US and UK murder – rate and weapon (updated)

This piece contains updated statistics for my most-read post. The comments under that post have been coming steadily since 2007.

In the US – population 311.5 million (1) – there were an estimated 13,756 murders in 2009 (2), a rate of about 5.0 per 100,000 (3). Of these 9,203 were carried out with a firearm.

In the UK – population 56.1 million (4) – there were an estimated 550 murders in 2011-12 (5), a rate of about 1.4 per 100,000. Of these 39 were carried out with a firearm (6).


(1) United States Census Bureau (undated). State and Country Quick Facts. Available from:

(2) United States Census Bureau (2012) 2012 Statistical Abstract – Table 310. Murder Victims – Circumstances and Weapons Used or Cause of Death: 2000-2009. Available from

(3) United States Census Bureau (2012) 2012 Statistical Abstract – Table 306. Crimes and Crime Rates by Type of Offence: 1980-2009. Available from:

(4) Office for National Statistics (2011). 2011 Census Home. Available from:

(5) Home Office (2012). Historical Crime Data. Available from:

(6) Home Office (2010). Home Office Statistical Bulletin. Homicides, Firearm Offences and Intimate Violence 2008/09. Available from:

Dairy farming without legs

An estimated 84,000 workers are employed in the dairy industry. According to this June 2011 parliamentary briefing, the UK produces around 13 billion litres of milk each year, ninth in the world.  In 2010 the UK milk industry accounted for 16.1% of total agricultural output, worth £3.3 billion at market prices (the National Farmers Union puts the figure at 6bn). 51% of the UK-processed milk was sold as liquid milk, 26% became cheese, 10% became milk powder and condensed milk, 2% cream, 2% butter, 2% yoghurt, and 3% other products.

Despite this large stake in the UK economy, dairy farmers fear bankruptcy. Average production cost is 29.5p per litre, in order to invest in the industry farmers need 32p but many will receive less than 25p. Meanwhile milk retails at around 85p per litre, an enormous markup. National Farmers Union members have been campaigning to ensure three large supermarket chains Morrisons, Asda and the Cooperative pay dairy farmers according to a formula which ensures that farmers receive a ‘farm gate price’ that is at least the cost of production, and to regulate the sector to ensure that milk processing businesses (the largest being Arla, First Milk, Robert Wiseman, Dairy Crest) do not unduly influence the price with restrictive contracts.

As things stand even if, say, the Coop raises the shop floor price of milk (as it just has), the amount the farmer receives may drop even further because of the price set by the milk processor (as it just has). What processors pay dairy farmers dropped by a third over the past three years. And of course, processors are likely to cite reasons such as “continued price inflation in the commodities and food markets”.

Agriculture minister James Paice says that the Conservative-led coalition won’t regulate processor contracts. So the NFU are lobbying and the militant campaign group Farmers for Action are currently blockading milk processors in Somerset, Worcestershire and Shropshire. If they are successful, and if there are no significant efficiency savings to be made, the pressure will centre on consumer milk prices. Supermarkets may or may not decided to reduce their markup, but if shop floor prices rise higher than consumers are willing to pay, they’re likely to entertain alternatives to milk.

Just as it would have been good if Nokia had been more receptive to the smart phone concept early on, it would be good if the dairy industry were more receptive to alternatives to milk. I notice the Californian Milk Board is threatened enough by plant milks to try to create an aversion to them as unnatural – as if there’s nothing more natural than adult humans drinking from the mammary glands of a mother from a different species who is producing freakishly large amounts of milk, who needs antibiotics because high mastitis incidence has been bred into her, whose babies have not only been taken away but, when superfluous to farmers’ requirements as is often the case, carted hundreds of miles to the desolation of a veal farm, or shot at birth, who has a twenty-year life-span if left to herself, but who on a farm meets a premature death when no longer an economic asset – often because the antibiotics aren’t working and she’s too ill for her milk to meet EU somatic cell count limits. If she’s producing antibodies to heal herself, she gets the chop.

Only 3.1% of UK milk (Freedom Food or Soil Association) has more humane provenance than this, and I personally don’t accept that their regulations are humane. So milk is beyond unnatural. And that’s without even touching on the environmental degradation including the 990 litres of water it takes to produce each litre of milk. If you need milk, plant milks are better on so many levels. There’s bound to be one to suit anybody’s taste. And just like when you are encouraged to give up salt, things taste strange at first and it takes a bit of time to adjust to the taste – but everybody does.

And for the record, despite a recent butter binge, milk consumption isn’t burgeoning in the UK. I take my hat of to the NFU and Farmers For Action for being organised, solid and effective. All workers deserve a price that covers their costs and affords them padding and investment. It’s indisputable that dairy farmers and milk processors need a break and a decent living. I can’t see that dairy farming has legs. It’s obvious that ‘sustainable’ means addressing the interlocked issues of dairy farmers’ livelihoods, milk producers’ livelihoods, the environment, and animal welfare. Who is doing this? Apparently not the slumbering Vegan Society with its two news items since the end of May. Not the Food Ethics Council. Not the hilariously-named Fair Milk Campaign where the animals are voiceless. Not agricultral minister Jim Paice who doesn’t know the price of milk and so should be taken with a pinch of salt when he calls for cutting production costs (with presumed knock-on effects for cow welfare). Not the “does not consider alterations to the size of the dairy sector” Food Climate Research Network. Not DEFRA.

Hazelnut milk is good in coffee, hot chocolate and sweet cuisine and currently costs a pound at Sainsbury’s as part of a three-for-£3 multibuy which includes other plan milks. Soya grows in this country now and the taste of the milks has improved immeasurably. Alternatives to this primeval habit of stripping breast milk from cows and feeding it to grown-up humans are looking more and more feasible every day. But there are certain to be obstacles.

I wish that Animal Aid, the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, The Vegan Society, &tc would combine their resources to fund research work – complementary to the work carried out by FCRN and FEC above – into alternative economies to sustain the 84,000 people currently employed in the dairy industry.

Only human

I often think about the slugs I have been cutting in half to save my vegetables.

Analogous to racism and sexism, speciesism is the belief that, or behaviour as if, humans were inherently more important than non-human animals.

Richard Ryder, Oxford University psychologist who first coined the phrase ‘speciesism’ in the 1970s later developed the ethic of ‘painism‘, where suffering pain or distress becomes the basis for rights. Richard Ryder’s thinking is behind the NC3Rs, the UK’s National Council for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. His work for the RSPCA took the organisation in a European Union direction which led to an impressive if gradual number of pro-animal statutes. He’s also a former Lib Dem activist, which must have been formative of his interest in suffering.

Painism is an attempt to find a way between Utilitarianism and dominant approaches to Rights Theory. Utilitarianism prescribes the suffering of a minority for the sake of a majority. It takes a tallying-up approach as if ‘the greatest good’ of ‘the greatest number’ were a good that is felt more intensely by each person the more people feet it. Rights Theory places emphasis upon the importance of the individual but does so with “mysterious references to telos [purpose] or intrinsic values” and becomes hamstrung with “the trade-off issue – which is really one of the central problems of ethics – by invoking ad hoc conflicting rights such as the “right to self-defence” to get themselves out of difficulties.”

Painism holds that 5 units of pain for the Prime Minister is the same as 5 units of pain for a mouse, and a 100 units of pain for the Prime Minister is far worse than 1 unit of pain for each of 100 mice. Rather than attempting to aggregate suffering, “the badness of an action can be judged by the level of pain felt by the individual who suffers the most by it – the ‘maximum sufferer'”. So when an animal is forced to grow so fast that its muscles tear, a long and painful preamble to a terror ordeal culminating in an agonising death – so that some of the 1500 customers in London’s newest and heaviest MacDonalds can fatten themselves on a burger, it’s not so hard to work out what painism would do differently. Painism also incorporates emotional pain documented by Jeffrey Moussaief Masson in his embarrassingly-titled 2004 study of animal consciousness The Pig Who Sang to the Moon. I haven’t read any of the books so I’ll stop there.

Approaching release is Speciesism, a documentary by Washington D.C. law post-graduate Mark Devries. It’s lucky you’re reading this because you’re unlikely to learn about it any other way. 67 donors on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter raised $15k to promote it and it will be previewed at the 2012 Animal Rights Conference – whose web site is a tattered cobweb of longterm failure – and after that, definitely not your local Odeon. Speciesism features several philosophers, some industrial investigative journalism, a neo-Nazi and at least one Holocaust survivor who identifies with the creatures in the clutches of the humans. On the Dr Don Show you can hear a l-o-o-o-o-n-g but never tedious radio interview with Mark Devries which probes the main philosophical and social arguments. Dr Don is a man whose web site sports a non-hilarious self-caricature dressed in scrubs perched on a dribbling cider keg, literally wringing eggs out of a hen. This isn’t touched on in the interview.

Well, you’ve read Safran Foer’s Eating Animal, now see Speciesism, get yer Jewish subtext here Snoopy, and may providence send more lawyers to save us from our rottenmost selves.

I hope the slugs died instantly. They seemed like they did.




Better out than in

When you are with a parent who is prematurely close to the end of their life, many things might happen for the first time. And all over the world, people are experiencing these things. I had never – as an adult – spent the night in my dad’s room. Never fed my dad before, or wiped his face, or collected his vomit in a bowl. Never checked for excrement. Never put my finger in his mouth to try to clean it. Never touched a stiff dehydrated tongue before. Never scrutinised anybody’s body language for signs of pain before. Never held my parents’ friends while they sobbed before. Never seen my grown-up brother cry. Never seen a person die before, or realised that there could be so many last breaths followed by a hanging silence before the next one, or that even a death immobilised by morphine would be a sudden and noisy spasm. Never heard my own keening as if it were somebody else’s voice before. Hadn’t realised that missing dad would grow rather than fade the longer I don’t see him, or that the memories of his illness would crowd out the other memories until it became hard to think of him at all. I often feel the urge to tweet my dad, which is ridiculous. The last thing he said to me was “Thank you love” and when he tried to touch my cheek I had to lift his hand. But the last thing I heard him say, days later, was a shout of pain. I hadn’t realised that he could still say anything, or that for him dying might not only have been an ordeal but also horribly boring. He was very particular – he like to have things just so. He was also a tremendous stoic all his life, not least at the end. I hadn’t realised that when people – especially older people who know about this – seem cavalier about life’s frustrations it may be because they understand that time will eventually catch up with them too, and that moment gets nearer with every heartbeat. To think that these things have been for all of us, all through time, and I’d never given them a moment’s thought, even though I’ve always known that all flesh is grass.