I'm making a trip this week to Wicks Manor Farm in England as part of a busy schedule to source new products and to visit our current farmers and suppliers in England and Ireland. It's a timely trip, particularly against the background of unprecedented media attention at the moment on antibiotic resistance and the role played by industrial farms who mass-produce pigs, cows and chickens to meet the global demand for cheap food. This practice comes with a massive risk to human life, as I read recently in an article on CNN reporting on the horrifying story of an American woman who died having been resistant to all 26 antibiotics available on the US market, including the 'antibiotic of last resort', Colistin, which is so commonly used in large factory farms most notably (but not only) in China.
But this isn't just an issue reserved for Chinese products and those from less developed economies - US and European markets are rife with factory farms playing roulette with consumer health, and regulations that are failing to keep pace of this unfolding epidemic. Even our near neighbours in Malaysia had a fierce battle with the Nipah virus, but which went largely under-reported until very recently. According to a recent report in The Guardian, Nipah is a virus which hit the Malaysian pork industry in 1998/9 and spread to Singapore, causing the deaths of 105 out of 265 cases in both countries. It also caused the collapse of the $1bn pig industry in Malaysia. According to The Guardian, "The disease seemed to come from nowhere, but as with other such viruses, the emergence and spread was caused by a cocktail of human behaviour and environmental change." This may have occurred some time ago, and according to the Singapore Medical Journal, much has been learned about the management of Nipah since, but the point cannot be under-stated that rigorous regulation and monitoring of pig products (especially those which are mass-produced) must remain a priority to ensure consumers are protected, regardless of how we define an epidemic, be it antibiotic overload or viral contamination.
I picked Wicks Manor Farm in Essex, England as my supplier of all our pork products because I have complete faith in their farming and welfare methods used by Fergus, Hamish and the Wicks team, from animal welfare to the use of all veterinary medicines and the care they take in minimising the impact of farming on the wider environment with strict pollution and run-off controls.
As global demand for food puts increasing pressure on producers, the race to manufacture more and more meat products has never been more intense. Industrial factory farms are attempting to feed that demand, but do so at a massive risk to human life.
As consumers, we have no control over the methods used in raising pigs or the problems I highlight above, but we do have a choice in what we purchase. Vote with your wallet: buy products that are traceable, from farmers who do not mass-produce and who work to the highest levels of best practice in animal welfare. It's a small step, but one that minimises the ever-increasing risks taken each time you select cheap, no-name pork from the shelf.