Author Topic: Factory Farming:  (Read 1705 times)

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Factory Farming:
« on: April 15, 2008, 11:18:21 AM »
Unlike laying hens, chickens raised for meat in the Philippines are not housed in cages. But they're not pecking around in back yards, either. Over 90 percent of the meat chickens raised in the Philippines live in long sheds that house thousands of birds. At this time, most Filipino producers allow fowl to have natural ventilation and lighting and some roaming room, but they are under pressure to adopt more "modern" factory-farm standards to increase production.

The problems of a system that produces a lot of animals in crowded and unsanitary conditions can also be seen off the farm. The baranguay (neighborhood) of Tondo in Manila is best known for the infamous "Smoky Mountain" garbage dump that collapsed on scavengers in 2000, killing at least 200 people. But another hazard also sits in the heart of Tondo. Surrounded by tin houses, stores, and bars, the largest government-owned slaughtering facility in the country processes more than 3,000 swine, cattie, and caraboa (water buffalo) per day, all brought from farms just outside the city limits. The slaughterhouse does have a waste treatment system where the blood and other waste is supposed to be treated before it is released into the city's sewer system and nearby Manila Bay. Unfortunately, that's not what's going on. Instead, what can't be cut up and sold for human consumption is dumped into the sewer.

Some 60 men are employed at the plant. They stun, bludgeon, and slaughter animals by hand and at a breakneck pace. They wear little protective gear as they slide around on floors slippery with blood, which makes it hard to stun animals on the first try, or sometimes even the second, or to butcher meat without injuring themselves.

The effects of producing meat this way also show up in rising cases of food-borne illness, emerging animal diseases that can spread to humans, and in an increasingly overweight Filipino population that doesn't remember where meat comes from.

There are few data on the incidence of food-borne illness in the Philippines or most other developing nations, and even fewer about how much of it might be related to eating unsafe meat. What food safety experts do know is that food-borne illness is one of the most widespread health problems worldwide. And it could be an astounding 300-350 times more frequent than reported, according to the World Health Organization. Developing nations bear the greatest burden because of the presence of a wide range of parasites, toxins, and biological hazards and the lack of surveillance, prevention, and treatment measures--all of which ensnarl the poor in a chronic cycle of infection. According to the FAO, the trend toward increased commercialization and intensification of livestock production is leading to a variety of food safety problems. Crowded, unsanitary conditions and poor waste treatment in factory farms exacerbate the rapid movement of animal diseases and food-borne infections. E. coli0157:H7, for instance, is spr ead from animals to humans when people eat food contaminated by manure. Animals raised in intensive conditions often arrive at slaughterhouses covered in feces, thus increasing the chance of contamination during slaughtering and processing.

Cecilia Ambos is one of the meat inspectors at the Tondo slaughterhouse. Cecilia or another inspector is required to be on site at all times, but she says she rarely has to go to the killing floor. Inspections of carcasses only occur, she said, if one of the workers alerts the inspector. That doesn't happen very often, and not because the animals are all perfectly healthy. Consider that the men employed at the plant are paid about $5 per day, which is less than half of the cost of living--and are working as fast as they can to slaughter a thousand animals per shift. It's unlikely that they have the time or the knowledge to notice problems with the meat.

Since the 1960s, farm-animal health in the United States has depended not on humane farming practices but on the use of antibiotics. Many of the same drugs used to treat human illnesses are also used in animal production, thus reducing the arsenal of drugs available to fight food-borne illnesses and other health problems. Because antibiotics are given to livestock to prevent disease from spreading in crowded conditions and to increase growth, antibiotic resistance has become a global threat. In the Philippines, chicken, egg, and hog producers use antibiotics not because their birds or hogs are sick, but because drug companies and agricultural extension agents have convinced them that these antibiotics will ensure the health of their birds or pigs and increase their weight.

Livestock raised intensively can also spread diseases to humans. Outbreaks of avian flu in Hong Kong during the past five years have led to massive culls of thousands of chickens. When the disease jumped the species barrier for the first time in 1997, six of the eighteen people infected died. Avian flu spread to people living in Hong Kong again this February, killing two. Dr. Gary Smith, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, also warns that "it is not high densities [of animals] that matter, but the increased potential for transmission between firms that we should be concerned about. The nature of the farming nowadays is such that there is much more movement of animals between farms than there used to be, and much more transport of associated materials between farms taking place rapidly. The problem is that the livestock industry is operating on a global, national, and county level." The foot-and-mouth disease epidemic in the United Kingdom is a perfect example of how just a few cow s can spread a disease across an entire nation.

Modern Methods, Modern Policies?

The expansion of factory farming methods in the Philippines is raising the probability that it will become another fast food nation. Factory farms are supplying much of the pork and chicken preferred by fast food restaurants there. American-style fast food was unknown in the Philippines until the 1970s, when Jollibee, the Filipino version of McDonald's, opened its doors. Now, thanks to fast food giants like McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, and others, the traditional diet of rice, vegetables, and a little meat or fish is changing--and so are rates of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, which have risen to numbers similar to those in the United States and other western nations.

The Filipino government doesn't see factory farming as a threat. To the contrary, many officials hope it will be a solution to their country's economic woes, and they're making it easier for large farms to dominate livestock production. For instance, the Department of Agriculture appears to have turned a blind eye when many farms have violated environmental and animal welfare regulations. The government has also encouraged big farms to expand by giving them loans. But as the farms get bigger and produce more, domestic prices for chicken and pork fail, forcing more farmers to scale up their production methods. And because the Philippines (and many other nations) are prevented by the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the WTO from imposing tariffs on imported products, the Philippines is forced to allow cheap, factory-farmed American pork and poultry into the country. These products are then sold at lower prices than domestic meat.

Rafael Mariano, a leader in the Peasant Movement for the Philippines (KMP), has not turned away from the problems caused by factory farming in the Philippines. He and the 800,000 farmers he works with believe that "factory farming is not acceptable, we have our own farming." But farmers, he says, are told by big agribusiness companies that their methods are old fashioned, and that to compete in the global market they must forget what they have learned from generations of farming. Rafael and KMP are working to promote traditional methods of livestock production that benefit small farmers and increase local food security. This means doing what farmers used to do: raising both crops and animals. In mixed crop--livestock farms, animals and crops are parts of a self-sustaining system. Some farmers in the Philippines raise hogs, chickens, tilapia, and rice on the same farm. The manure from the hogs and chickens is used to fertilize the algae in ponds needed for both tilapia and rice to grow. These farms produce lit tle waste, provide a variety of food for the farm, and give farmers social security when prices for poultry, pork, and rice go down.

The Philippines is not the only country at risk from the spread of factory farms. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Taiwan, and Thailand are all seeing growth in industrial animal production. As regulations controlling air and water pollution from such farms are strengthened in one country, companies simply pack up and move to countries with more lenient rules. Western European nations now have among the strongest environmental regulations in the world; farmers can only apply manure during certain times of the year and they must follow strict controls on how much ammonia is released from their farms. As a result, a number of companies in the Netherlands and Germany are moving their factory farms--but to the United States, not to developing countries. According to a recent report in the Dayton Daily News, cheap land and less restrictive environmental regulations in Ohio are luring European livestock producers to the Midwest. There, dairies with fewer than 700 cows are not required to obtain permits, which would regulate how they control manure But 700 cows can produce a lot of manure. In 2001, five Dutch-owned dairies were cited by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for manure spills. "Until there are international regulations controlling waste from factory farms," says William Weida, director of the Global Reaction Center for the Environment/Spira Factory Farm project, "it is impossible to prevent farms from moving to places with less regulation."

Mauricio Rosales of FAO's Livestock, Environment, and Development Project also stresses the need for siting farms where they will benefit both people and the environment. "Zoning," he says, "is necessary to produce livestock in the most economically viable places, but with the least impact." For instance, when livestock live in urban or peri-urban areas, the potential for nutrient imbalances is high. in rural areas manure can be a valuable resource because it contains nitrogen and phosphorous, which fertilize the soil. In cities, however, manure is a toxic, polluting nuisance.

The triumph of factory farming is not inevitable. In 2001, the World Bank released a new livestock strategy which, in a surprising reversal of its previous commitment to funding of large-scale livestock projects in developing nations, said that as the livestock sector grows "there is a significant danger that the poor are being crowded out, the environment eroded, and global food safety and security threatened." It promised to use a "people-centered approach" to livestock development projects that will reduce poverty, protect environmental sustainability, ensure food security and welfare, and promote animal welfare. This turnaround happened not because of pressure from environmental or animal welfare activists, but because the largescale, intensive animal production methods the Bank once advocated are simply too costly. Past policies drove out smallholders because economies of scale for large units do not internalize the environmental costs of producing meat. The Bank's new strategy includes integrating lives tock--environment interactions in to environmental impact assessments, correcting regulatory distortions that favor large producers, and promoting and developing markets for organic products. These measures are steps in the right direction, but more needs to be done by lending agencies, governments, non-governmental organizations, and individual consumers. Changing the meat economy will require a rethinking of our relationship with livestock and the price we're willing to pay for safe, sustainable, humanely-raised food.

Meat is more than a dietary element, it's a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Reversing the factor)' farm tide will require thinking about farming systems as more than a source of economic wealth. Preserving prosperous family farms and their landscapes and raising healthy, humanely treated animals, should also be viewed as a form of affluence.
Bobby Inocencio believes that the happier his chickens are, the healthier they will be, both on the farm and at the table. Native Filipino chickens are a tough sell commercially, he says, because they typically weigh in at only one kilogram apiece. But Inocencio's chickens are part native and part SASSO (a French breed), and grow to two kilos in just 63 days in a free-range system. They are also better adapted to the climate of the Philippines, unlike white chickens that are more vulnerable to heat. As a result, Inocencio's chickens not only are nutritious, but taste good. Raising white chickens, he says, forced small farmers to become "consumers of a chicken that doesn't taste like anything." Further, his chickens don't contain any antibiotics and are just 5 percent fat, compared to 35 percent in the white chicken. Because they are not raised in the very high densities of factory farms, these chickens actually enrich the environment with their manure. They also provide a reliable source of income for local f armers and give Filipinos a taste of how things used to be.

Danielle Nierenberg is a Staff Researcher at the World watch Institute.


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