Graham Cooper was born into a long line of farmers, working with animals from a young age and going on to run his own farm. 50 years on, Cooper regrets his involvement in animal agriculture, and speaks out against the cruel practices inherent in intensive farming.
Cooper recalls the unpleasant environment the animals were raised in. “We had a chicken house, and they were all stuffed in there. It’s not a natural environment for them.” The conditions his chickens lived in would be classed as higher welfare, given that the animals weren’t caged. However, Cooper explains that in reality this doesn’t mean the birds were healthy or happy. “You run the risk of disease,” he explains, due to the high number of birds and the dirty conditions.
Cooper recalls how much happier animals are outside in nature, when given the freedom to roam and exhibit natural behaviours. He describes the condition his pigs were kept in as ‘unacceptable’. “Our pigs were very unhappy. They’re intelligent creatures.” When forced to live in cramped and squalid environments, he says, “Clearly, they become abused mentally.”
Cooper states, “I would never go back and do intensive stuff again and I don’t advocate anyone else should either.” However, intensive or not, all farmed animals’ lives end the same way. It is not simply the conditions animals are raised in which Cooper takes issue with, but also the sad and inevitable end to their short lives.
Recalling the process by which pigs were taken to slaughter, Cooper says, “I encouraged the pigs to be put into crates. It was clearly the wrong thing to do. I regret what I did in the past.”
Although Cooper was never involved in cattle or dairy farming, he wants to speak out about this aspect of farming too. He acknowledges claims that farming cows is the “worst and most environmentally destructive industry on the planet.”
Alongside the ethical concerns, a desire to protect the environment also informed Cooper’s choice to stop farming animals. He would like to see greater encouragement for crop growers, which would result in more farmers being able to make environmentally-conscious choices.
However, Cooper believes it will be a long time before such changes take root in wider practice. He takes issue with the attitude of the government and claims that the Department for Environmental, Rural and Agricultural Affairs is biased to toward livestock farming, partly because some of the ministers have links to the industry.
Given our rising population, Cooper believes that we should be making better, more efficient use of our land. He states that “a vegetable plot could produce between four and 11 times more than the farmer does in the same given area.” Studies have shown that over half of the UK’s food is imported from abroad, and Cooper proposes that more plant-based farming would help alleviate the problem.
Cooper says that providing better subsidies for farmers of vegetable crops would be “the right thing to do”. This is the basis of The Vegan Society’s Grow Green campaign, an initiative he strongly supports. Cooper adds that while this is a complicated subject, sticking to tradition “is not the way forward.”
Credit: The Vegan Society