Circle Stories: A Conversation with Patrick Cowland
We are delighted to have you as a loyal supporter of Compassion in World Farming and most recently, the Circle of Compassion. When did you first learn about our work and what drew you to being a part of the Circle?
Patrick: I was first introduced to Compassion through some of the work Chris Packham had done as Patron. I saw Compassion had some of the most far reaching and impactful objectives for its modest size, which immediately had me hooked. The more I read, the more I bought into the strategy and felt it earned my support.
Truth be told, joining the Circle was by accident! Though I am proud to be part of it. I maintain a plan to contribute more over time that enables Compassion to be my eyes, ears and voice in the industry. At present I don’t hold much optimism around the challenges farmed animals and the natural world as a whole faces, but I want to enable and support those that do.
Please can you share with us your own personal journey towards Compassion for farmed animals and transforming the Global Food System?
Patrick: My journey started during the first COVID lockdown in 2020. I’ve always been sensitive to animals but I never paid much attention to the world around me, my career and lifestyle have always been quite intense.
During the first lockdown I set myself a challenge to walk 10k steps each day. I’m lucky enough to be close to a nature reserve which was my ‘walk of choice’ most days. Each day I paid more and more attention to the resident deer, birds, squirrels and the odd mouse. I got to understand their family groups, their behaviours and when they were most active - when people weren’t around! I started to see them all as individuals and saw some of their struggles.
I’m a thinker - I spent hours walking around the reserve reconciling the ‘give and take’ we have with animals and nature. The conclusions I’d reached were disturbing and on reading up afterwards, were not only confirmed but actually far worse than I’d expected.
A couple of years on, and much rumination and reading later, I believe transformation of the global food industry must happen, for this and many other reasons.
What do you think are the greatest challenges that Compassion faces today?
Patrick: I believe the greatest challenges exist in winning “hearts and minds”. The way we’ve set ourselves up in society means that it’s all too easy to obfuscate, dismiss or otherwise ignore the cruelty that exists in global farming (and elsewhere). I think desensitisation in the industry plays a role, as does speciesism. I don’t think this is new, but it needs solving.
Additionally, with the combination of issues such as climate change, overpopulation, growing inequality and general economic pressure, I fear we lack the courage in global leadership to make the bold decisions (that may be unpopular in some quarters) that safeguard both our own future and that of the natural world around us, while also raising the standard of animal welfare.
If there were one person in history that you would wish to have a conversation with, who would it be? How do you think they’d behave if faced with the challenges of our times?
Patrick: I have to admit, I’m not much of a history person. There are many people I could enjoy a conversation with today, but being a futurist and knowing the challenges of today, I feel like the person I’d most like to speak with doesn’t yet exist.
I promise I’m not dodging the question.
Is there anything that you feel we at Compassion should be doing more of/better?
Patrick: I believe the strategy Compassion has is the right one. In my view this is;
- Engaging with politicians - to provide a consolidated voice of compassionate people (in the strongest way possible) to guide our government to morally appropriate policy
- Engaging with farmers - to provide support and best practices in the face of pricing pressures from supermarkets, yield pressures from climate and disease, and societal pressures from unsustainable population growth. The industry needs transforming, it’s not fair to ask farmers to shoulder this themselves
- Engaging with supermarkets and food retail - to encourage them to collectively raise the bar on welfare in the supply chain in their hypercompetitive industry. I believe there is a lot of work yet to do to come close to a decent minimum standard that actually rewards the industry instead of creating a competitive disadvantage. I’d like to see more positive action from Supermarkets going forward
- Engaging with people - although I don’t fully believe it yet, I’m told that we’re an animal loving and compassionate nation. If there is one thing I’d like to know more about, it’s whether Compassion can help shape our education system