Perry Walker writes:
The Intensive Poultry industry in Herefordshire is enormous. 20-25% of UK chickens grown for their meat are raised in the county. At any one time, over 16 million chickens are reared in Intensive Poultry Units (IPUs) of over 40,000 birds. The cycle for raising chickens to slaughter is 42 days. In the course of a year over 7 batches are produced, in total over 112 million. The human population of Herefordshire is under 200,000.

The reason we run Win-win Workouts was starkly illustrated just before the start of our event at Hereford’s Left Bank on July 26 th . I was introduced to a farmer, John W, who spoke of his pride in his chickens and in the low environmental impact of his farm. Sadly, he didn’t stay: he’d come for the quiz, elsewhere on the site.

As my wife and I walked home after the event, he passed us in his car and stopped to ask how it went. “Who won?”, he asked. “Nobody”, we said – we could equally have said “everybody”. It is exactly that assumption that all events must be win-lose that we seek to counter.

Now to the event itself. 20 people showed up. Six groups of 3 – 4 each took on a character: a farmer in Herefordshire; a campaigner against deforestation in Brazil and so on. Each group had some material about their character. For instance, the farmer’s began, “I want my farm to go through my children. But there's no money in Hereford cattle, there’s no money in traditional sheep. The poultry farms, because they do pay and they’re consistent, they’ve saved a lot of family farms without a doubt.” Whereas the campaigner’s statement started, “Most people would be incredulous when they buy a piece of chicken in Tesco’s to know that it has been fed on a crop responsible for one of the largest wholesale tropical forest destructions in recent times.” (All the groups also had the same background material about different aspects of the issue. The box at the top of the blog illustrates this.)

Each group used this material to try and work out what really mattered to their character. For instance, another one of the characters was a local resident who liked being able to buy local produce. The group representing this character thought that what was really important here was that local chicken brought people closer to the reality of food production and was valued more as a result.

We then formed a circle containing one person from each group. Each representative took it in turns to read out one of their character’s aims. All the other reps then used a green or a red card to signify whether their character could live with that aim – or not.

There followed a second round where groups whose aim had been red carded tried to adapt it so that it became acceptable. Negotiations between groups took place. There was a second circle, with the same procedure as the first time.

Where did we get to in an hour and a half? Some aims were never acceptable to everyone. For instance, one group started with “Reduce meat consumption significantly”. They then went deeper and proposed “To have efficiency in meat production because it reduces environmental impact” – but that still wouldn’t fly. I was surprised that “Support promotion of artificial meat production” received four red cards, although the number fell to two when the group added a reason, “because it reduces or eliminates the effects of animal welfare of IPUS”.

Eight aims were agreed by all. For instance, the farmer said, “I want to be able to hand on my farm because that creates continuity in farming”. Two that struck me were:

  • “To produce affordable food for the British people”
  • “Stop deforestation”

In current circumstances, those two aims are in contradiction. But there are alternative ways of arranging society where they are not. Perhaps one of the results of the Workout is prompt us to think about those alternatives.


PS All the aims that were proposed can be found here. And the material that the groups used is here.