OBITUARY: Prof Sir Colin Spedding, 1925-2012

Leading agricultural academic and friend of the poultry sector, Prof Sir Colin Spedding, passed away just before Christmas, aged 87.

The list of qualifications and accolades attached to his name is almost as long as the list of organisations and committees he served during an illustrious career.

As well as the knighthood and professorship, he was a CBE, MSc, PhD, DSc, CBiol, Hon FIBiol, FRASE, FIHort, FRAgS, Hon Assoc RCVS and Hon DSc (Reading) – to mention just a few.

Surprisingly, Colin Raymond William Spedding left school aged 14 without a qualification to his name. He started his working life washing test tubes in a chemistry lab, and studied in the evenings for a degree in zoology.

He then worked for the Grassland Research Institute from 1949 to 1975, transferring to Reading University, where he became head of the agriculture faculty, director of the Centre for Agricultural Strategy and pro-vice-chancellor of the university.

One of his most notable roles since “retirement” was chairing the Farm Animal Welfare Council from 1988 to 1998. During this time, the so-called “five freedoms” of animal welfare were formulated.

“His skilful and incisive chairmanship and his unceasing efforts to promote our work did so much to establish the council’s reputation as a leading voice on farm animal welfare,” said his successor to the role, Judy MacArthur Clark.

These qualities were then transferred to his chairmanship of the Assured Chicken Production scheme (now the Red Tractor Farm Assurance Poultry Scheme), from 2000 to 2008.

In an interview with The Grocer shortly after taking on the role, Prof Spedding explained how he wanted to include organisations like Freedom Food and Compassion in World Farming. “Really extreme organisations can’t afford to say things are getting better because their existence depends on emotions,” he mused. “I don’t mind them being critical, but I’m offering them the chance to have a direct influence.”

He also defended poultry farmers who, he said, felt “picked on”. “Many people feel that battery cages are evil, but when you ask them how they keep hamsters, they realise there is little difference. Farmers appreciate that I think that way.”

One of Prof Spedding’s latter public appointments was to address the Egg and Poultry Industry Conference in 2010, where he urged the sector to be more open with the public, listen to criticism and avoid confrontation.

This spirit of openness extended to his own “estate”, as he loved to show schoolchildren around his three-acre garden, creating all sorts of wildlife traps and areas in which to study nature. He wrote a number of books on the subject, including The Natural History of Your Garden (2003) and What’s in Your Garden (2010).

Prof Spedding also collected proverbs from around the world and, in 2005, had published The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese (Proverbs and their Uses).

A private funeral is being held today (3 Jan) and a memorial service is planned for March in Reading. Prof Spedding is survived by a daughter, Lucy, and a son, Geoffrey.

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