Today I am resuming this blog after a three week break for a family holiday in France.

In today’s news I’ve been reading a remarkable account of the creativity of capitalism, affecting, in this case, the food industry.

The Two Sisters Food Group, owned by Mr. And Mrs. Boparan, has swallowed up such well-known brands as Bernard Matthews and Harry Ramsden, so that it can provide a significant proportion of the chicken market in this country. A recent undercover investigation at one of its production units has shown employees faking the kill-dates of chicken corpses and restoring to the production line some that had been dropped on the floor. All more or less in accordance with the best traditions of the British chicken industry, you may say. But there was one particular matter which caught my attention: some chicken bits pacakaged for Lidl, which had been returned as surplus, were repacked as Tesco’s Willow Farm Chicken, which claims that its chickens are reared “exclusively for Tesco.” A lawyer for the Two Sisters explained the apparent contradiction thus: “The Willow Farms brand is exclusive to Tesco, but the raw material is not.”

Tesco Willow Farm Chicken

I had never before seen it stated quite so clearly that a brand is a name without material content. Willow Farm Chicken exists independently of all actual dead chickens, while its immaterial content refers elegantly to supposedly idyllic English farms of the past. When I buy A pack of Willow Farm chicken I should be content that although the material content may have been bred anywhere in the world for any supermarket, the brand has been bred exclusively for Tesco. Alleluia.

Surely this invention of the immaterial brand – like The Volkswagen which is utterly removed from the filthy air- polluting vehicle people actually drive, or the Conservative Party which has nothing at all to do with the public school anarchism which is destroying our traditional way of life, or the  Sports Drink which cannot be identified with the liquid that gives you a week’s sugar in one suck – is a triumph of economic imagination. The materials may be guilty but the brands are pure and innocent. This invention is reminiscent of Allah the merciful, the compassionate, who is not responsible for the history of the  violent califates, or of the God of Love who has no part in the crusades, the Inquisition, the wars of religion, the ethnic cleansing of the Americas, or the persecution of Jews. The brand separates itself from from its (very) raw materials.

Philosophically I guess this kind of branding is similar to the Platonic notion of the forms of things. Every actual dog in the world, whether prize-winning at Crufts or stinking of the excrement it’s rolled in, derives from the pure form of dog, the innocent archetype in the world of truth. No disgraceful behaviour by any material dog can spoil the eternal form of dogness.

In his simplicity, Jesus of Nazareth found it impossible to make this kind of separation. While others were impressed by the Pharisaic or High- Priestly brands of religion, he said that the brands would be known by their fruits, that is, by the material lives amd actions of their adherents. He explained that a sound tree could not produce bad fruits, nor an unsound tree good fruits. He could see no merit in a religion whose brand was beautiful but whose material content was ugly, comparing it to a whitewashed grave or a cup washed clean on the outside only.  Not content with this unsophisticated down-to-earthness, he went so far as to call the sophisticated supporters of high-end religion, “hypocrites” meaning “play actors” whose words had nothing to do with their own material lives.

Play actors of many times and places, including popes and imams  and ministers as well as successful capitalists, have regretted the awkward simplicity of Jesus, but I find it a helpful antidote to all kinds of smart branding.




The story of the bear bile trade is not likely to increase admiration for the human race. Traditional healers in China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan and other Asian countries think that bear bile has beneficial effects on human health; and popular culture promotes the utterly mistaken notion that it increases male sexual performance.  As a consequence the Moon Bear especially is bred, trapped, kept in cages, cathetered and deprived of its bile, for up to thirty years in some instances. In spite of some government intervention the trade remains legal in many countries, which means that an estimated 10,000 moon bears remain captive in China.

Captive bear

Captive bears suffer from being confined in tiny cages, with inadequate care if any, often living in their own excrement, and from a variety of painful invasions of their bodies to obtain their bile. Because they never walk their pads rot, their bones warp; because they never see the sun, their eyesight is poor, their fur is mangy, their resistance to infection is low; because they are ill-treated, they are terrified, depressed and angry. Their condition is a measure of the corruption of those who farm them. In my own country the condition of battery animals provides a similar measure.

As human beings will enslave, maim and kill other human beings for profit, it is unsurprising that they will do the same to animals.

The surprising thing is that some human beings oppose this kind of atrocity, and take action to have it stopped, while tending to as many of its victims as they can.

“Founded in 1998, Animals Asia promotes compassion and respect for all animals and works to bring about long-term change. We work to end the barbaric bear bile trade, which sees over 10,000 bears kept on bile farms in China, and, according to official figures, about 1,200 suffering the same fate in Vietnam. Animals Asia has rescued over 500 bears, caring for them at its award-winning bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam.”

“Animals Asia also works to end the trade in dogs and cats for food in China and Vietnam, and lobbies to improve the welfare of companion animals, promote humane population management and prevent the cross border export of “meat dogs” in Asia.”
“In addition, Animals Asia campaigns for an end to abusive animal practices in zoos and safari parks in Asia, and works closely with governing authorities to improve animal management and increase awareness of the welfare needs of captive animals.”

The founder of this charity is Jill Robinson, who was moved by an encounter with a captive moon bear to campaign in the conviction that animal welfare is human welfare and vice versa. She is passionate and rational, personal and political, in her advocacy for animals. This has led to her establishment of a humane, intelligent and inclusive movement for animal welfare in Asia, which can operate even within authoritarian regimes that are averse to criticism.

The bible has provided animal lovers with a vision of comprehensive justice:

Isaiah 11English Standard Version (ESV)

11 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

The peaceable kingdom-Hicks

The wise rule which provides equal justice for human beings, creates at the same time peace amongst domestic and wild animals, amongst whom a human child will be safe. This vision which goes beyond what seems historically possible is nevertheless anchored in the history of Israel and its rulers. It has inspired other visionaries, notably the American Quaker painter Edward Hicks.

Animals Asia shows a number of practices common to movements for justice that work in the spirit of this vision:

1. It is founded in truth and respects facts.

2. It has clear aims.

3. It believes that other human beings will respond to its vision and therefore communicates with people in all parts of the world.

4. It believes that governments can be influenced by programmes which are for the benefit of their peoples and lands.

5. It knows that although legislation “cannot make my neighbour a good man, at least it can stop him lynching me” (Martin Luther King). The law can be a powerful force for change.

6. It is more concerned to talk quietly where it matters than to gain publicity through confrontation.

7. While it attempts to outlaw an atrocity, it seeks out present victims and provides them with loving care.

8. Inasmuch as there are genuine benefits derived from the cruelty it wants to abolish, it has worked to provide scientific alternatives.

9. Although it abhors injustice it has goodwill towards those who cause injustice.

10. It is realistic, but its hopefulness goes beyond what is real at the present time.

Rescued bear

This kind of rebellion against injustices which are taken for granted was typical of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth – think of his attiitude to lepers amd possessed people-  and is one of the reasons he can be rightly be called a saviour.