Lucy Gavaghan
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A teenager who beat the supermarket giants on caged hens is now taking on the Tories

Lucy Gavaghan, the 14-year-old girl who fought Tesco and won, is turning her campaign to the government in her one-woman mission to end caged egg production.

Meet Lucy Gavaghan, the award-winning animal activist on a solo mission to end caged hen farming in the UK.

Already this year, she’s successfully lobbied the big supermarkets to end the sale of caged eggs by 2025, and now the 14-year-old has her sights set firmly on Westminster.

In August, she launched her third successive petition, calling for Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom to ban caged egg farming in the UK for good – a goal Gavaghan thinks is closer to reach than ever before.

Based in Sheffield, where she lives with her family, Gavaghan herself owns six hens –Mildred, Hazel, Sylvia, Fern, Sunshine and Pumpkin – plus a springer spaniel, two rabbits, a hamster, a fish and a Shetland pony.

Her route into animal activism began with a real-life encounter of the feathered kind. “After meeting a small flock of hens on the livery yard where my sister kept her pony, I became interested by the inquisitive and clearly complex creatures they are,” she recalls. “I began to investigate how hens are treated in the commercial world, and was immediately struck by the cramped conditions and the contrast between the hens I saw ranging freely.”

Battery cages were banned in the UK in 2012, but they were replaced by “enriched cages”, a slightly tweaked set-up that Lucy says is “barely distinguishable” from battery cages: hens spend 72 weeks in a space barely bigger than a sheet of A4 paper.

The reality is that Britain still lags behind countries like Austria, where enriched cages will be banned by 2020, and controversial beak trimming practices have been eradicated.

Activism is in Gavaghan’s blood. Her great-great-grandmother was a campaigner for Votes for Women, and her grandmother was a member of the CND. Perhaps this heritage contributed to her determination to change the practices of supermarket giants – a daunting task.

“I started writing letters to supermarkets asking them to stop selling caged hens eggs,” she says. “But the responses I received suggested no movement could be expected.”

Undeterred, Gavaghan took to Change.org to launch her first petition, directly lobbying Tesco. It swiftly received the requisite number of signatures, exceeding all of her expectations. After she had a meeting with Tesco’s head of agriculture, the company called her school a few weeks later to announce that it would be phasing out caged eggs.

“This was an amazing moment that I never expected to reach so quickly,” she tells me. “The timescale for the transition is longer than many people – including myself – had hoped for. But the change must happen as efficiently and widely as possible, which will take time.”

Her second petition was successful in getting Asda and Morrisons to commit to the same pledge.

Emotive and eloquent, Gavaghan has her campaign language down pat. While she modestly puts her campaign’s success down to a public that intrinsically understands caged farming is wrong, her digital nous is the real linchpin.

“People talk about the dangers of ‘clicktivism’ or say ‘people will just sign anything’. I personally couldn’t disagree more,” she says. “It takes a convincing petition and engaging cause to reach many people – it’s easy to sign a petition, but it’s not always easy to make someone want to. The internet and social media have given the public the power to create huge change.”

Gavaghan believes taking on the government is a bigger challenge than targeting supermarkets, and says her priority is ensuring that the changes made in this policy area are real.

“With every major change that’s made, there are risks that other areas of the industry may be compromised by a shift in egg production – if measures are not taken to ensure free-range farming is regulated at an even higher level,” she warns. “I want to increase the welfare of hens, not replace current systems with identical ones with the ambition of deceiving the general public.”

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) says humane farming is high on its agenda. A spokesperson says: “The government shares the public’s high regard for animal welfare and we have some of the highest standards in the world. Every livestock farm, regardless of scale, must comply with strict legislation, including comprehensive environmental and animal welfare rules.”

While her third petition gathers pace, Gavaghan is trying to raise general awareness for the issue – there’s even a hashtag for it, #nomorecages. She has also picked up an Animal Hero Award for Young Animal Enthusiast of the Year.

But while she’s not campaigning, or at school – where she says her teachers and fellow pupils have been “really supportive” of the petitions – she likes to spend time outdoors and with her animals.

As for the future? “I’ve always wanted to work with animals, but since starting my campaign, I’m now fairly certain that I’d like to work in the animal welfare industry,” she says. “Beyond that, I’m not entirely sure, but I will definitely always be involved in campaigning to change the face of industrial farming.”

Natalie Hardwick is Features Editor of BBCgoodfood.com, and writes about food and drink for multiple publications.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.