the introduction of the notes has been put in place to allow the cash handling industry, retailers and ATM and vending machine operators time to mange the transition. ATMs will be able to hold, say paper £20 notes and plastic £10 notes, but will not able to issue plastic £10 notes alongside paper £10 notes as they will be different sizes. But because the polymer notes will be thinner, cash machines will be able to stock more, and operators say the machines will be less likely to jam.

But it is security and counterfeiting that the Bank of England places at the heart of the new notes. Evidence from Australia and other countries such as New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico and Nigeria, where polymer notes are common, is that after their introduction counterfeiting reduced substantially. Last year the Bank of England removed 719,000 counterfeit notes from circulation, a relatively high rate compared with other countries.

Shoppers in Northern Ireland will already be familiar with polymer notes, since a limited-edition note was circulated in 2000 by Northern Bank to mark the millennium.

If the new notes go ahead, removal of paper notes is expected to be relatively swift, taking no more than eight months.

Permanent link to this article: https://animatedscience.co.uk/2013/plastic-banknotes-bank-of-england-plans-to-modernise-from-paper

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Permanent link to this article: https://animatedscience.co.uk/2013/animated-science-news

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