Animals Farmed: Coronavirus threat to EU food supplies, America’s beef capital and the ‘anti-meat agenda’


News from around the world

The food and farming industry has called for borders between EU member states to be kept open for goods and produce to avoid food shortages during the coronavirus outbreak. They also called for contingency plans to avoid a lack of migrant labour for harvest and processing roles.

Germany has said it is considering plans to address labour shortages including encouraging workers made unemployed in the catering sector to switch to agricultural jobs. Polish farming unions have urged the government to allow Ukrainians to remain in the country for an extended period to avoid labour shortages in the agri-food sector.

Meanwhile in North America, Canada has said that the estimated 60,000 temporary foreign workers employed by farms and food processing plants would not be prevented from entering the country following the closure of the US border. And the North American Meat Institute has issued a statement to reassure consumers that supply will not be interrupted.

There has been a mixed reaction to reports that Chinese scientists have developed a vaccine against African swine fever. Almost a quarter of the world’s pigs are expected to die from the outbreak, with Chinese authorities having already warned that the country’s pig population was 40% smaller than last year.

The EU agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowsk, criticised intensive pig and beef farming in the EU in a series of tweets. Separately, one of Europe’s largest dairy companies published a report admitting that livestock numbers may need to be cut in Europe to tackle the climate crisis and other “detrimental impacts on the environment”. However, Arla said the negative impacts from livestock production could be addressed, in part, through other means.

Breeding pigs on route from France to China

The US Department of Agriculture has released a backdated record of animal welfare breaches at research labs, breeders, dealers, zoos and other facilities. At a laboratory studying avian diseases, 15 ducks were reportly found dead by a caretaker, apparently of dehydration. The Washington Post has previously reported a decline in the numbers of inspections and violations since 2014, which former USDA employees attributed to a more lenient approach to inspections.

Namibia has become the first African country to export red meat to the US, following two decades of haggling over safety regulations and logistics. The arid southern African nation, known for free-range, hormone-free beef, is set to send 860 tonnes of various beef cuts this year, rising to 5,000 tonnes by 2025.

News from the UK

In the UK, workers involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery have been classified as key workers during the coronavirus outbreak, with schools and nurseries being kept open to provide care for their children.

Meat processing companies and the soft fruits sector have both called for new workers to help plug labour shortfalls. Meanwhile, livestock markets have reported record prices across the UK, driven by fears they may be ordered to shut following the coronavirus outbreak.

Ffion Hooson

I’m 20 years old and farming alone and I am constantly putting a brave hard face on… yet deep down I’m pretty much breaking inside… it’s the most I’ve struggled and no one really understands but I have no choice but to carry on??

February 7, 2020

Mental health and farming has been in the spotlight after February’s flooding across the UK. Twenty-year-old shepherd Ffion Hooson said she had been overwhelmed by offers of help after posting on social media about her own struggles. Isolation and bad weather are compounding the strain for farmers from what the National Farmers’ Union calls an “anti-meat agenda”.

The seven-year policy of culling badgers to control the incidence of tuberculosis in cattle in England is to be phased out. At least 100,000 badgers have been killed since 2013. A review of the culling policy suggested moving towards vaccinating badgers instead. TB in cattle is a severe problem for farmers and taxpayers, leading to the compulsory slaughter of 30,000 cattle every year at a cost of GBP150m.

News from Animals Farmed

Campaigners have called for the suspension of all live animal shipments from Europe, and a restriction to the shortest possible journeys within Europe, over the potential for “deeply worrying” disease spread. Meat slaughterhouses are also reporting staffing issues, which could have significant knock-on effects on meat supplies and farmers.

Cattle feedlot

Photographer George Steinmetz has captured the vast cattle feedlots and slaughterhouses in the Texas Panhandle, a region known as America’s beef capital. Residents across Texas have complained of faecal dust and smell. Matter generated by cattle in feedlots has been identified as a human health hazard, causing respiratory and cardiovascular issues.

Shenzhen is set to become the first city in mainland China to ban the eating of dogs and cats. The Shenzhen government said the potential ban was due to the special relationship between people and pets, which it has called the “consensus of all human civilisation”.

Brazilian meat companies operating in the fragile Amazon rainforest have been under scrutiny for their monitoring practices this month. A media investigation into cows sold to two Brazilian meat companies, JBS and Marfrig, found government sanitation reports that linked the cattle suppliers to farms owned by Valdelir Joao de Souza, who has been charged with ordering a notorious massacre. JBS denied the link and Marfrig did not comment. The industry-wide difficulties with monitoring indirect suppliers are becoming more and more of a problem, and JBS and Marfrig have committed to taking action on the issue.

Meanwhile, nearly 20,000 wildlife farms raising species including peacocks, civet cats, porcupines, ostriches, wild geese and boar have been shut down across China in the wake of the coronavirus. The Covid-19 outbreak is thought to have originated in wildlife sold at a market in Wuhan in early December.

Quote of the month

Professor Katrin Meissner, director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, is one of a number of scientists in Australia who has been writing about the climate crisis. She said:

I feel powerless and, to a certain extent, guilty. I feel like I have failed my duty as a citizen and as a mother because I was not able to communicate the urgency of the situation well enough to trigger meaningful action in time.

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