Animals Farmed: China’s pig critic jailed, rescue sanctuaries and factory farming ban
Welcome to our monthly roundup of the biggest issues in farming and food production, with must-read reports from around the web
News from around the world
More than a million animals reportedly died in flash floods in the Henan province of China. A Reuters report from the village of Wangfan, where most of the 3,000 residents raise pigs or chickens or grow grain, found that at least 200,000 chickens and up to 6,000 pigs – half the village’s herd – had been lost in the floods, the worst in centuries.
A prominent critic of China’s handling of an outbreak of the deadly pig disease African swine fever (ASF) has been jailed. The disease wiped out almost half of China’s pig population and saw prices of the nation’s most popular meat rise to record levels. In 2019, Sun Dawu posted pictures online of hundreds of dead pigs and accused authorities of covering up an outbreak. Meanwhile, ASF has now been reported in Germany and the Americas, after a recent outbreak in the Dominican Republic.
The world’s biggest meat-processing company, JBS, has paid about $540m (GBP460m) for Australia’s biggest farmed salmon company. Analysts said the deal could serve as a trial step towards a major expansion by the firm – which is synonymous with pork, beef and chicken production – into aquaculture, including farmed salmon.
The global meat industry has been accused of downplaying its role in driving the climate crisis. According to the environmental investigations outlet DeSmog, major meat firms are copying tactics used by fossil fuel firms to “confuse and delay regulation” of their activities, including understating their greenhouse gas emissions and attacking established science on how livestock farming is contributing to the climate crisis.
Thousands of racehorses are being sent to slaughterhouses in Britain and Ireland, with rules designed to protect horses from a cruel death appearing to be ignored, according to an investigation. The British Horseracing Authority said it would “consider carefully any issues raised” by the BBC investigation.
A few mega-companies dominate every link of the US food supply chain, a joint investigation by the Guardian and Food & Water Watch has revealed. It says these companies are able to largely dictate what the United States’ 2 million farmers grow and how much they are paid; according to the investigation, only 15 cents of every dollar spent in US supermarkets goes to farmers.
Thousands of farmers in New Zealand have taken part in a protest against new environmental regulations. New Zealand has introduced protections to tackle waterway pollution, biodiversity loss, risky agricultural and industrial practices, and international commitments to reducing carbon emissions. However, the protesters said they were frustrated by the interference in private property rights, climate change policies and unfair costs.
A US senator has introduced a bill to ban factory farming. The New Jersey Democratic senator Cory Booker said the farm system reform bill aimed to “to create a level playing field for independent family farmers and transform the broken system built by multinational meatpacking companies”. However, the US agricultural trade press has hit back at the legislation, with the publisher and general manager of Agweek, Katie Pinke, suggesting it was written “by animal rights activist groups whose intention is to put animal agriculture out of business”.
Berkeley city council in California has become the first local authority in the US to commit to only buying plant-based food. It voted through a resolution to halve its spending on meat, dairy, eggs and all other animal-based foods by 2024 – serving vegan food at public events, prisons, centres for older people and other municipal buildings – with the aim of eventually going entirely plant-based.
News from the UK
The government-commissioned National Food Strategy has recommended a 30% cut in meat consumption within a decade, saying our current appetite is “unsustainable”. It added: “85% of farmland is used to feed livestock [and] we need some of that land back.” The report ruled out a meat tax, instead suggesting “nudges” to behaviour and using plant-based alternatives. Academics said meat and dairy consumption was making it “impossible for us to meet our climate targets”. However, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said a distinction should be made between grass-fed British meat and cheap imports.
The NFU has created a mock weather forecast from the year 2050 to illustrate the impact that climate breakdown could have on Britain’s farming industry. The video predicts drier, hotter summers that could severely impact food production, with farmers and their livestock affected by heat.
Staff absences in factories could lead to shortages of meat products, the British Meat Processors’ Association has warned. A shortage of workers meant some factories were struggling to fill one in six roles even before the “pingdemic”, which has forced between 5% and 10% of the sector’s workforce to self-isolate. Meanwhile, six in 10 small abattoirs in the UK have said they face closure within five years, because of bureaucracy, lost revenue streams and a lack of skilled workers.
Sales of sexed dairy semen – which allow farmers to largely avoid producing unwanted bull calves – have doubled over the past two years and now make up almost two-thirds of sales of dairy semen. Back in 2017, they were only 17%. Conventional semen is now rarely used, because of higher conception rates, consumer pressure on calf slaughter, and industry schemes to raise dairy bulls for beef.
From the Animals farmed series
With a ban on the use of cages in the pig sector becoming ever more likely, farmers fear they will be left carrying the cost of higher welfare options in the face of cheap imports. Speaking to the Guardian, a producer has called for a system of temporary cages where pigs are only confined for 3-4 days after birth to protect piglets from being crushed.
About 1.35m Americans a year fall ill from the salmonella poisoning. Teresa Carr reports on the United States’ deadly problem and why so many people continue to get sick. Chicken and turkey are responsible for about a fifth of infections – more than any other food category – yet the sector has been accused of not doing enough to tackle the problem.
And finally, Erica Buist reported on the vegan activists who have set up sanctuaries across Spain to rescue animals. Previously full of dogs and cats, most of the animals are now pigs, cows, goats and chickens. They are fed and exercised, given medicine if they are sick, rehabilitated if they are injured and – the main privilege denied to most farm animals – allowed to live long lives.
Share your stories and feedback
Thank you to everyone who has shared their views on the series so far. Reader Gerrit Jan Baars writes:
“Why does the Guardian lay most responsibility for raising and feeding practices and the horrific consequences with the farmers, and not with the distributions, the [agricultural] industry and fodder producers especially? Farmers are technically, financially and commercially tied into a system they cannot break up, and politics is not helping. It is up to the media to make this clear.”
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