Globalisation of Industrial Animal Agriculture: Implications for South Asia pattrice le-muire jones Global Hunger Alliance Presented
at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute’s Fifth Annual Conference on Sustainable Development in South Asia 02 November, 2002 • Islamabad, Pakistan Prefatory Remarks Before beginning my talk on behalf of Global Hunger Alliance, I must, as I always do these days in international venues, express my personal views as an American against American aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq. I beg you to remember that all of us were disenfranchised when George W. Bush assumed the presidency despite losing the election. We need the citizens of the world to help us restore democracy to the United States and limit U.S. aggression abroad. To do this, we must speak in the only language that Bush understands: money. We must withdraw our fiscal support of the corporations that support Bush by refusing to buy their products. At minimum, we must avoid the American products that are bad for us anyway. That means no Coca Cola or other sugary soft drinks, no McDonalds or other fatty fast food, no American cigarettes, and no agrochemicals or patented seeds vended by corporations based in the USA. Again, that is my personal position and does not necessary reflect the opinions of the partners in GHA. Introduction I would like to thank SDPI for inviting me to participate in this very substantial and stimulating conference. I represent the Global Hunger Alliance, which is an international network of research, advocacy, education, and activist organizations. I draw your attention to the document listing the Global Hunger Alliance Statement of Principles (see Appendix) because it contains important information that I will not repeat in this talk. In this talk, I shall discuss the detrimental impacts of industrial animal agriculture at every level, moving from the local to the global. Much of this presentation will be taken up by a factual accounting of the actual social, economic, and environmental consequences of industrial animal agriculture. However, since the audience for this paper is so very intellectual, I shall close the talk with some very interesting theoretical questions worthy of further inquiry. I’ll also be including some very practical suggestions for future action. Standpoint Since you will be hearing all of this filtered through my perceptions, you deserve to know where I’m coming from. I live in the rural region where industrial animal agriculture (also known as factory farming) was first invented. Our landscape is littered with long, low buildings, each of which contains tens of thousands of chickens. Inside the buildings, dying and dead birds in various stages of decomposition lie side by side with the live birds destined to be made into McDonalds chicken sandwiches. The birds never see the sun or breathe fresh air and go to painful and terrifying deaths at only six weeks of age.
The children in my county grow up in the shadows of acre upon acre of genetically modified maize and soya but sometimes do not have enough to eat. Their parents may be farmers or workers for the poultry industry but in either case do dangerous work for low pay and may be in a form of debt servitude to the industry. Many of us cannot drink the water from our wells, thanks to the animal wastes, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers that have seeped into our groundwater. What was once a lush region of incredible natural fertility now struggles with water shortages and soil sterility. And now, the corporations that are responsible for this sorry state of affairs want to export their destructive technologies to South Asia and other regions already struggling with poverty and environmental distress. So, I’m here to issue a warning. I’ll do so by discussing the impact of factory farming at every level, from the most local to the most global. I’ll use the poultry industry as my example, trusting that you will understand that the dynamics are much the same for related industries. I’ll then talk about what we can expect if these industries expand as they would like to do. Current Consequences of Factory Farming (1) On animals: When speaking of the harms inflicted by factory farming, we must not forget that the most direct victims are the animals themselves. Industrial animal agriculture is industrial precisely because it treats sentient creatures as if they were insensible objects. From battery cages for laying hens to gestation crates for pregnant pigs, the merciless technologies that have been invented to maximize profit regardless of pain subject our fellow beings to levels of trauma that most of us cannot even imagine. Like most political questions, this is a moral issue that cannot in good conscience be ignored. (2) On local farmers: The farmers who “grow” animals for the poultry industry do so under contract to large corporations like Tyson and Perdue. The farmer has no control over the process and is essentially a hired hand on his or her own land. The prices paid by the corporations are so low that most farmers end up earning far less than the legal minimum wage for their labor. Factory farming is a capital intensive industry. Farmers generally must borrow the money for their buildings and equipment from the corporations for whom they raise the birds. Thus, even if they become dissatisfied with the arrangements, they often cannot withdraw due to their outstanding debt. (3) On local workers: Workers in the poultry industry do dirty, dangerous, and demoralizing work for very low pay. The so-called “chicken catchers” who load the birds onto the transport trucks breathe in the ammonia in the air — which is so concentrated that many of the birds go blind — and are often scratched and bitten by the terrified birds. These workers are the least skilled and least educated. Many are not literate and have no other options. Often, they end up in debt servitude to the “crew chiefs” who lend desperately needed money in advance of earnings, ensuring that the workers cannot quit. Workers in slaughter and processing factories suffer the highest rate of on-the-job injury of any industry. Most of these workers are women of color and they are often subjected to deeply humiliating conditions of work. Both the farmers and the workers may experience demoralization or dissociation from treating animals in ways that are not consistent with their own moral beliefs. I have heard farmers talk about willfully supressing their feelings and factory workers talk about being sickened by what they see on the killing floor. Most seem to perceive their participation in the industry as an economic necessity rather than a free choice.
(4) On local economies: When a major multinational industry such as the poultry industry moves into a rural region, it will tend over time to dominate the economy of the region. This is extremely dangerous. Of course, it’s never a good idea for a region to become dependent on a single industry. This is particularly true for animal agriculture, which is a particularly unstable industry. At any point, a disease outbreak or change in the global market can drive the industry into decline, dragging the local economy with it. In the past year alone, avian flu and Russian reluctance to import chicken legs have threatened the economic stability of U.S. regions dependent on the poultry industry. The other tendency that occurs when big corporations take over rural regions is neo-feudalism. Where I live, many people are very afraid that any expression of discontent will result in loss of livelihood. People who don’t even work for the industry themselves will hesitate to voice a criticism in private conversation, for fear that their relatives with jobs in the industry might be punished. These fears may be justified. When the workers for one big poultry corporation tried to join a union, the head of the corporation solicited the aid of organized crime in stopping the organizing drive. (5) On local environments: Industrial animal agriculture both depletes and pollutes natural resources, especially water. Adding up all of the water used — including drinking water for the animals, water used to grow the feed for the animals, water used to wash away animal wastes, and water used in the course of slaughter and processing — animal agriculture uses more water than all other human uses combined. Worldwide, animal agriculture is the number one cause of water pollution. A single intensive confinement and feeding facility for pigs can easily produce more waste than an entire city full of people. (6) On local citizens: Local citizens bear the burden of the environmental problems associated with intensive animal agriculture, either living with pollution or paying to clean it up. Where I live, the water table is dropping, in part due to climate change but mostly due to overpumping associated with animal agriculture. Heaven knows what we will do when the water runs out. Local citizens can also suffer health problems associated with industrial animal agriculture. A recent research project turned up some very scary results in my region. The bodies of one hundred percent of the citizens sampled had been colonized by campylobacter, a microbial pathogen that causes mild symptoms of food poisoning in healthy adults but can lead to serious injury or even death in infants, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. Even in healthy adults, colonization of the body by this bacteria can lead to serious health problems. We don’t know for sure why citizens who don’t have direct contact with chickens carrying the bacteria have been colonized but my guess is that it has found its way into the water. (7) On domestic farmers: The negative consequences of factory farming are not confined to the regions in which intensive animal agriculture is concentrated. The fortunes of all farmers who grow maize (corn) or soya (soybeans) are significantly impacted by the meat, dairy, and egg industries. Because most of the maize and soya grown in the USA is used as feed for animals, the animal agriculture industries control the markets for these basic commodities, often driving prices below the cost of production. Government aid appears to support the farmers who cannot get a fair price for their crops. In fact, these subsidizes support the corporations, by helping to lower the cost of their most expensive input. Government incentives encourage farmers to continue to grow unprofitable cash crops rather than healthy food for the people in their
communities. The farmers may be technically independent but actually have little autonomy, because of the influence of the corporations on markets and within government. Often caught up in cycles of debt, few have the cash or technical assistance needed to switch to more sustaining and sustainable crops and technologies. (8) On domestic consumers: The foodstuffs produced by factory farming are not healthy and are often decidedly dangerous to health. Besides the danger of food poisoning from organisms such as salmonella and campylobacter, those who regularly consume animal-based foods face greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and various cancers. The growing problem of antibiotic resistance is also related to factory farming. In the United States alone, 10.5 million pounds of antimicrobial medications per year are fed to chickens alone. These medications are excreted and then wash into groundwater and waterways, leading ultimately to the development of a variety of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In a recent survey published by the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found 13 different strains of salmonella in samples of ground chicken, beef, turkey, and pork taken from supermarkets in the United States. Of those strains of salmonella, 83 percent were resistant to at least one antibiotic and 53 percent were resistant to three or more antibiotics; 6 percent of the bacteria were specifically resistant to the antibiotic which is the treatment of choice for children with salmonella poisoning. (9) On foreign consumers: Government subsidies, economies of scale, and the willingness of domestic consumers to pay premium prices for specialty products (such as precooked chicken breasts) allow transnational corporations to sell less popular meat items (such the legs and feet of chickens) at below cost in impoverished regions. This dumping often leads low-income consumers to give up traditional foods in favor of the imported items. At the same time, consumers who have experienced a recent rise in income often increase their meat consumption, seeing the western meat-based diet as a sign of affluence, masculinity, or modernity. This ‘westernization’ of the diet involves two harmful changes: plant-based foods known to promote health are less frequently consumed while animal-based foods known to promote disease are more frequently consumed. We already are seeing the consequences of this pattern of diet change. The World Health Organization has recently warned that, for the first time ever, there is a higher incidence of degenerative diseases than infectious diseases in developing countries. If this trend continues, it will have disastrous results on national economies in terms of both health care costs and lost productivity. WHO is very clear about the reason for this trend — diet change — and has recommended the preservation of the predominantly plantbased diets that are traditional in most cultures. (10) On foreign farmers: Dumping of the products of factory farming in developing countries creates unfair competition for the farmers in those countries. The farmers who grow the traditional foods that are abandoned in favor of the dumped items suffer most directly. Loss of income due to diet change and unfair competition may lead those farmers to be more likely to become growers for corporations or otherwise give up the production of local foods for local people in favor of the production of cash crops for export. This lessens the food security of the region, since reliable local production for local consumption is replaced by reliance on imports and unstable foreign markets. (11) On the world food system: That brings us to the most global level of analysis. Any commodification of food production lessens both food security and food sovereignty for all people. Industrial animal agriculture has a
particularly acute negative impact on global food security. It takes, on average, ten pounds of grain or soya to produce one pound of meat. Land used to grow rice can support 19 times more people than land devoted to egg production. A person eating the typical western meat-based diet directly and indirectly consumes enough plant and water resources to feed 20 people a healthy plant-based diet. The devotion of so many of our world food resources to the production of animal-based foods are known to cause disease in their relatively affluent consumers represents is inefficient, inequitable, unethical, and unsustainable. (12) On the global environment: That brings us to an issue that none of us can afford to ignore, namely the emergent worldwide water crisis. Already, more than a billion people do not have access to adequate drinking water and the World Resources Institute predicts that by 2025 at least 3.5 billion people will experience water shortages. Meanwhile, each person consuming the typical western meat-based diet indirectly consumes 4,200 gallons of water every day while our oceans and waterways are increasingly polluted by animal wastes and other by-products of industrial animal agriculture. The Future of Factory Farming That’s the situation as it stands right now. I have both good news and bad news about the likely future of factory farming. The good news is that activists in the USA and Europe have had some success in making life difficult for the meat, dairy and egg industries. Environmental activists, animal advocates, and labour unions have all had some success in passing legislation regulating these industries. This has raised the costs of production. At the same time, educational efforts concerning heath hazards have led to decreased demand for some products while the market for other products is flat. Thus, the corporations are squeezed from all directions and can anticipate further increases in regulations and further decreases in demand in the USA and Europe. The bad news is that these corporations are looking to recoup these losses and increase their profits by increasing both production and consumption in other regions of the world, including South Asia. Given all of the information just presented, it’s easy to imagine the impact should they succeed. Imagine the installation of factory farms in areas where people are already struggling with poverty and environmental degradation. Imagine farmers and workers in debt servitude to multinational corporations. Imagine precious water wasted and polluted. Imagine manure laden with antibiotic resistant E. coli, listeria, and cryptosporidium spread onto fields or stored in leaky lagoons. Imagine outbreaks of avian flu, swine fever, or other zoonotic diseases in communities already struggling with high rates of illness and low availability of health care. Imagine children starving while grains grown locally are fed to animals destined to become dead meat for overfed people in other countries. This is already happening. Twenty percent of the children are malnourished in Argentina, which exports both meat and animal feed to the USA and Europe. But, not all of the increased meat production will be exported to wealthy countries. Some will be eaten by the relatively more wealthy people within impoverished countries. Imagine that. Imagine already overtaxed health care systems struggling with increased rates of cancer and heart disease. Imagine fast and fatty meals at McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) taking the place of healthy family dinners. Imagine indigenous
edible plants and local strains of common food crops no longer cultivated due to lack of demand. Imagine the cultural and biological knowledge and diversity that will go with them. What to Do? What can you or your organization do to stop these bad dreams from becoming reality? First, be alert for agriculture or development projects that may be paving the way for factory farming. For example, one of our partners in Sri Lanka noticed that a local government was preparing to build a modern slaughter and meat processing factory funded by foreign loans. In order to earn enough to pay back the loans, the plant would have to process a certain amount of meat per week. This was in a region where the people are predominantly vegetarian and very little meat is now produced. Hence, the only possible purpose for the new facility was to be the infrastructure for future factory farming. Thanks to quick thinking and action on the part of the Sri Lanka Vegetarian Society, that project has been blocked. We can do the same elsewhere. We know what they are planning and this time we are in a position to block the dangerous technology before it becomes entrenched. Another thing to do is to work for the preservation of traditional diets and to do everything you can to promote local production for local consumption. NGOs working in the realms of food, agriculture, or community education must educate themselves about the nutritional benefits of traditional diets in order to help their constituencies resist the lure of the western diet. This goes hand in hand with support for sustainable cultivation of a diverse array of indigenous and locally adapted food plants for local and regional consumption. Food for Thought I promised a few interesting intellectual issues, for those inclined toward theory or research. The first concerns the gender dynamics of all of this. Ecofeminists have offered profound analyses of factory farming as violation of earth and animals that reflects the dominant masculinist view of nature as something to be subdued and controlled. Various feminist theorists have explored the historic and ongoing connections, in terms of both ideology and practice, between the exploitation of women and the exploitation of animals. Much work remains to be done concerning the specific ways that factory farming disempowers and endangers women and of the central role of women in resistance to its objectification, manipulation, and degradation of animals and the environment. Another question worthy of thought is the degree to which the westernization of diets is a form of neocolonialism that may have detrimental effects beyond the well known health hazards associated with adoption of the modern meat-based diet. Diet is an important element of cultural identity. Different foods have deep cultural meanings. Traditional foods or traditional ways of preparing or consuming food are often important elements of both holiday ritual and daily life. What effects might contracultural diet change have on various communities in South Asia and elsewhere? In the United States, where indigenous people live on reservations that are the equivalent of colonized nations, native Americans have put forward the concept of cultural genocide. Might diet change play an important role in the destruction of cultures? A particularly timely question concerns the impact of the unnecessary violence inherent in the western meat-
based diet. Since the animal-based foods upon which this diet are based are not needed and, indeed, cause illness in their consumers, we must consider the confinement and killing involved in their production to be unjustified violence. Some researchers have hypothesized a relationship between diet and degree of violence within cultures. What do children learn when animals suffer and die so that they can eat the wings of birds as after-school snacks? That their own pleasure is more important than the life of another being? Do factory farms teach reverence for life or for the ecosystem? This brings us to the final issue that I will raise today, that of moral trauma. Where I live, farmers and workers often feel compelled by economic necessity to participate in the poultry industry, even when they feel that its practices toward animals and the environment are wrong. They speak quite explicitly about what psychologists call dissociation or splitting off of unwanted thoughts and feelings. “I can’t think about it,” they say, “or I couldn’t do it.” Many seem depressed and demoralized. What is the psychic cost of acting in ways that are inconsistent with one’s beliefs? What mental contortions or emotional numbing must one go through when performing actions that one believes to be cruel or wrong? How does it feel to kill unwillingly? Those questions are particularly relevant when we think about the expansion of factory farming into South Asia. The practices of industrial animal agriculture are not consistent with any of the religious traditions of South Asia. What effect would it have if farmers and workers felt compelled by economic necessity to participate in practices that are morally abhorrent to them?
Conclusion We can feed the world while preserving the planet. To do this, we must resist the expansion of industrial animal agriculture in developing nations at the same time as we encourage reduced meat production and consumption in Europe and the United States. We cannot allow factory farms to be established in regions already struggling with poverty, water shortages, and environmental degradation. We must work to preserve traditional diets and to encourage sustainable production of a diverse array of indigenous and locally-adapted food plants. While the agribusiness corporations and their allies in government are very powerful, they cannot prevail against the collective force of people working in concert with one another as well as in balance with plants, animals, and the earth herself. This conference, which has brought together so many different people and perspectives, is evidence that we can cross borders of identity and geography in order to bring ourselves into cooperation with each other and with nature.
Suggested Readings Adams, C.J. (2000). The Sexual Politics of Meat. New York: Continuum. Barnard, N.D., Nicholson, A., & Howard, J.L. (1995). The medical costs attributable to meat consumption. Preventive Medicine, 24: 646-655. Campbell, T. C. (1997). Unintended associations of diet and disease: A comprehensive study of health characteristics in China. In Social Consequences of Chinese Economic Reform. Fairbank Center on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Compassion in World Farming. (n.d.) The ‘Livestock Revolution’: Development or Destruction? CIWF. Available via http://www.ciwf-livestock-revolution.co.uk/ D’Silva, J. (2000). Factory Farming and Developing Countries. CIWF. Available via http://www.ciwf.co.uk Diamond, I. & Orenstein, G. (1990). Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books. FAO-OIE-WHO (2000). Veterinary Public Health and the Control of Zoonoses in Developing Countries. Available at http://www.fao.org/ag/aga/agah/vpheconf/home.htm Gleick, P. (2000). The changing water paradigm. Water International, 25, 127-138. Goodland, R. (2001). The Westernization of Diets: The Assessment of Impacts in Developing Countries. Global Hunger Alliance. Available at http://www.globalhunger.net/GoodlandChina.pdf Hu, F. B. & Willett, W. C. (1998). The Relationship between Consumption of Animal Products and Risk of Chronic Diseases: A Critical Review. A report for the World Bank. Cambridge, MA: Harvard School of Public Health, Department of Nutrition. Jones, P. (2002). Promise and Peril: The World Food Summit Five Years Later. Global Hunger Alliance. Available at http://www.globalhunger.net/pospap.pdf Kindall, H.W. & Pimentel, D. (1994). Constraints on the expansion of the global food supply. Ambio, 23 (3). Mallin, M.A. (2000, January). Impacts of industrial animal production on rivers and estuaries. American Scientist. Pimentel, D. (1997). Water resources: Agriculture, the environment, and society. BioScience, 47:2. Postel, S.L. (1998). Water for food production: Will there be enough in 2025? BioScience. Thu, K. (1998). The health consequences of industrialized agriculture for farmers in the United States. Human Organization, 57(3), 335-341. Thu, K. (1999). Cultural challenges in agricultural health. Journal of Agromedicine 5(4), 85-89. White, D.G., Zhao, S., Sudler, R., Ayers, S., Friedman, S., Chen, S., McDermott, P.F., McDermott, S., Wagner, D.D., & Meng, J. (2001). The isolation of antibiotic-resistant salmonella from retail ground meats. New England Journal of Medicine, 345(16):1147-54. World Health Organization. (2001). Nutrition in Transition: Globalization and Its Impact on Nutrition Patterns and Diet-Related Diseases. Available at http://www.who.int/nut/trans.htm
Global Hunger Alliance Statement of Principles Hunger is a global emergency. The problems of hunger and malnutrition will be solved by more efficient and equitable use of existing world food resources and by increased international support for the self-determined efforts of low-income food-deficit nations to redevelop sustainable agricultural operations. Neither of these aims will be met by the expansion of foreign-owned industrial animal agriculture operations into low-income food-deficit nations. Actions taken to address hunger must be cost-effective so that they will feed the greatest number of people possible. Because industrial animal agriculture operations entail higher usage of land, plant, water and fuel resources per calorie or unit of protein than the cultivation of plant crops for human consumption, the expansion of such operations in low-income food-deficit nations would worsen rather than lessen the problems of hunger and malnutrition in those nations. In contrast, sustainable cultivation of plants for human consumption offers a cost-effective method of producing healthy food for hungry people. Foods produced as a result of hunger relief efforts must be safe, healthy, and consistent with traditional diets. Hunger relief plans which elevate consumption of animal-based foods are culturally inappropriate and likely to increase the incidence of diseases which are known to be related to high levels of consumption of animalbased foods. Low-income nations would be left to bear the health care costs and lowered levels of productivity associated with these diseases. Pollution and depletion of natural resources also threaten human survival. The impending global water crisis is a particularly emergent problem. Demands upon and pollution of already depleted water resources by new industrial animal agriculture operations would worsen this growing worldwide crisis. Land degradation and desertification associated with intensive grazing would worsen the impact of cycles of drought and flooding, further threatening global water security. Poverty eradication must be pursued in the context of self-determination. External corporate control of industrial animal agriculture operations in low-income food-deficit nations would lead to profit extraction from impoverished nations as well as diminished self-determination within the agricultural sectors of those nations. A reasonable measure of self-sufficiency is required for food security. Industrial animal agriculture operations are highly dependent on capital and technology. They require large amounts of bought-in feed inputs, energy, and water. Therefore, the expansion of such operations in low-income food-deficit nations would worsen, rather than lessen, food insecurity in those nations. The aim of agriculture is to feed people. Low-income nations must not be pressured to convert their agricultural sectors into profit-generating components of foreign-owned corporations or to place the demands of international markets above the needs of their own citizens. Conversion of agricultural resources now devoted to food for local and regional consumption into resources devoted to the production of commodities for foreign markets would increase vulnerability to market shocks and, hence, increase food insecurity. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations must act in the interests of low-income food-deficit nations and must also recognize the shared interest of the citizens of the world in the preservation of the environment. The FAO must not cede to the interests of private corporations by promoting practices which would ultimately further impoverish low-income food-deficit nations and further despoil the environment upon which we all depend. The Global Hunger Alliance calls upon participants in the World Food Summit to rise above national interests and profit motives in order to agree upon a set of genuine solutions that will feed the world while preserving the planet.