Chef Tobie Puttock’s ah-ha moment and the most important farm animal welfare issue in Australia today


Celebrities Dairy Eggs / 29th Jun 2021

Chef Tobie Puttock is a passionate advocate for farm animal welfare. Right from the early days of his career, Tobie has looked to inform himself and others about animal welfare and the important role consumers and businesses have in making the world a better place for the animals farmed for the food on our plates.

Tobie’s career has taken him from his home in Melbourne to Italy, to London and then back again. It’s also seen him work at some of the world’s most well-known restaurants, in the kitchen with household names like Jamie Oliver. He’s set up successful restaurants and helped under-privileged young people find their own career paths towards becoming qualified chefs. Over the years, Tobie has also made many TV appearances and written, not one, but four cookbooks!

The ‘ah-ha!’ moment that influenced Tobie’s interest in sustainable food production, and has driven a career focused on sharing information about how food is produced, was when he first learned that a dairy cow must have a calf every year in order to produce milk. While some calves stay on farm to replace older cows in the herd, many are considered an ‘unwanted’ by-product. Tobie knew these calves deserved better than being sent to slaughter at a few days old.

We had a chat with Tobie about his interest in farm animal welfare, the role this has played in his career as a chef and advocate for ethical sourcing, and what could be done to improve farm animal welfare, particularly for dairy calves and egg-laying hens.

How long have you been an advocate for farm animal welfare?
Since the mid-90s, a few years after I began cooking. Humane food became a focus when I was working in the UK. At that time there was a focus on welfare and the origins of our meat, dairy and other ingredients.

Your mate Jamie Oliver is also an advocate of knowing how food makes it to the plate and how the animal has been treated. Did you guys influence each other on this topic?
I think for both of us, our influence probably came from working at The River Café in London. Every dish is ingredient-driven at that place and the focus on provenance is amazing and hero’d on the menu.

Has it become easier to access food from animals farmed to higher welfare standards as a chef?
Yes, 100%. Basically, the customer generally chooses what’s on the menu through market demand so if you go to a restaurant, café, McDonald’s and don’t ask where the meat has come from or are the eggs [from hens that are] happy or where the milk came from to make the cheese, the chef/server/owner won’t think about it and won’t see a need to make a change.

Do chefs and cooks have the opportunity to influence restaurant owners?
Yes and no. Chefs can try and float new items on the menu, but the customer ultimately makes the choice through their spend. Good ingredients
are often more expensive, as are chefs who want to use those ingredients.

Your ah-ha moment was finding out that many dairy calves are viewed as a by-product of milk production and sent to slaughter at a few days old. These calves can be used to make products such as hides for leather, calf rennet for cheese making, and by-products for the pharmaceutical industry but do you think there could be a market for their meat if farmers were to raise these calves to an older age? What should Australian dairy consumers do to support this? 

Programs like the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme, that offer higher welfare standards for farmers to meet and have their farms certified, mean there’s an avenue for these producers. They can rear calves to an older age for a veal or beef product, those calves have a chance to live a life worth living, and consumers can have the confidence to support higher welfare veal or beef.

What’s the most important animal welfare issue for you today?
That’s a hard one and I don’t know there is a single mega issue as to me they are all important, but I guess the real issue is getting people to understand that animal welfare is an ongoing issue, it’s happening all the time, not just while Netflix is on.

I do think though that one of the biggest animal welfare challenges of our time is the number of hens confined to battery cages. With more than 10 million egg-laying hens in barren battery cages in Australia today, this is a huge issue.  But the good news is, Australians have the power to change this, simply by choosing to buy cage-free eggs whether for consuming at home, when dining out or procuring for their businesses. We just need to continue to educate people about why these choices matter and how they impact animal welfare.

Want to make sure your voice is heard on the welfare of hens?
Right now, state and territory agriculture ministers are overseeing the drafting of new standards and guidelines for poultry – and that process is finally wrapping up. We desperately need your help to support the government to take the right action and implement a phase out of barren battery cages. Find out how here

You might also be interested in Pioneering better farm animal welfare and Chef Simon Bryant on crafting a menu that cares about animal welfare

17 comments

  1. Marianne McDermott says:

    I guess this is better than nothing in terms of animal welfare. However, the only life worth living for any animal is to live until its natural end. There is no such thing as humane food if an animal is killed before its time.

  2. I’m sorry, but I cannot see a humane way of breeding and slaughtering animals. What exactly does RSPCA aproved mean?? Free range isn’t exactly ‘free range’ here in Australia. Battery hens are beyond cruel, some countries are banning them. How about the ‘boilers’? Chickens fed hormones etc, no room to move, heart failure and broken bones because their bodies are too heavy for their still baby bones to carry. Dairy Indus. Cows suffer terribly, physically and emotionally, Calves? Taken away from their mother?? have footage of them being thrown off the truck and dragged away to be slaughtered! Veal? disgustingly cruel! Pig farming?? These are such intelligent animals and their breeding???? Sperm collecting at a facility here in Wacol had abhorrent cruelty brought to notice – what happened?? NOTHING! No one got charged etc – the usual story. Cattle, or rather all animals being slaughtered – do not wish to die and certainly not the way it’s done here – like piglets??? Live Export? I was given a sheet of information years ago stating that Australia has the best animal welfare in the world! REALLY????? Our Politicians must think we are all stupid! Unfortunately some will believe the lies and deception.
    Sorry, but we DO NOT need animal protein to be healthy, in fact, NOT eating them is healthier, ethical, as well as much better for the planet! I will be 76 this year, am vegan for ethical reasons, am not on any medication and have no more arthritis pain. I am only one of many thousands who refuse to eat hormone & antibiotic fed tortured animals – how can you make it ‘HUMANE’ by RSPCA approved?

    • Hi Lia, thank you for your comments.

      To be RSPCA Approved, farms must meet the RSPCA’s detailed animal welfare standards and go through a rigorous assessment process that includes regular on-farm assessments by specially trained RSPCA Assessors who are experienced in animal behaviour. The RSPCA’s standards go beyond what’s legally required in Australia. See our comparison tables for a summary of what this means for layer hens, meat chickens and pigs.

      The RSPCA opposes intensive farming practices that cause suffering or distress to animals, or that prevent the animal from moving freely and satisfying their behavioural, social or physiological needs. These practices include battery hen farming and the use of sow stalls in pig farming. However, the RSPCA inspectorate acts within the framework of animal welfare legislation set by the states and territories. Provided that producers are operating within these laws, the RSPCA cannot prosecute them for using intensive farming practices, even when these practices are opposed by the RSPCA because they are inhumane and cruel.

      You might be interested to listen to our podcast as it talks about some of the issues you have raised, such as the episodes Better chicken welfare and The deal with veal.

      Thanks for being an advocate for farm animals.

      • I wish that we could somehow prevent calves being removed from their mums immediately after birth. A colleague who recently had moved to a farm near a dairy farm complained to the farmer about loud cows, when he learned they are mother cows who are crying for weeks after their babies are taken away he was embarrassed and never complained again the industry does a great job hiding the truth from majority of the population but how can the RSPCA prevent these cruel practises? I do understand there is no humane definition for killing but at least we can stop the mother and baby cows being separated too early. Artificial insemination is also cruel as the mother cows has no break: for thd mother cow to have milk they have to be pregnant or breastfeeding … humans do anything to earn more unfortunately

    • Kerri Mackenzie says:

      Well put it brings tears to my eyes every time I read about our “humane” killing of animals.
      These animals are terrified watching the one before it slaughtered!!!
      Vegan or vegetarian bring it on.

    • Anne Collins says:

      I agree 100% with everything you wrote. There is absolutely no known “humane” way to slaughter an animal or take away the extreme fear they all experience on their way to slaughter. I am in my 70’s too and have been vegetarian for almost 30 years (I haven’t made it all the way to vegan yet). Since giving up meat & milk all those years ago I have been healthy and free of problems like high blood pressure & osteoporosis. I agree that humans do not need meat or dairy foods to survive.

    • Thanks Lia, I agree, from the cruelty of chickens to pigs and all in between, what does free range mean, hormones, antibiotics and mother cows made to continuously breed year after year, only so their calves are taken again and again, to end their innocent short moment in life at a horrific slaughter house. The cruelty finally took its toll and so I am also vegan and am very satisfied with tofu, lentils, leafy veggies, nuts, seeds and rice and mentally and emotionally I am satisfied too, because I am not contributing to animal cruelty in any way. I highly recommend a vegan diet and menu.

  3. My friends family run a dairy farm here in Aus and a cow in their herd only has babies every 2 years. They say it is better for the health if their herd. They also keep most of the calves or sell them to other dairies.
    I know they care for their animals, yes it is where they draw their income but the herd is an extension of their family.

    • Thank you, Jane. I understand you want to support your friend. You have not mentioned what happens to all the male calves., nor have you mentioned what happens to ‘spent’ cows. And ultimately, if a dairy practises forcibly removing a child from a mother, it doesn’t make much difference whether they do it annually or bi-annually; it is one of the most heinous form of cruelty. If it is done to a human mother it is a punitive crime. If it is done to a mother cow, goat, sheep, etc, it’s all in a day’s work so humans get to have a different species milk on their cornflakes. And with all respect re the ‘extension of their family’; how many human families hook their women up to sucking machines twice a day? Doesn’t it make more sense for humans to harvest human milk for human consumption?

  4. Carlien Le Lacheur says:

    I would not agree that there is “the most important farm animal issue in Australia” today. There are several, some which most members of the public know nothing about.

    I would be keen to know how Chef Tobie sources Atlantic Salmon. I have just finished reading a book entitled TOXIC by Richard Flanagan. I wonder if the Chef has read it or anyone in the RSPCA involved in the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme. There is some damning information in his book about this scheme and TASSAL, the largest AS farming company in Australia.

    For years, I have been a supporter of the RSPCA campaigns against the horrendous situation regarding our poultry, and only learnt a little while ago, about the disgusting practice which occurs to produce our daily milk.

    I am now further disgusted to learn about the fish that I have been consuming every day for the last 18 months, having given up meat, PARTLY for the ethical reasons around our live export trade.

    Reading TOXIC heightened my disgust by learning about the farming practices, both past and present, for Atlantic Salmon. But my horror reached heights when the book revealed the RSPCA’s role in condoning it through their Approved Farming Scheme. It is suggested that money changed hands.

    I feel so deceived by the salmon farming practices, and the collision between government and companies, but the worst is to no longer have trust in a charity I have supported for 45 years.

    • Hi Carlien

      I’m sorry to hear that you have lost your trust in the RSPCA. I’d like to assure you that the RSPCA cares about the welfare of all animals, including the welfare of farmed fish.

      One way we work to improve the lives of farmed fish is through the RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme. Since releasing animal welfare standards for farmed Atlantic salmon in 2016, more than 6.3 million fish have benefitted from better conditions on farm and have been raised with a focus on animal welfare.

      A company or producer that wishes to be RSPCA Approved must meet the RSPCA’s detailed animal welfare standards and participate in a rigorous certification program, which includes participating in frequent on-site audits.

      The costs of running the Scheme, including having RSPCA Assessors visit farms and the RSPCA Certification Body overseeing these audits, is covered by a licensing fee. This fee is paid by those that use the RSPCA Approved brand and is calculated with consideration of how much it costs to have the company, brand or producer participate and be certified. The RSPCA Approved Farming Scheme is not funded by donations to the RSPCA and is a not-for-profit program.

      If you would like to find out more about what being RSPCA Approved means for salmon, please take a look here.

      And lastly you’re right, there certainly are many important animal welfare issues. Thanks for being an advocate for farm animals.

      Jess

  5. Kelsie Pirini says:

    Honestly! I actually thought Tobie was going to tell us to go dairy free. Thats the solution plain and simple!

  6. Well this article was a dud. We are living in a time when there are entire restaurants, companies, industries dedicated to plant based and vegan products. And yet Tobie still wants to talk about veal – but “higher welfare”. The animals deserve better than you, RSPCA.

  7. Thanks Lia Cramer, I agree with you on many points. I would like to add that the culling of kangaroos for commercial purposes or because they are seen as a pest by farmers is absolutely abhorrent. If a female is shot the joeys are also either shot, bludgeoned to death or orphaned. There are many misshots where the kangaroo escapes and dies a slow painful death, it is difficult to monitor compliance and very rarely is anyone held to account. Australia is no different to Canada’s bludgeoning of baby seals or Japans whale killing, when we treat our iconic wildlife no different. Kangaroos are highly intelligent, recent studies suggest they have the same cognitive ability as a dog, so why do we treat other animals differently to our beloved family pets? I believe all living beings deserve to live out their lives naturally, with dignity and respect. “In their capacity to suffer, a dog is a pig, is a bear, is a boy.” Phillip Wollen.

  8. A decade ago I moved from the City to the Country in Northern NSW, shortly after I asked my neighbour what was the awful sound the night before coming from the Dairy next door, she said Oh they have taken away the calves from the Mothers, so we can have Veal!!! The sound of those poor Mothers crying for their babies, just haunts me to this day.
    Every time I see any mention of Veal I feel like being sick.
    I now live in the City again.

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