Viva! has won the fight to stop 'exotic' meats becoming established in Britain. Crocodile, bison, camel, kangaroo and ostrich have been dropped by Sainsbury, Tesco, Morrisons, Somerfield and Booker cash and carry as a result of our three-year long campaign. Waitrose are the only remaining supermarket to sell ostrich flesh.
In July 1998, Viva! held a Day of Action with local groups outside 130 Sainsbury's stores. The effects of this were far reaching. We attracted excellent media coverage in Britain and Australia. The event was a PR nightmare for Sainsbury's. We also succeeded in considerably reducing the sales of kangaroo - Roy Watts, Head of Customer Relations stated early this year that kangaroo sales were low and if they remained so, Sainsbury's would consider removing the meat. Viva! planned a second Day of Action for 27th February 1999 and on 25th January 1999 Sainsbury's announced that they would no longer stock kangaroo meat. Ostrich meat is now unavailable in their stores too.
There is only one national outlet for 'exotic' meats - WAITROSE, who are the last stockists of ostrich meat.
Ostriches are not domesticated but are still wild animals and are extremely susceptible to stress. They are the oldest living birds on Earth. Just to see them takes your breath away. They look like some awesome prehistoric creature with their long powerful legs and dinosaur-like feet. To watch them move is an incredible sight. In full gallop they reach 40 mph, covering 25 feet in a single stride. Farmed birds, on the other hand, can run from one end of an average sized paddock to the other in just six strides.
Ostriches are nomads, designed by 60 million years of evolution to roam over vast tracts of grassland and desert. They have not evolved to be held captive in the cold, rain soaked paddocks of Scotland, where ostriches are kept for Waitrose.
Ostriches are the only birds to dance at times other than at mating. Holtzhausen and Kotze from South Africa say: "Especially in the early morning, a few birds in a group will suddenly receive a mystic, inaudible cue and begin to dance in circles on tip-toes, with outspread wings. Very soon the whole group will join spontaneously in the twirling dance. This may be a primeval urge or simply an expression of the joy of being alive." In farms, these mighty birds have no reason to dance. They can become so depressed that they stop eating and starve themselves to death.
The female naturally lays up to 15 eggs, but on the farm her eggs are taken from her so she continues to lay - up to 100 a year. They are mechanically incubated. A chick in the wild is never left alone. It needs that strong feeling of security for to be abandoned in the wild means certain death. As farmed chicks in Britain never see their parents they suffer from 'desertion stress', a feeling described by ostrich experts as "utter despair and distress". This can trigger stomach ulcers and the baby birds often die.
Farmed ostriches show many abnormal behaviours. Housed ostriches may stargaze, lifting their head up and back until it touches their spine. The birds refuse to eat or drink. The cure? Open space!
It is often said by ostrich farmers that the birds are stupid because they eat anything - coins, gloves, pencils, spanners, barbed wire fencing and even nails. The result is impaction or perforation and often death. The real reason, a vet told me: "This abnormal behaviour appears to be triggered by stress. The main causes are overgrazing of available pasture, insufficient grazing, insufficient energy intake, lack of fibre and chicks not having been taught what to eat."
It is starkly clear that these magnificent wild animals do not adapt to farmed conditions. The death rate on ostrich farms is much higher than for any other farmed animal.