TWO PEOPLE, Rachel Carson and Ruth Harrison, have, more than any others, drawn the attention of scientists, decision-makers and the public to the dangers of breaking biological laws in modern agriculture and animal husbandry. Carson's book Silent Spring (1962) highlighted the ecological risks of the indiscriminate use of chemicals in agriculture. Harrison's book Animal Machines (1964) gave balanced insights into animal welfare and the consequences of ignoring biological principles in animal husbandry.
Surprisingly, her background was not in science. Born Ruth Winsten in 1920, she had studied English at London University and after the Second World War trained at Rada, but went on to work for a firm of architects, where she met Dex Harrison, who in 1954 became her husband.
The idea for the book came when Ruth Harrison asked herself how the food she bought was produced. Like Rachel Carson, who wrote the preface to Animal Machines, Harrison put great emphasis on getting the facts right and so she obtained a deep and thorough knowledge of the subject.
Her book put into words the previously silent criticism of abuses in modern animal production and it had far-reaching consequences. For example, the British government appointed the Brambell committee (named after its chairman, Professor F.W.R. Brambell) and Harrison herself was included as a member. It published its report in 1965, outlining basic ethical and biological principles for animal husbandry.
In 1966 a permanent animal welfare committee, the current Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC), was appointed, consisting of distinguished scientists and farmers, and …