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The pandemic has shone a light on the ways in which our food system is unsustainable, and abusive towards humans & animals.
Recent news about the global food supply chain amidst the coronavirus pandemic has shocked much of the world, from 265 million people possibly facing starvation to closed meat plants causing empty supermarket shelves. But what the pandemic has exposed about the food system is what scientists have long been warning – our global food supply is so broken, disconnected and insufficient that drastic changes must be made in order to feed the world healthily and sustainably. Here are 10 things that the coronavirus has shed light on.
1. Commercially grown food isn’t easily repurposed
Food that is grown for food service is currently being thrown away, as global F&B businesses continue to be shuttered as a part of coronavirus containment measures. While some may wonder why they aren’t just being transferred to retail – social media has been flooded with images of empty supermarket shelves – it’s an entirely different system to repurpose commercially grown crops that were originally destined for wholesale into prepared and packaged products. And getting it shipped on trucks to grocery stores is another step in the process that is difficult to organise, not to mention expensive. So instead, farmers are now being forced to dispose of millions of pounds of fresh vegetables and fruit into fields and landfills – all the while the World Food Programme warns of widespread famines of “Biblical proportions” in its latest report.
2. Livestock workers are especially vulnerable to Covid-19
What the collapse of the US meat supply chain has revealed is the inherent dangers of work in the animal meat industry. Processors and manufacturers have been prompted to shut down due to a labour shortage caused by rapid outbreaks of Covid-19 amongst employees, who are at greater risk of contracting the disease due to the nature of the work itself, working in close proximity on the job, and low wages that tend to mean living in cramped quarters. We can see similar outbreaks in other poorly paid jobs that mostly employ marginalised communities, such amongst Singapore’s migrant worker population that have borne the brunt of the cases in the city-state.
3. Food and farm workers work in inhumane conditions
From meat packers to fishermen and agricultural farm workers, the pandemic has hailed these food and farm workers as “heroic essential workers” that are keeping the critical food supply chain going. However, they continue to lack the very basic protections they deserve to ensure their workplace safety. Many relief measures and stimulus packages have excluded food workers, leaving many in the sector without any basic personal protective equipment such as face masks and hand sanitisers whilst their working conditions mean that physical distancing is impossible. But putting food and farm workers at greater risk of infection doesn’t just jeopardise their lives and safety – it is threatening food security as a whole and factory worker outbreaks have pushed meat supply chain to breaking point. It is clear that these inhumane conditions and practices must come to an end if we are to ensure the health of the entire food system.
4. Farmers don’t make enough money
On top of this, farmers and food workers tend to continue dangerous work because they have to face an agonising choice between staying at home and going for weeks, potentially months, with no income. Or they can continue working, getting paid around 15 cents on the dollar, and risk infection – no pay for sick leave, no extra pay for hazardous working conditions. Incredibly poorly paid work perpetuates the problem – while they uphold critical food supply chains, the sector employs mainly people from marginalised communities who tend to work in cramped spaces where the chances of spread of the disease are much higher and have little access to affordable healthcare.
5. We are too dependent on carbon-intensive meat
Meat is one of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic, with Tyson Foods’ CEO warning that the meat supply chain is “breaking”. As it so happens, animal-based products are some of the most carbon intensive in the world. Figures from the UN show the animal agriculture industry generates around 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all transportation combined – and uses around 70% of arable land, in the process driving destructive practices such as deliberate deforestation, as well as contributing to biodiversity loss and water pollution. Scientists have reiterated time and time again that in order to avoid total climate collapse, we need to shift to a plant-centric food system. The industry that we are over-reliant on for the world’s source of protein is breaking, and is the very industry that is driving our climate and ecological emergency.
6. Carbon-intensive industrial meat is driving disease
Industrial meat isn’t just driving the climate crisis, it is one of the root causes of disease outbreaks. The world’s top biodiversity and wildlife experts have recently said that it is the combination of “rampant deforestation, uncontrolled expansion of agriculture, intensive farming, mining and infrastructure development, as well as the exploitation of wild species have created a ‘perfect storm’ for the spillover of diseases.” It is all these anthropogenic activities – particularly animal agriculture that has fuelled deforestation and mass biodiversity loss, which we saw earlier happen in the 2019 Amazon rainforest fires, that has increased the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks. Our ever-rising contact with animals over the years has meant that 70% of all emerging human diseases now come from them. If there’s one thing to learn from the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is that we have to change the way our food system produces protein.
7. We rely too much on food imports
In the past years, trade and globalisation has meant that the food trade is more diverse and expansive than ever before. Proteins, produce and grains in one end of the planet can end up in another in a matter of days. But this increased reliance on international trade for our food supply has dramatically decreased countries’ resilience to external shocks such as export bans and interruptions, which we’re currently seeing due to the coronavirus. Places like Singapore and Hong Kong are especially vulnerable as our food supply chain essentially places “all eggs in one basket” with over 90% of food being imported, and now tariffs and travel restrictions are raising concerns about food shortages and price spikes.
8. Investing in urban farms is vital
Coronavirus has shown how inefficient shipping staple fresh produce across thousands of miles from one continent to another. Singapore has quickly realised the need to pivot, and has recently launched a new S$30 million (US$21 million) fund to boost local food production by turning rooftop car parks into urban farms and supporting vertical hydroponic farms. More cities need to start ramping up self-sufficiency by investing in urban farms for locally produced foods that can weather external shocks – whether it be shocks caused by pandemics like the coronavirus or climate-related disasters.
9. We’re wasting a third of all food produced
We still haven’t solved the issue of global hunger, and this issue is getting even more severe due to the Covid-19 crisis, with at least 265 million people being pushed to the brink of starvation, which is double the number of people who were already under threat prior to the pandemic. Yet we waste 30% of all food produced – a number that is likely to be far higher now as farm workers and food manufacturers, as mentioned previously, are having to throw away fresh produce and cull millions of livestock animals due to lockdowns, infection outbreaks and travel restrictions. Food that doesn’t get eaten also represents a massive source of waste – land, water, energy, soil, seeds – all of which contributes at least 10% of global carbon emissions that is accelerating the rate of global heating. The world will need to battle a population of 10 billion by 2050 in a climate-stricken planet – and the coronavirus pandemic is exposing the need to solve these interconnected issues of hunger and food waste.
10. Restaurants have been struggling for a long time, even before coronavirus
Restaurants had been having trouble making money before the pandemic struck. In an op-ed published in the New York Times, renowned chef Gabrielle Hamilton detailed the heartbreaking experience of having to close down her bistro Prune. “The coronavirus did not suddenly shine light on an unknown fragility. We’ve all known, and for a rather long time,” she wrote, referring to the difficulty for the industry to grapple with the market’s demanding “grow or go” tactics, ever-rising costs and the takeover of delivery firms. Restaurants simply weren’t succeeding anymore, they were barely surviving. Owner-chefs who are looking to offer good, honest food in a warm environment can barely make ends meet. The only F&B winners in this margin killing industry are large chains. Is this the food landscape we want?
Original source: https://www.greenqueen.com
Consider the appalling animals abuse, destruction of natural habitats and grim prospects for our health. Intensive agriculture is a seemingly broken system.
Food is big business. Multinational corporations oversee vast production facilities, churning out incredible amounts of food for an ever-growing population, and amassing tremendous profits all the while. Demand for cheaper food, in greater volumes, and with lower production costs are among the confluence of factors that have fuelled the rise of a system of intensive agriculture that dominates much of the world today. But this isn’t how it once was, and it shouldn’t be assumed that intensive farming is the only way to go – or that it is even a way we should go. This article will explore what this farming method really is, what the implications are, and how to evolve beyond it.
What Is Intensive And Extensive Agriculture?
Intensive and extensive agriculture stands in opposition to one another in many ways. Extensive farming refers to systems that use relatively small amounts of inputs, such as human labor, machinery such as tractors, and investment. Fewer inputs are needed to produce yields, since extensive agriculture tends to make use of naturally-occurring resources, such as fertile soil. Pastoral production, where animals are grazed outdoors for their entire lives or are tended to by nomadic farmers – is a type of extensive agriculture, as are operations that favor greater plant and crop diversity.
Now picture a vast, windowless shed crammed with 20,000 chickens, and you will have an image of what intensive agriculture is all about. Gaining popularity in the 20th century, boosted by neoliberal policies particularly in countries like the United States, intensive agriculture has been gradually overtaking more traditional farming methods. Intensive agriculture produces much higher yields per unit of land, requiring land modifications such as clearing forests and relying on huge amounts of inputs, which can include things like fertilizers, chemical pesticides and some might say a great deal of cruelty, particularly when it comes to animal operations.
Types Of Intensive Farming
Intensive farming can be non-industrial, in which human labor is still a significant factor in achieving high yields, or industrial, meaning operations that are largely mechanized. Because of its prevalence within North America, industrial intensive farming will be the focus of this article.
The term livestock refers to those individual animals who have no choice but to endure life on farms. Intensive livestock farming takes place within Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, also known as factory farms, and unfortunately, these are places of great tragedy. Species such as cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep are the usual targets for intensive operations, where they are bred, born, and forced to live drastically shortened lifespans in crowded, highly constrained, and often filthy environments, with many species kept indoors their entire lives. Antibiotics are generally administered to animals throughout their lives in order to stave off diseases to which their chronically-suppressed immune systems would otherwise succumb.
On factory farms in North America, livestock production has become increasingly efficient, with milk production having doubled since 1960, meat production tripled, and egg production quadrupled. This efficiency comes at the expense of the animals and the environment, while few welfare regulations stand in the way.
Monocropping is a defining feature of intensive plant agriculture. Large areas of land are planted with a single species, such as wheat, corn, or soy, with the latter two used heavily in animal feed. The use of synthetic fertilizers allow crops to be grown year after year on soil that becomes more depleted as time goes on; because time is money, fields are not allowed to go fallow, which would allow the soil to naturally replenish the nutrients plants require.
Pesticides are applied liberally, and genetic engineering is also common, where certain traits are cultivated within seeds such as antibiotic or pesticide resistance, and greater yield capabilities. Agriculture corporations acquire patents for genetically modified seeds, with the largest collection belonging to Bayer after it was acquired by Monsanto.
Aquaculture involves the farming of marine animals including fish, algae, and other organisms – even octopus are being considered for intensive farming. These CAFOs can be located in both marine and freshwater environments. Particularly within fish aquaculture operations that are located in bays or estuaries in the ocean, risks of environmental pollution, and the spread of disease such as sea lice to wild populations is a serious concern.
Intensive agriculture has long been touted as a way – and often the only way – to feed growing populations around the globe. Talks of improving “environmental performance” abound as solutions are sought to continue intensive farming. However, one of the most effective and immediate steps that can be taken towards sustainability is for people to curtail the consumption of animal products since these are the most polluting, resource-intensive, and cruelest forms of agriculture. Particularly those in wealthy nations like the United States and New Zealand – two of the highest per-capita consumers of meat – ought to decrease animal product consumption, since consuming animal products can produce negative health outcomes like cardiovascular disease.
What Is An Example Of Intensive Agriculture?
Industrial hog farms can be some of the most heartbreaking, yet also typical, examples of the lengths intensive agriculture will go to produce high yields with minimal investment. Female pigs, called breeding sows, are forcibly impregnated and held in gestation crates, which are metal cages not much bigger than their own bodies. Sows cannot wander anywhere, forever denied the feeling of the grass beneath their feet or sun on their skin. They aren’t able to even turn around for the majority of their lives. After giving birth, they are transferred to farrowing crates that allow the young to suckle, but no other contact with the mother is permitted. The design of these cages means she cannot even bend around to look at her own infants.
After about 17 days, these young are sent to crammed indoor sheds to be fattened up, then sent for slaughter after only 6 months. In the wild, pigs can live upwards of 20 years. Intensive agriculture aims to grow animals as fast as possible in as short a time as possible since it is costly to provide feed. One result of this is that virtually all animals on the plates of North Americans are mere children.
What Are The Characteristics Of Intensive Farming?
Intensive farming is characterized by higher yields wrested from plants, animals, and the earth, motivated by a desire for more product for less money. Money is the objective, and much of it goes funneling into the hands of a very few. Achieving these unnatural results requires high degrees of human manipulation. Huge amounts of agrochemicals, including pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, are applied generously to cropland. Intensive farming also requires high degrees of mechanization, from temperature controls in factory barns, to enormous harvesting tractors – these machines replace what was once done by human labor. Waste lagoons on animal farms and high levels of irrigation in intensive crop cultivation are other characteristics of intensive farming.
Disadvantages Of Intensive Agriculture
In many ways, the disadvantages of intensive farming tend to outweigh benefits, particularly when it comes to animal products since these are not essential for human health (and especially not in the volumes at which they are currently consumed in places like the United States).
One of the most troubling environmental disadvantages to industrial agriculture is its contributions to climate change. Globally, agriculture is one of the largest drivers of anthropogenic climate change, accounting for around twelve percent of total emissions, and nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial crop production hampers the ability of soil to act as a carbon sequester, ultimately turning it into a carbon emitter. Animal agriculture (most of which is raised intensively) accounts for large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, including 37% of all methane emissions and 65% of nitrous oxide.
Beyond climatic concerns, intensive agriculture produces vast amounts of pollution. Some of the largest dairy farms in the United States can have more than 15,000 cows, producing more waste than can be used as fertilizer on surrounding fields, meaning that much of it collects in open waste lagoons. These pose serious pollution risks to ground and surface water, considering that a farm with only 200 cows can produce as much nitrogen as a community of up to 10,000 people. Runoff from such farms can cause algae blooms, which can devastate freshwater, brackish, and saltwater ecosystems.
Poor Living Conditions And Hygiene For Livestock
Animals caught up within intensive agriculture operations – and there are billions of them around the world at any given time – are undoubtedly the most drastically impacted by the rise of factory farms. Egg-laying hens are crammed into battery cages and debeaked in order to prevent them from killing one another in such close confines, while male chicks – who are considered useless in egg production – are ground up alive by the millions. Battery cages are stacked upon one another, with feces falling through the grates onto other birds. Cows on feedlots and in dairy operations are forced to stand in their own excrement day after day. The abuses seem endless and are not curtailed by federal anti-cruelty legislation in the United States, since the Animal Welfare Act, as well as similar legislation in many states, exempt farmed animals from consideration. Instead, this suffering is considered “necessary” – much to the convenience of companies profiting from their bodies.
Excessive Use Of Agro-Chemicals
Agro-chemicals are products such as pesticides (for insect and rodent control), fungicides (fungus and mold elimination), herbicides (to remove unwanted plants from fields), and fertilizers including nitrogen and phosphorus. Each of these products has deleterious effects on environmental and human health. For example, nitrogen is applied as a fertilizer to crops in order to compensate for depleted soils, caused by intensive production in the first place. This vicious cycle causes large amounts of nitrogen to seep into groundwater and surface waters, which can cause serious diseases such as methemoglobinemia, which affects hemoglobin iron in the blood and can lead to hypoxemia and death. High levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in freshwater and marine ecosystems can cause algal blooms which can be lethal to aquatic life, sometimes clogging up the gills of fish, or causing others to essentially suffocate due to a lack of oxygen in water.
Deforestation is an unfortunately common issue within intensive agriculture. One high-profile example comes from palm oil plantations, which have been running roughshod over the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia for years. The palm oil fruit contains a highly versatile oil, used in many products for sale in North American including ice cream, cookies, and shampoo. Massive swaths of forests have been burned and cleared to make way for palm oil monocrops, violating indigenous people’s rights and pushing iconic species such as the orangutan to the brink of extinction.
Risks On Human Health
Industrial agriculture operations pose serious threats to human health, particularly to those who live within close proximity to these places, and even those who are downstream. Generally, CAFOs are placed within or adjacent to low-income communities and communities of color, the latter constituting an example of environmental racism deployed by agriculture corporations under the presumption that these communities have fewer avenues for refusal or resource.
Higher Risks Of Cancer And Birth Defects
The risks of cancer and birth defects for those working on intensive agriculture operations have been documented for many years. Despite this, agriculture companies have largely ignored warnings and scientific evidence calling for certain products not to be used. Bayer, which acquired the notorious pesticide company Monsanto in 2018, has been the target of lawsuits alleging that glyphosate, an ingredient in its popular weed killer called Roundup, is carcinogenic. Claimants in these lawsuits are said to number around 75,000 individuals as of 2020, with charges that Roundup caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other diseases.
The risks don’t end with Roundup, however. In 2007 a study was conducted on men and women who work in greenhouses, finding increased risks for spontaneous abortions and prolonged time-to-pregnancy periods. Another study looked at pregnant women living within 500 meters of crops sprayed with pesticides, finding elevated instances of defects, including congenital heart and musculoskeletal. Regarding animal operations, male workers were found to be at greater risk of a variety of illnesses: on sheep farms, the prevalence of multiple myeloma was observed; poultry farms raised risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and colon cancer.
The Use Of Chemical Hormones In Food
Chemical hormones are often used in industrial agriculture in order to maximize yields. One of the most well-known is Bovine somatotropin, or bovine growth hormone, which is used to increase milk production in lactating cows. Although approved by the FDA, the hormone has been linked with increased instances of infections, lameness and other ailments in cows, and potentially to cancer development and other disorders in humans.
Possibility Of Poor-Quality Food Products
Due to depleted soils caused by intensive agriculture, produce, grains and other crops can wind up with less robust nutrient profiles than their counterparts raised organically or using extensive farming practices. Biofortification – whereby nutrients are added back into food before it is consumed by humans – is seen as a solution by some, however, others view it as being more of a bandaid approach, unsustainable in its own right.
Traditional Farmers Are Unable To Compete
In the United States, intensive agriculture corporations tend to be vertically integrated, freeing them from setting prices for their products that are determined by supply and demand, such as traditional farmers are forced to. This enables intensive operations to undercut smaller farms and eventually force them out of the market. Combined with the significant financial and political cloud multinational agricultural corporations have, fewer traditional farmers than ever are able to compete.
Intensive Farming Facts
- The number of industrial farms increased by 230 percent from 1982 to 2002, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
- Only four companies in the United States produce 81% of cows, 73% of sheep, 50% of chickens, and 60% of hogs that are consumed in the country.
- Between 1990 and 2015, pesticide use worldwide has increased by 73%.
Intensive Farming Alternatives
One of the biggest questions when it comes to intensive farming is whether another way is possible. Some argue intensive ag is absolutely necessary to feed constantly growing populations. However, there exist many viable alternatives to industrial agriculture.
Agroecology is a promising framework, bringing naturally-occurring ecological processes to bear on farming techniques. Strengthening local economies and supporting small-scale farmers are also promising avenues that can be explored. These solutions tend to require far fewer agrochemicals and emit less greenhouse gas emissions.
Intensive agriculture may be efficient, but it comes at great cost to humans, animals, and the environment. Multinational corporations have pushed the earth and animals to the limits, in pursuit of ever-soaring profits.
Yet this system is unstable and ultimately unsustainable. Extensive farming, and other such alternatives, can be viable options, especially if dietary habits are changed, and fewer animal products are consumed in wealthy nations.
The future generations of individuals on this planet are owed an exploration of alternatives before it is too late.
Original source: https://sentientmedia.org
The impact of deforestation has often seemed distant enough to ignore, but the COVID-19 outbreak is a warning of what’s to come if we don’t save the forests.
When veterinarian Prof Alessandra Nava first learnt of a new respiratory disease killing people in China, the initial cases linked to a Wuhan wet market, she felt a chill of inevitability.
“It gave me that cold feeling in my stomach,” she said. “It was the realization that what we had been expecting had actually happened.”
As a part of a team set up by Fiocruz Amazônia to create a “Biobank”, she spends most of her days, when she is not self-isolating, sampling and studying bodily fluids from bats, rats, and primates. Her team, which also includes more vets, biologists and a geneticist, is trying to build up a library of viruses circulating in the Amazon in a bid to forestall a similar outbreak here.
As it became clear the virus was something new, and rippling effortlessly across international borders, chatter started up between the web of scientists – epidemiologists, ecologists, biologists, geneticists, vets – who work on the intersection between human and animal health,
“We said, ‘look at it … it’s arrived,’” she said. “We saw it coming. We expected a pandemic like this.”
A growing body of research suggests that, rather than deadly pathogens lying in wait for an opportune encounter with humans, the spillover of zoonotic viruses – like Nipah, Swine ‘Flu, Ebola and, now, Covid-19, amongst many others – are often triggered by human destruction and exploitation of wildlife-rich habitats.
Where you have a huge biodiverse zone and an encroaching human footprint, you have all the ingredients for a virus spillover recipe
And as a tropical forest with high mammalian diversity facing rapid deforestation, some experts say the Amazon is particularly at risk.
“In a forest, you have natural reservoirs, you have hosts for viruses, for these kinds of pathogens. When we disrupt that, you can see the emergence of new infectious diseases,” said Nava, who lives in Manaus, a city at the heart of the Amazon rainforest.
Various outbreaks of diseases have been linked to deforestation, some of which bear a troubling likeness to the Amazon today. Take the first known outbreak of the Nipah virus in Malaysia in 1998: smog from Indonesian forest fires had reached Malaysia and forced fruit bats, the virus’s natural host, to seek food in mango farms. Nipah crossed over to the pigs that also ate the mangos, probably in bat saliva or urine. Next, it made the leap to farmers, causing hundreds of deaths from rapid encephalitis, with a terrifying mortality rate of 40 per cent.
Deforestation in the Amazon reached its highest rate in a decade last year, as fires set to clear land burnt so fiercely that at one point they turned the 1,000-mile distant skies of São Paulo as dark as night. Loggers and encroaching cattle ranchers burn up pristine forest, overgraze the pasture, then sell the land to monoculture soy farmers and move on, penetrating deeper into the jungle. On the Amazon river’s snaking tributaries, gold miners fell trees for landing strips and roads, dredge river beds and hunt bushmeat. They throw up informal settlements without sanitation or plumbing, where rain barrels and abandoned tyres provide breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Growing cities are attracting migrants from the countryside and swallowing up more jungle too. In 2018 informal settlements expanded into previously uninhabited land around Manaus roughly every 11 days. Diseases originating in animals go by the name “zoonotic” and Brazil already has many. Chikungunya, dengue fever, yellow fever, Zika, hantavirus, leptospirosis, leishmaniasis – to name only a few – already cause hundreds of deaths a year and pose a huge burden to the public health system. In Manaus, it is threatening to buckle under the additional strain of Covid-19 cases.
“Where you have a huge biodiverse zone, the Amazon, and then you have an encroaching human footprint, through urbanisation, road networks, deforestation, extractive industries like logging and mining, you have all of the ingredients for a virus spillover recipe,” said David Wolking, Senior Manager of the One Health Institute at the University of California, Davis and an expert on the interface of human and animal health.
Wolking was also global operations manager for USAID’s PREDICT project, which, between 2009 and 2019 performed a similar function to the Biobank, but on a global scale. Wolking and his team collected samples from over 164,000 animals and people and found more than 1,000 new viruses. These included a new Ebola virus, Bombali, in West Africa, and the lethal Marburg virus in bats in Sierra Leone, far further west than it had ever been detected before.
The project completed field-based surveillance and lab activities around the world last autumn, a couple of months before the first case of Covid-19 emerged in Wuhan, though PREDICT did receive a six month extension in March 2020 to provide emergency support for Covid-19 response efforts.
Ecology of disease
The crux of the theory known as the “ecology of disease” holds that increasing encroachment into biodiverse ecosystems creates situations where species interact with humans in novel, intimate and ultimately dangerous ways.
According to Dr Thomas Gillespie, disease ecologist at Emory University’s Global Health Institute, there is now scientific consensus that these human-induced changes are making the situation worse.
“Zoonotic diseases are hard to predict and many ecological and evolutionary factors play a role,” he said. “Nevertheless, scientists agree that human-induced land-use changes and wildlife hunting/trade are key drivers.”
“The clearance of forests for crops and livestock, including but not limited to industrialized production, and extractive industry actions like mining and logging can negatively impact the environment, creating a cascade of factors that facilitates the emergence and spread of diseases.”
We are breaking down the forest into small pockets, we are pushing species in different ways
The data supports this too: scientists studying the zoonotic infectious diseases that have emerged since 1940, found that land use change was the most important primary driver. It was linked to 31% of the viral spillover events studied, with agricultural industry changes linked to a further 15%.
But Gillespie adds that: “human alterations do not always have negative health impacts. It is usually a combination of factors that lead to the emergence of infectious diseases. For example, deforestation in combination with hunting for bushmeat or converting deforested lands into human settlements.”
Much of the analysis around the emergence of Covid-19 has focused on the wet market in Wuhan – with animals that might never meet in the wild packed tightly together in unsanitary conditions and subsequently eaten, it may have provided the perfect crucible for viruses to multiply, shed and jump species.
But more broadly, land-use change, particularly of tropical, biodiverse forests, is key, said Dr Carlos Zambrana-Torrelio, associated vice president for conservation at EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit studying what they believe to be an increasingly porous relationship between human and ecosystem health.
“If you imagine continuous forests like the Amazon basin, the process of development, of changing them into croplands, produces fragments across the landscape,” he told Unearthed. “We are breaking down the forest into small pockets, we are pushing species in different ways.”
Fragmentation allows some wild animals with a history of passing on disease, like rodents and some bat and primate species, to thrive and multiply; others, like the Malaysian fruit bats, might be forced closer to humans in search of food. Others might find that their new neighbours offer an easy meal: Nipah outbreaks in Bangladesh have been caused by bats drinking from containers collecting date palm sap.
“If we are offering them food, the numbers will increase, but also there are more humans working there, so we have more exposure to wildlife,” said Zambrana-Torrelio, adding that EcoHealth Alliance was currently exploring this link in Liberia, where the fruit from palm oil plantations is thought to attract rats responsible for Lassa fever outbreaks.
Bats and rats
A study released this month by the One Health Institute showed that the species – rodents, some primates and bats – that flourish in these conditions are more likely to host diseases that spill over to humans. It also showed that, at the other end of the spectrum, so are animals whose population declines were directly connected to hunting, wildlife trade and habitat encroachment. They host twice as many zoonotic viruses compared to species that are in decline for other reasons.
However, the notion that particular species – such as bats, rats and primates which have donated the most pathogens to humans in the past – are naturally more suitable as pathogen reservoirs than others is controversial in the scientific community.
“Bats and primates are disproportionately likely sources of viral spillover to humans,” said Gillespie, “due to their phylogenetic similarity and unique immune-metabolic dynamic respectively”. That’s the similarities in the evolutionary histories of their relationships with other organisms, and the relationship between their immune and metabolic systems.
But Dr Kris Murray, an ecologist at Imperial College’s School of Public Health and MRC Global Infectious Disease Unit the Gambia, said that: “A lot of people believe bats and rats and primates are a particular risk of spillover to people but actually I think that’s probably wrong. If you look more closely at the association between pathogens and hosts you don’t see a particular role for bats or rodents – it’s simply a function of the number of species.”
That is to say, there are many many different types of bats – and many bats – so more diseases are likely to come from that family.
And when it comes to primates, their association with zoonotic spillover events may be more to do with their vulnerability to hunting and land-use change than it is to do with genetics and immunity.
Mosquitos and mammals
Deforestation also benefits some disease vectors – an animal that can act as an intermediary host – like mosquitoes.
“There are two easy ways for a pathogen to get into a human, one is by a biting insect, because it breaches the skin, and the other is by eating it,” said Bennett.
Working in the Peruvian Amazon in the late 1990s, epidemiologist Dr Amy Vittor at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute showed that the larvae of the Amazon’s main malaria vector Anopheles darlingi flourish in the dappled water pools found along the edges of roads penetrating forests and the patchy deforestation that springs up alongside them.
In Borneo, a 2016 study linked a spike in cases of a type of malaria normally found in macaques (monkeys) with rapid deforestation in the region. Researchers determined that monkeys were huddling with increasing density in the remaining fragments of forest. Mosquitoes were proliferating on the margins, feeding on the macaques, then passing the disease to people working on adjacent new palm plantations. In Brazil, increased urbanisation and deforestation have been linked to higher rates of hantavirus, leptospirosis, Zika and yellow fever.
There are other effects too, said Zambrana-Torrelio, including some we don’t fully understand yet. Skittish predators that ordinarily keep reservoir species in check, like jaguars, might flee entirely. Large herbivores like capybaras which usually affect the structure of vegetation, crushing plants and eating seeds, might be hunted to the point of local extinction, causing further ripples of unpredictable change.
“Around these fragments are livestock, or croplands, or some other kind of human activity, and humans get more exposed,” Zambrana-Torrelio added. “It becomes a different forest, with different resources.”
It’s a catastrophe. I think five or ten years from now, we can expect a new disease coming from our mistakes
Climate change can also affect the spread of both disease vectors and hosts, enabling them to expand into new areas. A paper published in 2013 predicts that by 2050, there will be a significant increase in the range of the potential habitat for the bat species known to host henipaviruses in western Africa, India and northern Australia.
Zoonotic diseases are increasing in impact – a 2017 paper co-authored by Zambrana-Torrelio and Murray states that emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) “of wildlife origin, which are responsible for nearly all recent pandemics (e.g., Ebola, MERS), constitute the majority of the high impact EIDs from the last few decades, and are a significantly growing proportion of all EIDs combined.”
But scientists admit it can be difficult to parse a perceived increase from improved diagnostics and the exponential growth in our interconnectedness; new diseases can spread far faster and further than they could before.
“Certainly [new diseases] are becoming ever increasingly important because we’re so joined up,” said Professor Malcom Bennett, an expert in zoonotic and emerging disease at the University of Nottingham. We can assume, Bennett said, that “things used to jump across from a nonhuman animal into a human animal and then… peter out. Now, because everyone is joined up not just locally and regionally but nationally and internationally, if something can infect people and can be passed from one person to another there are far more opportunities for that to happen.”
Indeed, Murray pointed out, “One hundred years ago, because there was no airline network to speak of, Covid could have just affected a much smaller community because there was much less ability to facilitate the spread of that around the world – although we know from past influenza pandemics it is still possible.”
The Biobank was set up in Manaus in 2015. The team targets different parts of Amazonas – the largest state in the Amazon – with different degrees of degradation. They trap rodents, bats and primates, take anal and oral swabs, and samples of feces, blood and urine, then release the animals back into the wild.
The programme is already producing interesting results: The team have been studying corona viruses in Amazonian bats and found that bats in pristine areas of the forest had fewer viruses than those in areas with human development.
“We found less viral diversity and fewer “positive” bats for viruses in pristine areas compared to anthropized areas,” Nava said. “In the anthropized areas, [where the bats had] greater contact with domestic animals and people, the bats sampled had greater viral diversity and a greater number of positives for some viruses.”
Similarly, Wolking said that some of the data gathered during the PREDICT project appeared to suggest that viral spillover events may potentially happen with less frequency from wildlife communities within forests, because virus shedding is less in healthy animals in their natural habitat when they are not stressed.
“In the forest when animals are living the way they live, they are healthy…maybe they are not shedding viruses in the same way as they are once they are trapped, and put in a cage and transported and thrown into a market, where an animal is obviously freaked out and stressed and its biology can go into hyperdrive,” Wolking said.
A forest under siege
Brazil was already at risk, but the stakes have become significantly higher since the election of Bolsonaro, Nava said. The right-wing populist, who speaks openly of his desire to open up the Amazon to mining and agribusiness interests, has made no secret of his contempt for conservation efforts, which he sees as a needless brake on GDP growth. Deforestation alerts for the first three months of the year were fifty percent higher than last year, and at their highest levels since the monitoring programme began five years ago. An area roughly the size of New York City was lost in those three months alone.
“It’s a catastrophe,” Nava said. “I think soon – five years or ten years from now – we can expect a new disease coming from our mistakes… We have an environmental politics that is allowing the forest to be destroyed.”
Sources within ICMBio and IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agencies, told Unearthed last year that the Bolsonaro administration was deliberately weakening and defunding their agencies, while land-grabbers, ranchers and miners pushed into protected areas with impunity.
The fires that blazed through the Amazon last year will only contribute to this dangerous phenomenon. As with the Nipah virus, these fires destroy the habitat and food sources of wild animals, driving them into greater contact with human settlements and farms.
The fires also cause feedback loops, setting in motion destructive cycles that produce conditions conducive to more fires. When the rainforest’s protective canopy is lost, the forest floor is exposed to intense tropical sun, drying out and losing resilience to blazes. Smoke hanging in the atmosphere can suppress rainfall, while trees lost in the fires no longer help water condense and produce more rain. A study released earlier this year showed how wildfires like last year’s inhibit the forest’s capacity to pull carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change and in turn making droughts and fires even more likely.
It’s a really complex social issue. Developing some kind of way of doing sustainable business is really essential
Meanwhile, fire smoke has caused respiratory disease spikes in indigenous communities, weakening resistance to some viruses. Recent research suggests this may well include COVID 19. Climate change can itself trigger disease flare-ups – droughts in Brazil cause Chikungunya virus to spread because mosquito larvae breed in barrels used to store water – or make populations vulnerable to existing diseases. Last year Georgetown University researchers estimated that, thanks to a warming world, as many as a billion people could be newly exposed to disease-carrying mosquitoes by the end of the century.
Biodiversity loss is inevitable with this deforestation, creating further risk through something ecologists call the dilution effect. The theory, according to Bennett, posits that where some species are more vulnerable to infection than others, higher biodiversity means there’s a lower chance of a susceptible host being infected.
“In North America you are much more likely to get infected with West Nile Virus if you live in the suburbs than in the forest,” he said. Some ecologists think this is “because there are fewer bird species, so a greater proportion of them are able to maintain the virus.”
Agriculture and live-stock farming in deforested regions also plays a key role.
Most of the livestock in the Amazon are cattle, not pigs, which have a biochemistry and DNA that is singularly similar to ours. But that doesn’t mean cows pose no risk. Researchers believe that the measles virus probably jumped into humans from cattle thousands of years ago, when they were first domesticated, and Rift Valley Fever in Africa is predominantly found in cattle but can be passed to humans via mosquitoes.
The scale of agriculture makes a difference, too – monocultures, be they soy or swine, are always more vulnerable to disease. Nipah had probably been in pigs before; but in the 80s and 90s an economic boom in Asia had created high demand for pork. Small-holdings transformed into crowded, industrial-scale piggeries. Viruses thrived in these conditions, proliferating easily, amplifying and then jumping to humans with terrifying lethality.
The way we assess the risks of big industry in biodiverse environments has to change, Gillespie argued.
“Far too often, commercial activities that require large-scale land-use change levy tremendous costs that are not considered in cost:benefit analyses because the costs are not shouldered by those profiting. For a future with lower risks of disease spillover, we need to incorporate such negative externalities into the decision-making process.
The paradox is that we’re very risk averse but irrational in risk assessment. We prize gross domestic product (GDP) and ever-growing economies without acknowledging that unsustainable exploitation of natural resources has become the norm and that natural capital dwarfs our human economies.”
Even so, the risk from big commerce doesn’t negate the risk from smallholdings in some areas, said Dr Pranav Pandit, co-author of the One Health Institute study.
We are completely dependent on nature and have made our future vulnerable
“Backyard livestock farming in the rural areas of [developing] countries are also important interfaces. Generally, these are pastoral people having their animals – poultry, a few goats, cows – just in the backyard of their houses. These are the people who tend to interact more with animals.”
“It’s a really complex social issue. Any change we need to really involve stakeholders including the community itself. Any industry or any development is going to bring in some kind of economic development to the community people. Developing some kind of way of doing sustainable business is really essential.”
Either way, it is a mistake to think of viruses or bacteria as having agency; no matter how aggressive and malign their effects may appear to us, they are dependent on a host, Wolking pointed out.
“Viruses don’t really look for new hosts to infect,” Wolking said. “They just look for the ability to enter a cell to replicate.”
A virus may have evolved within the microbiome of a single host species and existed there peacefully for millenia, without necessarily causing its host any problems. A truly successful virus won’t kill its host, because then it can no longer successfully replicate inside that host. But when we transform a habitat within which the animal has adapted over millennia, we are accelerating evolution.
“We are completely dependent on nature and have made our future vulnerable”, said Gillespie. “However, this process continues unfettered because the consequences are far in the future and we tend to discount the risk.
“Four months ago, pandemics did not feel like an urgent issue, people did not feel vulnerable. Now the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people – it’s affecting the stock market, their quality of life, their health, and their loved ones – now this feels urgent, now they feel vulnerable.
“It’s in moments like this that real change can happen. The key is ensuring that this crisis catalyzes societal and environmental solutions instead of reinforcing entrenched irrationality.”
Original source: https://unearthed.greenpeace.org
The pork industry is one of the most exploitative and abusive as pig farming ensures a miserable existence for the animals involved. Here are the raw facts.
Pigs are highly intelligent, social creatures that deserve compassion and respect. They don’t deserve to spend their short lives confined to atrocious conditions waiting for imminent slaughter.
Pig farming holds many heinous secrets that the pork industry never wants you to hear about.
That’s why it is so difficult to access pig farms to take a look at what’s happening behind the scenes. They simply don’t want you to witness what happens to the millions of pigs that are taken to slaughterhouses to be killed each year.
In fact, there are many ag-gag laws in place to ensure that what is happening behind the walls (and barbwire-laden fences) of pig farms is known by as few people as possible.
Pigs are highly intelligent animals that are remarkably cognizant of their surroundings, and thus, their suffering.
According to neuroscientist Lori Marino of the Nonhuman Rights Project, it’s been shown that “pigs share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans.”
Pigs are so smart, in fact, that they can recognize other pigs they already know (as opposed to pig “strangers”). They can also form long-term memories and they know which people have treated them well and which haven’t.
The latter point is particularly disheartening considering the amount of abuse that takes place on pig farms all around the globe.
Questioning the Narrative
How do we let things like this happen?
How are people able to continue eating pork (and meat in general) when this isn’t an exception to the rule but standard practice in countless farms around the world?
And why does one story like this get so much coverage while others don’t?
Is seeing a piglet getting its head smashed against the wall really the bar that society has set when it comes to what’s acceptable and what isn’t with animal abuse?
Marketing Makes Pig Farming Look So Humane
First off, there is no such thing as “humane” slaughter.
It’s an oxymoron at best. At worst, it’s extremely misleading marketing that allows for dishonest and deceitful labeling.
It’s similar to labeling chickens “free range” because they have “access” to a small hole in the side of a CAFO.
The food industry wants to deceive you. Think about cereal boxes (morning candy) and how much they talk about health and nutrition.
But when it comes to pig farming and the pork industry, the lies have much more serious consequences.
121 million dead pigs to be exact.
But, The Truth is Far From Right
And if that number isn’t scary enough for you, that’s just in the US alone.
Not a single one of those pigs were killed in a humane way because such a way doesn’t exist.
Is it possible that some lived better lives than others? Absolutely.
The ones that were raised on small family farms clearly had it better than those raised on factory farms. But their story still ended the same way.
What is Pig Farming?
Pig farming is the breeding and raising of pigs with the purpose of harvesting their meat and skin for human consumption and use.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, there are just under one billion (986M) pigs alive in the world today living on pig farms.
97% of pigs raised in the United States are confined (and eventually slaughtered) on factory farms.
According to Barry Estabrook, the author of Pigtales, “[The pigs] never see the light of day. They never set foot on anything but a bare, hard floor. They breathe that poisoned air 24/7.”
The United States is third behind only China and the European Union in pork production at 12,166 metric tons in 2018.
And while the US is producing pork at such high rates, take a look at how much is being exported:
So beyond the horrifying details about pig farming that we will discuss in a moment, the food industry is shipping most of the supply abroad, leading to higher rates of food insecurity in the US.
Pig farming supplies the food industry with common products like bacon, sausage, pork chops, salami, ham, and bologna.
These are the products you hear about the most. They are the products most likely to be imitated by plant-based substitutes.
However, gelatin is also made from leftover pig parts and is used in numerous different food products. Many of these products would never be thought of as vegan by those not paying attention. Many candies, ice cream, marshmallows, and jello products contain gelatin.
Pig farming also uses the skin and bladders of pigs in order to create leather products like shoes, footballs, purses, belts, and other accessories. Pigskin is considered “Genuine Leather”
The truth about pig farming and the atrocities that occur behind the sc on labels.
Discover The Truth About Pig Farmingenes might not surprise you.
If you are part of the animal rights movement in any way, you already know about factory farming. You are already aware that there are horrible living conditions and abuse that run rampant.
But what about the details? What nuances occur on pig farms that might be different on dairy farms or poultry farms?
So how are pigs treated on pork farms?
Mother Pigs (Sows) Confined to “Gestation Crates”
Gestation crates confine mother pigs to a lifetime of immobility and discomfort.
The crates are designed to keep the sows still while pregnant. The sow can wiggle a few inches forward or backward but turning around is impossible.
Sows will spend almost all of their lives pressed between iron. They spent the entirety of their pregnancy behind bars before being moved to farrowing crates.
There, they will nurse their young for very little time before the piglets are torn away. The babies will never see their mothers again. Once separated, the mothers will return to the gestation crates to relive the nightmare over and over again.
This horrifying process lasts for upwards of six gestation periods (on average). She is then deemed unable to continue and is slaughtered.
The pork industry vehemently argues that the crates are comfortable and keep the mother pigs safe. Animal rights activists know better.
Pressure from animal rights groups has definitely helped the cause.
Cargill, one of the largest pork producers in the US, succumbed to public outrage and phased out gestation crates altogether. They opted for “group house” for pregnant sows. While it is an improvement, many pig farmers still use gestation crates and will continue doing so.
After the gestation crate comes the only other space the sow will ever know before slaughter.
After Giving Birth They Are Moved to “Farrowing Crates”
About a week before the mother pig is about to give birth things get even worse for them.
The mother pig is moved from the gestation crate to the farrowing crate. Shockingly, the farrowing crate is even smaller than the gestation crate.
Farrowing crates are typically housed in farrowing sheds where countless mother pigs are confined waiting to give birth.
Factory farms typically squeeze as many farrowing crates into the shed as possible. The idea, as usual, is to maximize space and maximize profits.
Farrowing crates were introduced in the 60s in an effort to try and protect piglets from being crushed by their mothers. While the thought behind the creation was in the right place, the execution lagged in the compassion department.
While the purpose of the crates is to save the piglets, activists have uncovered many cases of piglet mortality due to poor living conditions.
The mother pig will stay in the farrowing crate for approximately four weeks before losing her babies. This will happen twice per year.
Sows Are Impregnated As Soon As Separated From Her Babies
Once the mother pig has her babies taken away, she is removed from the farrowing crate and immediately impregnated. This happens about one week after giving birth and losing her offspring.
This process happens through artificial insemination. Then it’s back to the gestation crate again.
On average, a pig’s litter will consist of 10-12 piglets. If the average sow goes through the gestation cycle 6 times, they will have anywhere between 60-72 babies before being sent to slaughter.
Remember, pigs are highly social animals and are cognizant of their relationships.
In nature, a mother pig will search for miles to find the perfect nesting spot for their young. They search high and low for a safe place to raise their piglets. Their maternal instinct is strong and they suffer greatly when separated from their young.
To continually put a mother pig through this amounts to unfathomable cruelty.
Piglets Are Separated From Their Mothers Very Young
A lot of the time, the piglets are taken away in poor health.
Many piglets aren’t able to get the nutrients they need as they are weaned from their mothers very young. They are typically separated at 21 days of age. Naturally, a piglet would be fully weaned from her mother between 12 and 14 weeks.
Beyond the issue of early separation, many sows suffer from Postpartum Dysgalactia Syndrome (PPDS).
There’s a series of different potential causes for PPDS. Almost all of the causes are related to the living conditions and treatment on factory farms.
Piglets Are Castrated Without Any Anesthesia
The pork industry and pig farmers choose to castrate pigs for different reasons.
Because factory farming is all about efficiency, unwanted pregnancies and an increase in population can cause problems. Factory farms are practically overflowing with livestock as is. An uncontrolled population can make conditions even worse and help spread more disease.
Other reasons why pig farmers choose to castrate is to prevent boar taint in their meat production.
The main reason comes down to control and efficiency. The pork industry is a business and pig farmers want their bottom line to be protected. They don’t see their pigs as sentient beings, rather pegs in the profit-generating machine.
While there are benefits to castrating pigs on factory farms, there is no reason to do it inhumanely.
Mercy for Animals has documented “workers ripping out the testicles of conscious piglets with the use of painkillers.”
Painkillers are not meant to be used as an anesthetic.
In Europe, the Brussels Declaration was put forth to phase out castration without painkillers by 2012 and surgical castration altogether by January 1, 2018. Neither deadline was hit.
Germany has pledged to only castrate piglets proper anesthesia starting in 2019. Only time will tell if they follow through on that promise. If so, it’s a step in the right direction of unnecessary suffering.
However, pig farming is producing a record amount of pork and as populations grow, so will production.
Animal-free farming and clean meat are the only solutions in the foreseeable future.
Problems Caused by Common Pig Farming Practices
Human animals will never know the extent to which non-human animals suffer.
The disconnect that has stemmed from years of urbanization and food industry marketing has made us numb. Only few can truly accept the idea that all animals have the ability to truly suffer.
There are many problems that stem from a lifestyle of confinement, abuse, and imminent slaughter.
And some of these problems lead to ill-planned and reckless solutions, perpetuated the suffering the pigs face.
Supermarket behemoth Tesco made headlines in 2018 when shocking footage surfaced at a pig farm in England that supplies some of their pork products.
Viva!, an animal welfare group, reported acts of cannibalism due to extreme stress. Cannabilism is not inherent of pigs in nature.
The images were so graphic that most media outlets, including The Daily Mail and some animal rights sites, refused to publish them. We are taking the same route as well as not to distress our readers any further.
Aside from the pigs being cannibalized on this farm, there was news almost as shocking from the same report.
Red Tractor is a seal of approval granted to companies for upholding top-notch farming standards. Their motto is Traceable, Safe, and Farmed With Care.
Hogwood Pig Farm, where Viva! reported pigs being cannibalized, boasts the Red Tractor seal of approval.
What does this say about Red Tractor and the farms that don’t have the seal?
One disturbing behavior found on pig farms and not in nature is tail biting.
Overcrowding and poor living conditions are just some of the factors at play with this abnormal behavior.
The problems with tail biting (and the similar ear biting) go beyond the pain and discomfort. When pigs bite each other’s tails in order to deal with their stressful environment, there can be dire consequences.
Injury and infection just scratch the surface when it comes to what pigs are experiencing when their tails are bitten.
Beyond injury, paralysis or carcass condemnation from spinal abscesses are commonplace on pig farms.
The process of cutting off a pig’s tail in order to prevent tail biting is called tail docking.
Tail docking is performed without anesthesia during the first week of the piglet’s life. Beyond the obvious pain and trauma, the side effects of tail docking in the long term have yet to been studied thoroughly. Acute psychological and behavioral impacts have been observed in the pigs that go through the tail docking process.
The main issue, however, isn’t being addressed.
The pork industry and pig farmers are looking to put a band-aid on a broken leg and avoid the real problem at hand. Factory farming is the issue and it can’t be sidestepped by quick fixes.
Tooth Clipping of Piglets to Avoid Biting
Cutting down the teeth of piglets is another ill-concocted, dangerous way of avoiding tail biting.
Some potential side effects of include gum and tongue injuries, abscesses of the teeth, and inflammation.
One study revealed that “both clipping and grinding induce lesions such as pulp cavity opening, fracture, hemorrhage, infiltration or abscess, and osteodentine formation.”
While the intention of clipping the teeth of piglets are to prevent future injuries to the sow and other pigs, again we see that the system in place is the problem and simple workarounds won’t fix the real problems at hand.
Diseases run rampant in pig farming operations. The more animals on site, the more likely it is to have diseases spread around.
On factory farms, pumping pigs full of antibiotics is one of the only ways to avoid the spread of illness. Sick pigs to a farmer equate to more work and a bite out of the profits.
Some of the most common illnesses and diseases on pig farms are the following:
- Exudative dermatitis
- Respiratory diseases
- Swine dysentery
- Porcine parvovirus
The best way to avoid the spread of disease on pig farms is to adopt better farming practices. When it comes to factory farming, whether for pigs, cows, or chickens, the only way to avoid systemic problems is to change the system. Band-aids on broken legs never do the trick.
Types of Torture Pigs Endure
Mistreatment and abuse of animals on factory farms are so commonplace that it no longer surprises anyone. Pig farming is no exception. It’s a problem that all animals face with today’s meat industry.
There are so many examples of undercover operations resulting in appalling footage that it no longer shocks people. Most people simply filter out the overwhelming amount of abuse that’s reported on a regular basis.
To list all of the instances of the inhumane treatment of pigs would take a lifetime. This is why animal welfare groups and activists are constantly fighting to improve the conditions of pigs on factory farms.
And beyond the stories that are already out there, many haven’t even surfaced yet because of ag-gag laws. Whistleblowers in numerous states are now holding their tongues out of fear of severe punishment.
Smithfield Food, the world’s largest producer of pork, has repeatedly come under fire for inhumane practices.
When they announced back in 2007 that they would be phasing out gestation crates, activists became hopeful that they would lead the way and influence other major corporations and farms.
Although they announced mission accomplished nearly ten years later, undercover activists claim otherwise.
Wayne Hsiung of Direct Action Everywhere said that he and colleagues “absolutely did see mother pigs giving birth in gestation facilities” after infiltrating numerous Smithfield farms.
The major players in the food industry are able to say practically whatever they want. Major producers in the states where ag gag laws have been approved are well protected from whistleblowers speaking out.
Even smaller farms in states where no ag gag laws exist are protected. Simply walking up to the property line of a factory farm has been more than enough to get the police called on activists.
If factory farmers aren’t held accountable, what is the point for them to treat animals more humanely?
What You Can Do To Stop Cruelty Against Pigs
It’s easy for individuals to feel that their voice won’t be heard. When going up against major players in the food industry, it’s natural to feel intimidated.
But that doesn’t mean your voice and your choices can’t be a part of the change you desire.
Grassroots movements have changed policy in the past. PETA has spearheaded numerous policy changes in the past that started from the ground up.
Change can happen when there is passion behind actions.
Take a Vegan Lifestyle
How can you help stop pig farming?
One argument that vegans hear all of the time is that they are making a difference. Many meat eaters are quick to point out that the animals would have died anyway.
But veganism is growing. Becoming a vegan isn’t a passing trend that will soon fade away. The more people that adopt the vegan lifestyle, the lower the demand will be for pig products.
Does this take time? Of course. Change won’t happen overnight. However, the more educated the populace becomes about the cruelties behind pig farming (and factory farming in general), the closer we will come to achieving real change and progress.
Support Legislation That Abolishes This Abuse
While grassroots movements start from the group up, animal rights activists and advocates need to start voting for the right politicians.
People from the movement need to consider running on platforms based on change and animal rights. Policy makers and people in leadership roles do have power and their voices can be influential.
Combining grassroots movements and empowering people with the right mindset is the perfect combination. Doing so can be the trigger necessary to the right kinds of bills and laws that protect animals and their rights.
Join The Cause
Getting involved in any way possible is a great way to start. Going vegan is the best first step you can take, taking action is the second.
Volunteer for animal rights groups. Call out animal abuse when you see it. Continuously educate yourself about what’s happening in the animal rights world. Boycott companies that test on animals.
Most importantly: Be vocal.
Pig farming practices treat sentient beings like products. The atrocities behind the pork industry will never stop if people don’t speak up.
Pigs are highly intelligent, social creatures that deserve compassion and respect. They don’t deserve to spend their short lives confined to atrocious conditions waiting for imminent slaughter. No animal deserves this.
Pigs on factory farms suffer greatly and it’s our duty as non-human animals to protect those without a voice. If not, we are complicit in the death of each sentient being.
What are you going to do to help end the cruel practices on pork farms?
There is a term used by psychologists – cognitive dissonance – which occurs when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, or participates in an action that goes against one of these three, and experiences psychological stress because of that.
The discomfort is triggered by the person’s belief clashing with new information perceived, wherein they will try to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their discomfort. Many workers on factory farms and in slaughterhouses suffer from this state of mind. The article below describes what happens when you cannot resolve these two opposite views.
Susana Romatz doesn’t consider herself to have been a farm kid, per se, but her grandfather did raise rabbits for meat. Looking back now, she says that navigating that as a child is likely what gave her the “skill-set for disassociating” early on. “I knew what he was doing with them, and it gave me that toolbox to shut that feeling off,” she says.
It was this ability to turn away from her emotions and instincts that would allow the animal-loving, on-and-off-again vegetarian to take work as a farmhand on a goat farm in western Oregon. It’s an experience, the now-vegan—and vegan cheese-maker—says she is still trying to heal from.
At the time, Romatz was a new teacher seeking additional work for extra cash. She wanted something outdoors and physical. That area of Oregon is considered quite progressive, she says. “Ethical,” “free range,” “organic,” products abound. So when a “humane” goat farm was looking for help, she says that she was on board. “I kind of started to buy into that line of reasoning, that you can keep an animal, do animal husbandry, in a way that is kind to the animals,” she recalls. It didn’t take long though, until “things started to disintegrate that idea.”
What made this particular goat farm—which produced milk and cheese and sold goats for meat—“humane” was that the animals were free-range. “They had a lot of land,” Romatz says, and the farm was “family-owned.” Romatz soon realized, though, that these things meant very little. “Just because it was higher up on the level of kindness to animals, compassion to animals, there were still some things that were really bothersome to me.”
At the top of that list, she says, was the disbudding of baby goats—kids—without anesthesia. Disbudding is a standard farming practice, done to stop the growth of horns, and purportedly to prevent property destruction and horn-related injuries. (Horn-related injuries to other animals commonly occur in confined spaces.) Without anesthesia, most animal welfare and rights groups condemn the practice, though it remains common.
“It was really horrifying,” she recalls. “They actually shrieked. [The farmers] would have to hold them down and basically burn off their horn buds with a hot electric poker.” She says some of the kids would never go near humans again. “It was one of the things I had to work really hard at shutting off. I had to not think about it. I could tell it was very, very painful.”
Romatz says that she tried justifying it to herself at the time by considering animal agriculture a trade-off. “With animal husbandry, there are trade-offs that you have to make when you are commodifying an animal, no matter how much you love them. You can’t capitalize on their bodies without making certain decisions that might be questionable,” she once believed. “When you are using animals in that way, you have to make those kinds of decisions,” to earn a financial profit.
But even as Romatz attempted to take a pragmatic approach—much like that of the farm owners—she always felt, in the back of her mind, that it was all very wrong. “The commodification of animals, milk, and bodies in that way, keeping the goats pregnant pretty much year ‘round, being fed grain [rather than their natural diet] year-round to keep them lactating, I knew it all had to be hard on the goats’ bodies.”
The separation of mothers and newborns also weighed heavily on Romatz. “The baby goats were taken away from their mothers almost immediately,” she says. In the dairy industry, mothers and newborn calves are routinely separated in order to reroute milk for human consumption. With the goats, Romatz says she was told by the farm owners that mothers needed to be separated from calves due to fears of a particular virus, the caprine arthritic encephalitis virus, transmitted through the mothers’ milk. (Administering blood tests to identify infected animals and removing them from the herd is also an effective solution.)
Romatz says that the calls between the moms and babies were indisputable. “This is something I would experience on a daily basis during kidding season,” she says, “when there were lots of babies kept in a pen, and lots of the does [mothers] kept in other pens, and you could hear them calling back and forth to each other.” Only the female kids were isolated, though, as the farm owners needed only them to stay healthy—so they too could become perpetually impregnated and lactating one day. The male kids were free to potentially become infected with the virus, she says, because they would be sent off to slaughter at two or three months old anyhow. “It was definitely sad,” she says, of the days the baby boys were sold, “knowing where they were heading.”
In order to mentally cope with with the work, which Romatz did for three years, she says, “you just keep shifting your bottom line, you keep shifting it, until you get to the point where you’re just like, ‘Wow, how was I even able to walk into that every day?’”
Eventually, Romatz left the farm to focus on teaching. She says that it was a relief to no longer have to mentally block out many aspects of her professional work. “All that work you’ve been doing to hold back those thoughts, you can’t do it anymore, and the flood comes, and then you can’t see it the same way ever again.”
Romatz went vegan two years after leaving the farm. After she and her partner rescued a dog, she says, “My partner just texted me and said ‘I can’t do animal products anymore,’ and it literally was so fast that I was able to switch. It took me maybe half an hour.” She says that it just felt right. “It was like everything just fell into place at that moment. All these little doubts and feelings I had been having all this time, and I had been fighting against them, or trying to convince myself—it’s that cognitive dissonance.” She recalls a “constant battle inside myself, doing things that were totally opposite from what my beliefs are.” When deciding to go vegan, “it was so easy for me to finally let all that go. [I realized] that was all an illusion, that was a lie to get me to spend money, a lie to get me to stop looking further into this.”
Her bottom line, she says, immediately rebounded.
Now, Romatz feels a sense of wanting to make up for her past. In addition to being vegan, Romatz is a vegan cheese advocate, of sorts. Out of necessity, she began making her own vegan cheeses, using locally grown hazelnuts and special vegan cultures that she created herself. The cheese is very labour-intensive and expensive (she notes that nut farms are not subsidized in the way dairy farms are) so, for now, Romatz only makes cheese for family and friends. Romatz has a great desire to educate others; she sells her vegan cultures online and provides information and recipes on her website—“to give other people the tools to make these cheeses themselves.”
As for the owners of the goat farm, which is still in operation today, Romatz says, “they aren’t bad people.” They just see things differently. “It was just the older [farmers’] view that animals are more like property,” she says. “They took care of the animals to the degree they needed to [be profitable].”
Romatz believes that the bombardment of messaging—from media, culture, tradition, and family—enables some of us to “become disassociated from the reality of what you are actually experiencing.” She says that it took her a few years before she could really understand all that she experienced on the farm, “before I could allow all the things that had happened there to start to soak in, to realize how I had tricked myself to be able to work there.”
Today, Romatz says she is moving forward, but will never forget the animals of her past. “I’m really trying to respect the lives of the animals who have come and gone. But in understanding and moving forward, you don’t have to necessarily dive into the trauma of the past; you have to understand it and notice it, but you don’t have to beat yourself over it. Thinking about [my experiences] and also moving forward have been very important to me.”
Hip-hop musicians have been making headway as vegan icons. As a result black communities are the fastest growing vegan demographic in America.
Stic, one-half of the political duo Dead Prez, has been a vegan for two decades since then. Like several of hip-hop’s titans — think Jay-Z and members of Wu-Tang Clan — Stic has parlayed his passion into a business that allows him to preach the lifestyle benefits of going meatless, and make a little extra green on the side.
It seems to be working. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found 3 percent of American adults overall identified as vegan and only 1 percent of Hispanic Americans. That number jumps to a startling 8 percent among African American adults. In Gallup’s latest findings on consumers’ meat-eating changes, which will be published Monday, whites reported eating 10 percent less meat in the past 12 months while people of color reported eating 31 percent less.
The interweaving of African American performers and veganism is tight and intricate, with threads running through lifestyle choices and business decisions of some of music’s titans. Eight out of 10 of the Wu-Tang Clan identify as vegan or vegetarian. Jay-Z and Beyoncé offered free tickets to fans if they went vegan. Rapper Jaden Smith, son of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, launched a vegan food truck for the homeless; rapper Cardi B started a vegan fashion line. A$AP Rocky rapped about veganism on his recent single “Babushka Boi.”
Jay-Z was listed as hip-hop’s first billionaire by Forbes in 2019. Much of his portfolio is glamorous food and beverage businesses that add luster to his brand. A purported $310 million of his fortune comes from Armand de Brignac Champagne and another $100 million from D’Ussé cognac.
But the star also has begun investing in companies that align with his enthusiasm for a meatless lifestyle. In 2015 he and Beyoncé partnered with her trainer Marco Borges to launch 22 Days Nutrition, a high-end vegan meal planning and delivery service with an estimated annual revenue of $2.7 million.
And last year Jay-Z’s venture capital firm Marcy Venture Partners invested $1 million in Partake Foods, a black-owned start-up that makes allergen-free vegan cookies. He’s also invested in Impossible Foods, the company responsible for the popular plant-based Impossible Burger.
Jay-Z joined fellow celebrities Katy Perry, Serena Williams, Jaden Smith, Trevor Noah and Zedd in a $300 million investment round that brought the company past $750 million in funding. Jay-Z did not respond for requests for comment.
RZA, Ghostface Killah and GZA of Wu-Tang Clan have promoted Impossible Sliders at White Castle. Snoop Dogg is an ambassador for Beyond Meat.
Of course, the investment from such hip-hop legends is a drop in the bucket: Investors have poured more than $16 billion into American plant-based and cell-based meat companies in the past 10 years, $13 billion of that just in 2017 and 2018.
But it looks increasingly like major hip-hop figures are using their influence to inspire healthy choices.
During an impromptu appearance at Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s On the Run II Tour in Foxborough, Mass., music executive DJ Khaled had one question for the crowd: “Do we have any vegans in the house?”
The question was answered with a roar from the crowd of 40,000.
Hip-hop legends also are turning to plant-based ventures as career Plan B’s that allow for high visibility as they give back to their communities.
Jadakiss and Styles P of the hip-hop group the Lox, which had its heyday in the late 1990s, have launched juice bars called Juices for Life, with four locations in the Bronx, Yonkers and Brooklyn, and Stic.man runs RBG Fit Club in Atlanta with his wife, Afya Ibomu, offering cooking demonstrations, live performances and merchandise.
Although four out of the top 10 “most trusted” brands, according to research firm Morning Consult, are food companies, food brands and restaurant concepts have been politically fraught, as well as notoriously risky investments with high failure rates. For this growing number of celebrities, plant-based investments may make ideological sense as well as dollars and cents.
Data from the Good Food Institute and the trade group Plant Based Food Association shows that while the U.S. retail food market grew overall by only 2 percent from April 2018 to April 2019, plant-based products grew an impressive 11 percent.
Burger-oriented fast-food restaurants, overrepresented in low-income “food swamps,” are seen as opportunities to introduce plant-based options. Although market research firm NPD Group found almost 90 percent of the people eating non-meat burgers are not vegetarian or vegan, a 2018 Gallup poll found that Americans who earn less than $30,000 are almost twice as likely to be vegan or vegetarian as those who earn more than $75,000.
And the market is likely to keep growing.
According to research firm PitchBook, more than 47 companies that make meat and dairy products from plants have raised $2.29 billion from venture capitalists in the past decade, a quarter of it in 2019 alone. Acumen Research and Consulting predicts plant-based meat sales will reach $6.5 billion by 2026, this popular food category Googled three times more frequently than gluten-free and vegetarian products. And it predicts that the global vegan food market will grow at an annual rate of 9.1 percent to reach a value of $24.3 billion by that same year.
There were nine elements of hip-hop, as codified in a KRS-One song of that name in 2003, including DJing and beatboxing. The tenth element of hip-hop, added in 2016, is health and wellness. A bit of a departure from components like break-dancing and street fashion, its elements include plant-based eating, organic gardening, fitness, sobriety, food justice and animal rights activism. But like the other nine elements, health and wellness has proved to be a source of livelihood for practitioners.
Keith Tucker, a Seattle-based health activist, is partly responsible for the tenth element of hip-hop. He had a radio show, worked with stars like Public Enemy and Russell Simmons (a vegan since 1997) and pushed back against the stereotyping of hip-hop artists.
“KRS-One was an inspiration for me,” Tucker says. “His song ‘Beef’ in 1990 influenced a lot people in hip-hop to think about veganism, to think about the meat in the slave diet, about the chemicals that were starting to be put in the food and the rise of highly processed foods.”
Let us begin now with the cow
The way it gets to your plate and how
The cow doesn’t grow fast enough for man
So through his greed he makes a faster plan
He has drugs to make the cow grow quicker
Through the stress the cow gets sicker
In 2009, Tucker held his first Hip Hop Is Green dinner, assembling hip-hop artist and educators with the goal of bringing health and wellness to youths and families around the country through group meals with star-studded casts. In 2015 he produced the first plant-based hip-hop event at the White House.
And hip-hop proved to be a powerful megaphone. According to Rolling Stone, hip-hop dominates music streaming, accounting for 24.7 percent of songs consumed in 2018. Its dominance is predicted to continue, with performers such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, the Weeknd, Migos and Cardi B at the top. Black listeners are the largest user group of streaming services, and the role of streaming itself is forecast by Goldman Sachs to more than double to about $131 billion by 2030.
“Hip-hop is the biggest influence on planet Earth when it comes to young people,” Tucker said. “It’s the CNN for the black community. If we can move it in a green direction, the world will move in a green direction. It’s going viral right now.
“We did drugs and gangbanging and sex over and over again and saw that these things aren’t conducive to a healthy world.”
SupaNova Slom, a performer known as “hip-hop’s medicine man,” says younger African Americans have turned to plant-based living because they’ve witnessed their parents’ poor health due to lifestyle decisions and disparities in access to healthy food. He says a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is more feasible in urban centers that have experienced gentrification and where even fast-food restaurants now reliably offer plant-based options.
“That’s the positive about gentrification. We have a Whole Foods in downtown Newark,” Slom said. “Influencers online, you see them juicing, doing yoga, using food as medicine. Some of them have lost their parents to diabetes. It used to be blinging outside, now it’s internal blinging. Is your prostate functioning properly?”
Slom was raised vegan in Brooklyn by his mother, a holistic wellness coach named Queen Afua (whose wellness products are backed by performer Erykah Badu), a childhood he says set him apart from many of his peers.
“Sprouted bread sandwiches, apples and oranges as my snacks — it was hard coming up, me and my brother and sister being raised vegan. It had a profound impact on me,” he said.
A combat veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2013, Slom has maintained a strict vegan diet in difficult situations. He has promoted the “Chlorophyllion” green lifestyle, which touts the health benefits of freshly pressed green juice, with a book called “The Remedy” and a line of vegan dietary supplements.
“The message is health is wealth,” Slom says. “If you want to continue to do your art at a high level, fuel yourself with high-quality fuel. It’s about reclaiming oneself. Look at the top 20 rappers and 10 of them are talking plant-based.”
Some of the change may be powered by growing options and an increasing national interest in plant-based foods. A 2017 Nielsen survey found that 39 percent of Americans are actively trying to eat more plant-based foods. Grubhub reported orders of vegan-friendly dishes increased by more than 25 percent in 2019. NPD Group found that plant-based alternative sales were up 30 percent last year. And plant-based restaurants with strong African American patronage, places like Slutty Vegan in Atlanta or the Land of Kush in Baltimore, have long lines and Instagram accounts crowded with celebrities.
Afya Ibomu, a holistic nutritionist, sees distinct reasons for the rise of African American vegans.
“We have higher rates of obesity, cancer, diabetes and asthma. It’s partly our DNA; we’re not well-suited to a standard American diet,” she said. “Many of us came from West Africa where they mostly had goat’s milk. And here it’s cow’s milk. The majority of health guidance is based on European bodies.”
She says that some of the health disparities have been the byproduct of oppression, poverty, food deserts and lack of education but that African American culture can also contribute to the problem: “We use food as a cultural thing, showing someone you love them by giving them high-sugar, high-fat food.”
Music industry heavyweights Jermaine Dupri, Badu, Waka Flocka Flame, André 3000, Common, YG and DJ Khaled have dabbled or committed to plant-based lifestyles.
AshEL Eldridge, a wellness and food-justice activist and rapper in Oakland, speaks about how the plant-based food movement for African Americans is about reclaiming food sovereignty. “You have your history, your body, your culture.”
He says his community is grappling with questions: “How do we take care of ourselves? How do we govern ourselves? How do we regain the wisdom of our ancestry? And how do we reclaim our health?” he asked.
He says people want a sense of agency and that diet exemplifies that.
“There’s a huge movement around decolonizing the diet,” Eldridge notes. “There is disease-related to diets heavily reliant on meat and genetically modified crops and monocropping. How do we extricate ourselves from that? It’s revolutionary.”
Stic.man says younger hip-hop artists have long been inspired by the diet and fitness choices of their elders.
“When I was a young teen getting into hip-hop, LL Cool J and them were swole superheroes. Now I see a lot of cool b-boy yogis. That’s a whole movement. There were break-dance battles back in the day; now there’s a movement of calisthenics, bar athletics and Nike-sponsored events,” he says. “The New G Code takes empowerment in a healthy way: I don’t care how many weights you can lift, how many people have you lifted up?”
Original source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/
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