Putting the fox in charge of the henhouse?

Below, I’ve posted an article written by Stephen Devlin for NEF on 29 March 2016. The article is somewhat divisive and inflammatory, and that’s why I’ve posted it – to prompt comment.  Is this a helpful way to address serious issues in the food system or do polarised debates like this close down conversations? I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Stephen has written, about how we can have difficult conversations on emotive issues with dignity and respect for each other, and about what coverage of issues like this means for our campaign in Wales for a fairer food system.

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You can read the original post at http://www.neweconomics.org/blog/entry/putting-the-fox-in-charge-of-the-henhouse.

Putting the fox in charge of the henhouse

Photo credit:   David Spencer


The whole point of government regulation is to intervene in the conflict of interest that companies and individuals have between their own financial benefit and the public interest.

Most people seem to get that, but not here. We’ve documented a long process of the UK government prioritising business interests in policy-making and creating new processes that give businesses more say in what gets regulated and how.

The latest capitulation to business is over animal welfare standards. From next month the Government plans to let the poultry industry itself write the guidance on what counts as compliance with animal welfare regulations. For example, poultry farmers will typically trim the beaks of their chickens to prevent them injuring one another – current guidance advises that this should be limited to beak blunting performed by trained professionals to very high standards. The industry will now decide on this guidance itself.  As this is the current guidance, as commentators have rightly pointed out, when it comes to self-regulation of standards the only way is down.

The fact this move was slipped out quietly indicates an awareness of just how out of sync it is with public attitudes, which view environmental and social protections very favourably. When they tried to crowd source online suggestions from the public for regulations that should be scrapped they mostly ended up with suggestions for more regulation, not less.

The consequences are very real. The Volkswagen scandal, in which the car company deliberately flouted rules about what fumes its vehicles could emit, showed that weak regulation and enforcement can lead to corporate abuseand, ultimately, deaths. Last week it emerged that the UK governmentstopped spot-checking cars to check compliance with pollution regulations five years ago.

The only way our government can convince us that all of this is good for us is by misconstruing social and environmental protections as pesky ‘red tape’. Decisions taken by and for businesses are shrouded in language of entrepreneurialism and freedom from bureaucracy.

But is lessening the pain for battery farmed chickens really a case of red tape? Or trying to protect children from air pollution created by cars? Not in my books.

This handover of welfare guidance starts with the poultry and will be extended to other meat industries. But the wider story is about more than just our food. This is one more step in a long road of deregulation that threatens the democratic principle of government itself – the state should make decisions in the interest of society overall, not just businesses.

One thought on “Putting the fox in charge of the henhouse?

  1. pamelamasonusk says:

    A great piece from Stephen Devlin on how government capitulates to business interests. Indeed the consequences are very real and I’m very sorry that animal welfare is one of the most recent examples.



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