activism

Land of hope and glory: the truth behind British farming

In the last ten years the number of vegans in the UK has grown by 360%. Ask the average vegan their reason for adopting the lifestyle, and the majority of the time the answer will be “for the animals”. This comes despite the evidence that going vegan is great for our health and is hugely beneficial for the environment. It seems compassion for animals is still the number one driving factor for the huge surge in veganism in recent years.

Nowadays there is a wealth of information available online, and thousands of videos on YouTube showing the cruel nature of modern animal agriculture. However, so much of the available footage and statistics are from other countries, mainly the USA, that critics of veganism in the UK are quick to dismiss them. A common argument used against animal activists in the UK is that we treat animals so much better here than in other parts of the world. Many people refuse to believe that farmers in the UK would allow such obscene and cruel practices to take place on their farms, and are able to justify their continued support of the industry by adhering to this narrative.

This is what the makers of new documentary film “Land of Hope and Glory” have set out to change. Spurred on by the line “that doesn’t happen in our country“, the team behind the film travelled up and down the UK, working with a number of different groups to bring the reality of British animal agriculture into the limelight. According to the makers of the film: “through Land of Hope and Glory we aim to show the truth behind UK land animal farming by featuring the most up to date investigations as well as never before seen undercover footage, with a total of approximately 100 UK facilities featured throughout the film“.

Land of Hope and Glory tells the story of the 1 billion land animals slaughtered in the UK each year. Following the process involved in rearing, transporting and slaughtering pigs, cows, sheep and poultry, the film paints a bleak picture that conflicts heavily with the rosy image of British farming we are so often offered by the industry itself. What filmmakers Ed Winters and Luna Woods, of Surge Activism, have delivered through this film is a look at the inhumane methods that most people in the UK don’t realise are standard practices in British farming.

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Presented in four parts each focused on a different group of animals, the film guides us first through the world of pig farming where we learn about the bodily mutilations carried out on piglets without anaesthetic including teeth clipping and tail docking. The cramped conditions that the vast majority of pigs are kept in in the UK makes for difficult viewing, and the treatment of unwanted or unhealthy piglets and sows shown in the film is deeply distressing.

As the film moves on to cows, we learn of the heartbreaking fact that dairy cows have their calves removed from them just 24-48 hours after birth. This is not something that can be attributed to rare or isolated cases, as this is the case on the majority of dairy farms in the UK and is actually recommended by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). This is sadly not the worst thing that will happen to the animals during their lives – as the film shows – and for the calves is just the beginning of a short lifetime of misery and abuse.

The awful living conditions and brutal practices shown in this film will no doubt come as a shock to many, especially those who attempt to make more ethical choices by purchasing “humane” animal products. Sadly much of the footage shown throughout this film is taken from farms classed as free-range, organic, high-welfare, red-tractor approved and RSPCA-approved producers. What is most prominently highlighted in the film is the sad truth deliberately hidden from consumers which is that labels such as “free-range” are mostly arbitrary and actually misleading due to the rules applied to them. Most consumers who purchase free range eggs would be horrified to learn that the hens producing them were housed in dark, cramped barns, with virtually no access to the outside world, yet this is so often the case. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that there is no legal definition of “free range pork”, meaning farmers can keep pigs in any of the awful conditions depicted in the film, and still label their product as “free range”.

The film also dispels any myths about sheep and goats being the more fortunate of farm animals due to their generally being free roaming. Just like pigs, cows and chickens, sheep and goats are forced to endure a series of brutal procedures without anaesthetic, and are also subject to a number of terrible and widespread diseases. It is stated in the film, for example, that foot rot is present in 97% of British flocks.

Much of the film focuses on the hugely traumatic experience the animals all must go through on their way to the slaughterhouse. The animals, as young as 4-6 months old in the case of lambs, are transported for huge distances in cramped and overcrowded trucks, with no food or water and often in sweltering heat. Many animals do not even survive the journey to the slaughterhouse. Those that do are subjected to cruel and often ineffective stunning methods prior to slaughter. A statistic that will no doubt stand out to many viewers is that an estimated 1.8 million pigs regain consciousness on the production line each year due to poorly executed stunning techniques – and that this practice is still certified “humane”.

Land of Hope and Glory may be a difficult film to watch, but at its heart it is about educating consumers on where their money goes when they use it to purchase meat, eggs and dairy. It’s also a reminder that cruel farming practices are not something on which countries such as the USA have a monopoly. Modern British farming is not what the industry wants you to believe it is. The “happy cow” is a myth, and “humane meat” is a lie. Coming to terms with the truth behind how meat, eggs and dairy are produced in the UK is the first step towards making more informed, ethical decisions, which is something that we should all aspire to do. As Ed says in the closing chapter of the film: “it is ignorance that allows us to consume and purchase without considering the industries that we are supporting. And therefore, informing ourselves of the horrors our purchases perpetuate is not only a liberation for the animals, but indeed for ourselves as well.


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The Virtual Vegan

Vegan, it’s the latest buzz word isn’t it? A fad diet for those who followed Atkins and/or declared themselves gluten-free a few months ago. Those who like to starve themselves for 2 days a week and consume only green smoothies, or for hippies of course.

Not so. Well, not completely so anyway.

I’m guilty of trying most new diets and fitness trends and then failing miserably when I get tired, hungry, depressed or demotivated.

But veganism is different. It’s a movement. It’s about so much more than health and image. I am here to explain why I decided to move towards this way of life and the difficulties I have encountered along the way. One thing’s for sure – there is no turning back!

Let’s start at the beginning. I am certainly no stranger to tofu….back in the 80’s my strict vegetarian, activist mother was piling carrot sticks and raisins in my lunch box, while my mates were treated to um-bongo and wagon wheels. I felt so deprived……(not really, Mum……just a little).

In those days I was unusual. In fact, I have always been a little bit different. Mainly due to my Mum, who has always stayed ahead of the trend when it comes to consuming ethically – be it food, washing up liquid or packaging. Ahead of the trend = not trendy by the way…..perhaps a better way to describe it is ‘against the grain’.

And, that was part of the problem. Unlike these kids that grow up in super alternative families: live off the land, wear hemp, sing round the campfire, get immersed in a community and grow up the same, I was part of a much more conventional setup.

My mum was a teacher, my Dad worked in sales. We bought stuff from Marks and Spencer and we went to the Berni Inn (a steak house) for a treat. We appeared an ordinary, 2.4 kids type family – aspiring working class to outsiders. My Dad ate meat, so did my brother and I. Meanwhile, my mum’s publications came through the door covered in pictures of mutilated animals; charities asking for donations. Letters were drafted and posted to local MPs and governments further afield about all sorts of cruelty afflicted on animals and humans.

It was all there, but she didn’t shout about it. It was all done quietly, with little fuss. It was only when challenged that her face would go bright red and her chest blotchy as she prepared to defend herself and all that she stood for. Inevitably it would end with her being ridiculed and accused of being extreme.

So, for me, although I always admired her for her conviction to her beliefs and values, I saw a great deal of pressure, accusation and grief and that came with it. I became desensitised to the pictures – to the reality. I didn’t want to be like that. I thought it was okay to eat meat and stuff. I didn’t join in with the others giving my mum a hard time, but I self-identified with my Dad. He was more rebellious in the traditional sense – smoking and drinking etc. – which was far more seductive a role model – especially as a teen!

It’s only with age and experience that I am able to look back and see things more clearly. I have grown up!

My first bout of vegetarianism came a few years back after reading a book called PopCo by Scarlett Thomas (2004, Cannongate Books) which has a fierce vegan sub narrative. Her description had a visceral effect. I heard and saw cows crying for their babies as they were separated just after birth. I ditched the dairy immediately….and all poultry and meat. I didn’t understand the environmental aspect back then; but the suffering was enough. And it was easy! My then family (ex-husband, couple of kids) were living with my parents, so mum and I ate the same meals together. She was virtually vegan by then anyway (eating only ethically sourced, local, free range eggs – and she’s never stopped the honey).

Only later, when pregnant and living independently again, did I reach for a burger one day (it was the only thing that didn’t make me feel sick) and it all went downhill from there. I did the same as I had always done before – buried the truth deep within my psyche and returned to cooking spag bol and chicken salads – after all, this was now easier. I was a full-time working mum and it was what the family demanded.

Jump forward 5 years, I find myself divorced and in a new relationship with an open-minded, environmentally-aware and super likeminded fellow. We had talked about vegetarianism quite a bit, but it wasn’t until a do in October 2015 that the fantastic documentary by Leo Dicaprio – Cowspiracy was recommended to us. We went home and watched it open-mouthed. How could we have been so ignorant and so naïve? Animal consumption has grown to record levels worldwide and we are literally killing the planet!

I’m not going to go into the detail here, when so many fantastic documentaries explain it better than I ever could, but there are so many things wrong with the way we consume food. The way we treat animals for our own pleasure is barbarically cruel and unnecessary, and the impact on world hunger, rainforest depletion, global warming and contamination of our seas is off-the-scale devastatingly bad.

So, I do my best these days. I haven’t eaten meat for ages. I decided to have a go at veganuary in Jan this year and haven’t stopped trying since!

The secret to success is support, availability and ease. Unlike my Mum, I am not ahead of the trend! According to The Telegraph (18 May 2016) ‘the number of vegans in the Britain has risen by 360% over the past decade’ and there are many signs that veganism is set to continue to rise – especially among the more ethically-sound, environmentally-conscious younger generation.

Even in Woking there are many vegan options in various restaurants and cafes; a Woking vegan Facebook group; vegan runners and even a festival took place earlier in the year.

It’s so encouraging. And I hope not a fad. Meanwhile, I will continue with my own battles at home. My 19 year old (brought up with the spag bol) demanding his daily animal protein fix (what’s wrong with mung beans for goodness sake?) and my 6 year old struggling to give up her ham sandwiches. Not to mention my step-daughter. She is not happy at all about the vegan switch….although she loved her ‘chicken’ nuggets the other day (“are they real?”, “yes, of course they are real, Ams!”)

Perhaps, they will just be late to the party? After all, mums are not cool. Not when you’re young. It’s only later when you realise they were right all along! Especially when you have a super switched on trail-blazer mum like me. Even my Dad has joined in. He switched to a largely plant-based diet not long ago. So there is less discrimination in the family home now…..and certainly a lot more hummus!

Thanks for listening. I promise you vegan food is amazing. And it is so important we all consume less meat – for the sake of the planet and the other humans and animals we share it with.

To find out more please visit:

www.plantbasednews.com

www.thevegansociety.com

And watch:

Cowspiracy (2014, Produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, available on Netflix)

Carnage (2017, produced by Simon Amstell, currently available on BBC iPlayer)

That will get you started….and there is plenty more where that came from.  Join the revolution!

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“Insufficient evidence”: Misleading the way on fox hunting

In February this year, news broke of an alleged assault by a Surrey Union Hunt member against a member of Guildford Hunt Saboteurs. The assault, which was captured on camera, shows Mrs Lulu Hutley whipping an activist who is pinned against a fence at a hunt in Bramley. Despite this video having been submitted to the authorities, it was announced yesterday that Surrey Police have dropped their investigation, citing “insufficient evidence” as their reason.

The words “insufficient evidence”, or ones similar to them, are heard far too often when it comes to fox hunting. Unfortunately, the evidence seems to be disproportionately insufficient when hunt members assault saboteurs, rather than when the roles are apparently reversed.

It’s no surprise, and not unreasonable, that many people question whether a systemic bias against hunt saboteurs exists within the police community. In certain rural areas where local Conservative authorities are so often propped up by pro-hunting lobbyists, is it possible that a police bias is being used as a weapon to allow illegal hunting to continue?

Of course, it’s not just assaults on hunt saboteurs that seem to go unpunished. Up and down the country activists record and submit footage of foxes being killed by hounds and yet over and over we hear of charges against those responsible being dropped. Due to “insufficient evidence”.

In 2015 Warwickshire Police claimed that there was “not enough evidence” to prosecute members of the Atherstone Hunt. This was despite video footage of 20 of the hunt’s hounds killing a fox. Later evidence submitted included witness statements and the Atherstone Hunt itself admitting to killing the fox. If this is considered “insufficient evidence”, then how do we possibly enforce the hunting ban?

The fact is, for the most part, we don’t. Since the ban came into force in February 2005, there have been 430 successful prosecutions. However, the majority of these have been against poachers, as most police forces are more keen to investigate poaching rather than hunting by organised groups. Chief Executive of pro-hunting group the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, claims that these figures prove that the ban doesn’t work. Going further than that, Mr Bonner calls for the ban to be repealed in order for police to concentrate their time on more urgent matters. Unfortunately there is some truth in the statement that the ban is failing to lead to convictions. This, however, is no reason to consider repealing a ban that between 84% and 90% of the country support.

Across the country, and every week, activist and saboteur groups submit videos to the police of foxes being killed during illegal hunts. The International Fund for Animal Welfare state on their website: “IFAW hasn’t monitored every hunt but we suspect that most of those that we have monitored have indeed broken the law on several occasions. We did not always manage to persuade the police to investigate, even if we believed that there was enough evidence. We have not seen any evidence that supports the hypothesis that most hunts obey the law at all times.”

Despite this constant stream of evidence, there seems to be an inadequately disproportional amount of convictions. Whilst hunt saboteurs are often labelled as extremists for attempting to ensure the law is upheld, the police go unquestioned for failing to clamp down on illegal hunting activities. The question eventually has to be asked; are the police siding with the hunters, or are they simply unable to enforce the law?

The problem with the hunting act is not the law itself, but the loopholes that exist within it. A direct response by pro-hunting groups to the implementing of the hunting ban was the creation of “trail hunting”. This adaption of traditional drag hunting entails placing real fox scents on a series of trails across a certain area. By using real fox scents the hunt groups increase the chances of a fox “accidentally” being caught, whilst simultaneously creating an alibi to shift any blame from the hunt members themselves.

Loopholes such as these make it almost impossible for the police to bring hunt members to justice, and give groups like the Countryside Alliance fuel to call the ban a waste of resources. However, repealing the ban is not the answer; strengthening it is. By amending the law to include a recklessness clause, authorities could create a situation in which “trail hunting” was no longer an acceptable excuse for foxes being killed. In addition, the introduction of custodial sentences to coincide with other wildlife crime legislation is vital.

IFAW explain on their website: “After 10 years in operation any law would benefit from a tightening and improvement, and the Hunting Act is not an exception. Although as a law the Hunting Act may be working, the problem is that it has not been properly enforced, so we believe that amendments that improve enforcement are needed.”

Whatever direction the country takes after the upcoming general election, it’s crucial that we advocate for the hunting ban that the vast majority of us support to be reinforced. It’s time to end the biased pro-hunting narrative that labels hard working activists as thugs and extremists. It’s time to tighten the law on hunting with dogs, and clamp down on illegal hunts by closing easily exploited loopholes. It’s time to stand together as a country and make sure that the hunting act becomes something more than just words on paper. Whatever happens, it’s time to stop pretending that we successfully banned fox hunting in 2005, and start working on actually doing so in 2017.

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Anti hunting march 2017: A nation united in compassion


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Anti hunting march 2017: A nation united in compassion

On Monday the 29th of May, activists, campaigners and concerned citizens from all over the country gathered in London with a shared objective. In response to the recent release of the Conservative manifesto, in which a free vote on hunting with hounds was promised, over two thousand people marched on Downing Street to make their voices heard. The message was loud and the message was clear: there is no place for fox hunting, or any other form of hunting with hounds, in a modern, progressive Britain.

Protesters with banners: keep the hunting ban

As someone who strongly opposes cruelty to animals I travelled to London specifically to take part in this event, and to lend my voice to the cause. Although just over two thousand of us were in attendance, we marched with the backing of millions. At least 84% of the country’s citizens support the ban on hunting with hounds, with a recent poll putting this figure at 90%. In a country divided on so many issues, and reeling from a referendum that literally divided the population in half, one thing is clear: the nation stands together on fox hunting.

Anti hunting protesters leaving Cavendish Square

The absolute opposition our nation has to repealing the ban was not only apparent by the turnout for the demonstration itself, but the response of the public who watched the procession; significant numbers of whom cheered and clapped as the protesters passed them by.

Anti hunting protesters in London centre

Animal lives should never be used as political weaponry, but in this instance they have been and the people are not happy. At the risk of alienating the 70% of Tory voters who support the hunting ban, Theresa May has gambled her election campaign on appeasing the pro-hunting lobbyists. In employing this self-serving tactic May has declared war on animal rights, and those who fight to protect them.

The Labour Party slogan throughout this campaign has been “For the many, not the few”. I find this especially poignant as I reflect on the possibility of Theresa May heading a government which seeks to overrule the will of the many, simply to please the very few. Thanks to Theresa May, a vote for the Conservatives is now a vote to repeal the ban on hunting foxes, hares and deer with hounds; it is a vote to continue a wildly unsuccessful badger culling campaign; and it is a vote to continue the UK ivory trade, something David Cameron had previously promised to ban. For those who consider animal rights a critical part of our society’s moral code, Theresa May’s manifesto has made the Tories impossible to vote for.

As a nation we proudly assert our place on the world stage as a society of animal lovers. We regard with contempt events such as Yulin dog meat festival, and the annual whale slaughter in the Faroe islands. We’re far from perfect in this country, and as a vegan I know we have a long way to go when it comes to animal rights. But Monday’s event served to remind me that when we Brits see cruelty we oppose it, and we act on it.

On Monday we delivered a message, but on June 8th we have the opportunity to deliver an even more powerful one; one that changes the shape of British politics and shows future candidates that even at our most divided, on protecting our wildlife we are united.

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Vegan news network launches campaign on behalf of activists

On June 1st Dave Lewis and Lizzie Riordan will set off on a journey walking 750 miles around the UK in order to raise awareness of animal suffering and the global crisis of animal agriculture. This would be an epic challenge on its own, but is made even more so by the fact that Dave walks using crutches following a spinal injury.

During their walk Dave and Lizzie will visit a number of vigils at slaughterhouses across the country and hope to show the wider public what it is that vegans are fighting for. The walk is about more than just that though, as the pair hope to raise £10,000 to put towards starting a charity and helping a number of causes including the homeless, local communities and animal welfare.

The work that Dave and Lizzie have put into planning and promoting the walk has been nothing short of inspiring; having managed to build a solid level of support within the vegan community over just a few weeks. However, with the start date swiftly approaching it was becoming increasingly clear that more exposure was required.

Enter Vegan Global News – a rapidly growing Surrey based news network with followers all over the world.

As soon as the team at VGN heard about what Dave and Lizzie were planning, it became clear that they had to offer their help in building a bigger following for the walk.

In a recent discussion with Ethical Surrey, VGN founder Nick Bean explained: “Once we became aware of the magnitude of the task Dave and Lizzie were undertaking and their reasons for doing it, we decided to get involved and offer all the help and assistance we could. We are now coordinating and documenting the entire journey and helping where necessary with logistics.”

The first step in promoting the event was to create a name and recognisable brand, which the team at VGN worked closely with Dave and Lizzie to achieve. The new name “Walk For Hope” was launched soon after, along with a new website and a streamlined social media presence.

Most recently, the team at VGN travelled to Canterbury to meet up with Dave and Lizzie to record an interview with the pair and to help them get across to the public why they are undertaking such a mammoth challenge.

With the start date now just days away, and as Dave and Lizzie work to make the final arrangements, the team at VGN are promoting the event far and wide with support from across the country growing at an ever increasing rate. With promotional material in the works, celebrity endorsements and possibly even a film in production, Walk For Hope looks to be unlike anything that’s come before it.

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If you would like to find out more about Walk For Hope, or if you wish to support or donate to the cause, please visit: www.walkforhope.uk

The walk can also be followed on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.


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Animal rights activists stage protest outside local abattoir

Animal rights activists gathered outside Newman’s Abbatoir in Farnborough this morning to hold a protest aimed at raising awareness of the plight of animals processed in this and other facilities nationwide.

The protest, organised by Farnborough Animal Vigils, saw activists from all over the country come together with a shared objective, and although police were in attendance the protest remained peaceful at all times.

As well as holding up placards conveying vegan messages, the group also intercepted the livestock transport vehicles arriving at the Sherborne Road facility and did what they could to comfort the animals before they were taken onto the property.

Over the course of the morning vehicles of various sizes brought pigs, cows, sheep and goats to the slaughterhouse; some from small holdings and others from larger commercial operations. At times when there were too many vehicles trying to enter the property, they were forced to wait in the small residential road where the slaughterhouse is located. This afforded the group time to view the animals inside the trucks and to speak with the farmers, some of whom were not even aware of the slaughter methods about to be used on their animals.

Whilst some farmers insisted that they do care about their livestock, others were remarkably indifferent, with one even laughing at a protester for pointing out that a cow under his care was in a poor physical condition.

Throughout the day a number of passing drivers showed their support for the protest. One passerby pulled over to ask for contact details so that she could join the movement in the future, having been inspired by what she had seen. This came as no surprise, since support for animal rights movements is growing at an exponential rate, and more people across the country are not only transitioning to a vegan lifestyle, but are adopting an active role at events such as these.

A protester holds a placard asking the drivers to stop for a few minutes.

This is no doubt positive news for the organisers of Farnborough Animal Vigils who explain on their Facebook page that their goal is to “inspire more people to be compassionate, go vegan and become more active in making the world a better place for animals.

A young pig looks out at the protesters.

Farnborough Animal Vigils are not alone in promoting their cause, as similar events are being organised across the country every week by a number of different groups. These vigils serve to show a part of the process that is usually hidden from the public and to expose the suffering caused to the animals involved. Even the smallest groups are gaining attention, and its becoming increasingly more difficult for the public to ignore the most inconvenient of truths: where their food is coming from, and the brutality involved in its production.

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Why I’m Transitioning to More Local Activism

If you’re anything like me then you find social media a great platform for getting whatever you want to say out into the world.  If you’re angry about a matter: get on Twitter and broadcast it.  Got a great new recipe idea? Get it on YouTube or Instagram.  With that in mind when I first decided to start promoting veganism I naturally looked to social media as my platform to do so.  I started a Twitter account, started tweeting, and before long I’d found my own style and built up a following of over 4000 users. I’ve no doubt that I had an impact during that time, in fact I know I did; every day several people took the time to message me to let me know that my tweets had encouraged them to go vegan (something I’m incredibly humbled by and extremely proud of).

Of course there’s a downside to promoting a lifestyle deemed “extreme” by the mainstream and that’s the relentless criticisms from non-vegans. Most of my time on Twitter was spent trying to strike a balance between debating non-vegans who had some genuine concerns about the lifestyle, and arguing with those who vehemently opposed veganism as a whole.

Over a matter of time I started to ask myself whether I was really making a big enough difference, or simply giving myself a headache.  There were, and still are, so many wonderful vegans already spreading a better, glossier, more coherent message on social media than I ever could; I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just adding to the noise which risked drowning them out.  After a lot of thought I deleted my Twitter account and retired from social media activism.

A break from social media was really good for me, and it gave me a chance to reflect on my life, what exactly I was doing and what I wanted to achieve.  Naturally I missed my Twitter friends and I’ve since started a new account and started reconnecting with the online world, but I see my activism going in a very different direction from now on; starting in my own community.

Every day there are new opportunities to interact with people directly, face-to-face, and to present a positive vegan message; and these are opportunities I intend to take full advantage of. I’m inspired by the many amazing activists already out there, bringing the debate to the public, showing the world what they need to see, and I can’t stay behind a keyboard or a computer screen any longer.

This time I won’t be leaving social media behind, but rather I’ll be using it to document what I’m getting up to in the real world.  Hopefully I’ll inspire a few more people to take the plunge and get out there too. If we all strive to do more for veganism within our local communities, then the movement can only grow stronger as a result. Vegans are becoming well known for being loud on social media, but now its time for us to be even louder on the streets. If we all make a noise, they will hear us.

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