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Lindy McDowell: Why it's good children see a lamb led to slaughter

Lindy McDowell: Why it's good children see a lamb led to slaughter

16 September 2009

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Rule number one: never give your dinner a pet name. The intriguing case of Marcus the lamb, hand-reared by a group of primary school children before being sent to the abattoir for recycling into prime cuts has divided the nation.

Either this is callous barbarity which will leave the little ones (human) traumatised for life.
Or it is providing them with an informative lesson on the origins of their food.

Some parents of children at the school in Kent tend very strongly to the former interpretation. Marcus, they say, had been petted and bottle-fed by their children who are now distraught and plagued by sleepless nights having finally grasped the reality of the poor wee lamb's harsh fate.

Headmistress Andrea Chapman, however, counters that Marcus had been introduced to the school's farm precisely in order to teach children where their food came from and to educate them about 'all aspects of farming life'. (The school is set in a farming area.)

With commendable sangfroid, she adds that the plan was always for Marcus to be processed into chops which would be raffled to buy piglets for the school farm. These little piggies would in turn go to market - or the slaughter house - where they too would be transformed into main courses.
What's more, she adds, the children themselves, by overwhelming majority vote, were the ones who had chosen to send Marcus to the abattoir.

Oddly, given I've been a vegetarian for most of my life, I find myself on the headmistress's side in this strange row.

I say 'strange row' because the same supporters who decry the execution of Marcus will doubtless be discussing his fate over their own meat dinners. Or as they queue for the fast food Happy Meals that put a smile back on the faces of the distressed young.

If Marcus and his fate prompts some children to ask relevant questions about the ethics of food production that can only be a good thing.

For example, those millions of vacuum packed chickens on the supermarket shelves, all precisely the same size - how did the "farmers" engineer that?

To me, whether or not you choose to eat meat is your own business.

But what should concern us all is the way animals are treated before they're sent for slaughter.

In that respect, Marcus was one of the lucky ones. He was well cared for, not force-fed or pumped full of steroids and chemicals.

He had the run of the place.

Unlike many of the other pre-packed cuts on supermarket shelves, he wasn't cramped in some confined space throughout his, granted, too short life.

Some parents may have genuinely felt it was an overly harsh lesson for some of the younger children. But bleating over the fate of one lamb with a human moniker while filling the fridge with poultry, pork, beef and fish that didn't merit first name terms - or concern about their well-being - is an odd sort of hypocrisy.

And there are worse things than exposing children to the realities of how Marcus got into the mint sauce.

The vCJD scandal is just one example of what happens when intensive farming puts greed and profit before compassion and common sense.

That horror happened because people then, as now, preferred not to ask questions about our food chain.

Shy away from educating children, keep consumers in the dark - and it's not just Marcus you're sending like lambs to the slaughter.

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