From Animal farming change to Woolman’s work on slavery
Animal farming change
Animal farming is undergoing change and uncertainty due to the UK leaving the EU and increasing environmental and animal welfare concerns. Christian Ethics of Farmed Animal Welfare (CEFAW) is a project started in autumn 2018 involving thirteen partners from Christian churches and other organisations to agree a policy framework in relation to animal welfare. Site visits were made prior to deliberations, for information on what raising animals means for the farmers, farm workers and animals.
Quaker Concern for Animals (QCA) attended the launch of the finished policy framework document on 18 November 2020 and is one of the partners helping to produce this, together with the Methodist, Anglican, Catholic, Pan Orthodox and United Reform Churches, the Churches of England Scotland and Wales, Veterinarian Christian Fellowship, Compassion in World Farming, PastureFed Livestock Association and research partners from Chester University.
It is the result of a collaboration of ethical and practical farming considerations with a broad range of views. Not easy, but skilfully guided by David Clough, principal investigator for the project and professor of Theological Ethics at Chester University.
Churches and other Christian institutions in the UK are influential in agricultural policy. For example, the CEFAW website mentions that Church of England bishops take twenty-six seats in the House of Lords and the Church of England owns 105,000 acres of farmland. Much of church interests are invested in food producers and retailers. Hopefully, this kind of influence within Christian churches and organisations will encourage and broaden an ethical and sustainable view of farming in the UK.
The new Agriculture Bill passed on 11 November 2020 may also help. It allows funding to support smaller farmers who work according to animal welfare and environmental considerations, rather than owners of intensive farms. The CEFAW framework policy document is available via its website.
Simplification, status, aid
I was a representative from Southern Marches Area Meeting (AM) that wrote the Symud Ymlaen (Moving Forward) report to which Carolyn Sansom (20 November 2020) refers. (See our website or the video https://youtu.be/yrnhypiZJw0 for a lighter touch.) This is about the simplification of the governance structure of the four AMs that have Meetings in Wales and Meeting of Friends in Wales by the merger of the five charities to form one new one.
Inevitably the question arose about charitable status. The advice we were given is that if you want to open a bank account, own property, take out insurance, carry out activities with children and vulnerable people, then we need to be a legal entity, which means an individual, a charity or company. The charity option seems to fit best because our primary purpose is the ‘advancement of religion’, which is seen as being of public benefit in charity legislation.
Friends complain that since we registered as charities our witness to truth has decreased but as a church the Religious Society has always had charitable status. All that has changed has been the requirement to register along with all other churches. We might have decided to register only one charity, Britain Yearly Meeting, but chose to make it complicated requiring an enormous number of trustees and treasurers.
I believe that the Charities Act has improved charities’ transparency. Friends have always set great store by truth and integrity, so putting our financial affairs and annual reports into the public domain should be something we welcome. The associated accountability is something we would want to encourage, rather than shy away from.
Much charitable work could be said to be work that the government should be doing but that is only partly true. I think the argument that we are diverting money away from the work of government with regard to social care is erroneous because we might equally say it is diverting from armaments and other things contrary to our testimonies. We might therefore conclude that the payment of Gift Aid is a way that our government recognises the importance of charitable work and this is a way of assisting that work.
My hope is that simplification of our structures will release time and energy for spiritual nourishment and outreach, for the things that are eternal.
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