AS IF running a primary
school were not a full-time job in itself, Kath Cook, the head
teacher of Peasenhall School, near Saxmundham, in Suffolk, is
currently having to manage an unexpected extra-curricular event
that she surely never thought would be part of her job description
when she first joined the teaching profession.
She is having to ask her
local police force for help to protect her staff from a barrage of
abusive phone calls from animal-rights activists who have lately
taken an unwelcome interest in the school's affairs. Not only that,
she is also preparing for a possible demonstration outside the
school gates if protesters' demands are not met.
What has angered the local
vegetarian lobby, the Colchester Animal Defenders, is a school
project to rear three piglets in professionally monitored
conditions, before the animals are sent to an abattoir for humane
despatch later in the year.
No matter that pupils have
constructed an eco-friendly sty and pen to house the pigs; no
matter that the project is designed to be a clear-eyed introduction
to the realities of food production, and has the unanimous support
of the parents; no matter that eating bacon is, at the time of
writing, a legal activity.
None of this matters to the
protesters. Phone calls, emails, and, needless to say, the social
media have all been used to mobilise support - from as far afield
as Australia - for the campaign of abuse.
Anyone who knows the first
thing about the running of a state school will appreciate the
hurdles that the project will have had to clear before getting off
the ground. It will have been subject to parental and
local-authority approval; assessed for its educational value;
checked against moral, religious, and gender-inclusivity criteria;
scrutinised by satellite departments of the DfE and DEFRA; and
finally been shown to have satisfied the stringent demands of
After clearing the
bureaucratic hurdles, the school could rightly have concluded that
the way was clear to explain in a non-emotional way how the meat we
eat reaches the table. The school may even have hoped that the
project would be celebrated as a hands-on lesson in responsible
animal husbandry, and praised as a practical demonstration of
But the head and her staff
had failed to take into account the campaigners, whose spokeswoman,
Liza Moore, is reported to have said that "children should not be
exposed to this sort of thing."
It could be argued that by
not exposing the children to "this sort of thing", many will
continue to imagine that their sausages are produced on an
industrial estate outside Ipswich before appearing magically in the
supermarket in their film-wrapped plastic trays.
What "this sort of thing" is
attempting to do is to illustrate, in a non-judgemental way, the
realities of rearing animals for food.
Moreover, once exposed to
"this sort of thing", the pupils may reach adulthood with a proper
grasp of the provenance of the meat they propose to consume. They
may also come to question whether cheap chicken and cut-price
burgers can be produced ad infinitum without some impact
on animal welfare.
Some might even grow up to
believe that vegetarianism is, on balance, the best option for
them. In which case, it would be an irony almost certainly lost on
those animal-rights activists who are targeting well-intentioned
teachers from the other side of the world.
Trevor Barnes reports for the Sunday
programme and other BBC Religion and Ethics