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Who is accountable for the gross cruelties of industrialised farming today?

This Opinion Piece by Compassion’s Louise van der Merwe appeared in the Daily Maverick in October 2013

as part of the run-up to the hugely successful EthicsXchange.

Supermarkets are quick to tell us that consumers must drive the change for better lives for farmed animals. But are they simply shifting the shopping trolley?

 

The overwhelming majority of animal-derived produce available in supermarkets today is sourced from intensive farming production systems that cram animals into impossible spaces, preventing them from exercising even their most basic of natural behaviours. Industrialised farming is designed to maximise profitable yield regardless of the cost in suffering to the animals involved.

 

Lobby local supermarkets to phase-out such cruel farming practices on their supply farms, and you will be met with the response from most of them that their priority is to relieve the poverty that besets some 30 per cent of South Africans by offering food at an affordable price. And you will not be able to miss their implication that somehow your priorities do not include the poor, and worse, that your priorities place animal interests above human interests.

The fact is, however, that our food system is broken. What other conclusion can one draw when whole families of South African citizens scavenge in refuse bins for table scraps and kitchen waste that would once have gone for pig swill? What other conclusion can one draw when 19-million chickens are slaughtered for food every week in South Africa – that’s 38-million each of chicken legs, wings and feet a week, and not even a drumstick lands in the hands of the scavenging families who delve into refuse bins to scrape up their breakfast.

 

These are the very people – the poor consumers – who are used by the supermarkets in South Africa to excuse the products of mass violence and unconscionable cruelties that they stack on their shelves.

 

Intensive factory farming has not kept its promise to relieve poverty. For 60 years we have crammed more and more animals into cages, crates and other confinements of dim light, deprivation and faeces accompanied by the deafening whirr of colossal fans attempting to dissipate the stench of atmospheric ammonia. It had been suggested that clipping off the wings of newborn chicks would create space such that more of them could be stuffed into the factory cages. While some may think this a facetious comment – albeit it in bad taste – the shocking reality is that we are already habituated to the debeaking and de-toeing of chicks, the tail-docking, tooth-pulling and castration of pigs (without anaesthetic) and the dehorning of calves (without anaesthetic).

 

Vivisection is very much alive on these factory farms where animals are altered to fit them for an existence in total disregard of their natures.

Supermarkets knowingly support their suppliers in performing all of these atrocities – and it’s done in our name as "consumers". A small concession has been made for those who "can afford" food from higher welfare farming practices but the vast majority of consumers have cruel food forced on them simply because that’s what’s on offer and because they are either ignorant of the facts, or can’t believe that the facts are really as bad as they’ve heard.

 

The doors of the factory farm, after all, are not open to scrutiny.  

 

In the days before supermarket culture took its stranglehold on our purses and wallets, foods such as chicken skins and chicken feet were given away to the poor. Today, a chicken foot costs R1.70, a handful of chicken skin costs R5.50 and a small block of beef fat to give flavour to rice and pap costs R2.45. That comes to just about R10 and is not enough to keep one person going for more than a day. In fact, the high cost of eating the dregs of factory farming is now very much factored into profits.

 

Thandi Puoane, professor at the School of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape who is well known for her research on non-communicable (life-style) diseases amongst the poor, has called for labelling of all animal-derived foods. She says that just as smokers have been made aware, through labelling, of the dangers of smoking, so too should all consumers be made aware of the antibiotics and hormones in their food.

“Poor people cannot afford to buy healthy meat and end up buying fatty, poor quality meat, putting themselves at risk of disease,” she said. She lays at least some of the blame for massive increases in heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some cancers among the poor - robbing them of health and potential life-span - at the doors of the factory farm.

 

Any system that is based on a "wrong" will have consequences for which we will ultimately pay. The price we are paying for the wrongs we inflict on intensively farmed animals is showing itself to be potentially devastating in terms of human health, environmental health (the FAO credits animal agriculture with 18 percent of all GHG emissions) and the breakdown of morality in society.

 

Supermarket culture is based on quantity over quality. It is dependent on incremental price variations based on quantity. Supermarkets have been the driving force behind a world culture that regards farmed animals as units of production and has nurtured the creation of a mindless humanity that feeds on violence and suffering and makes a mockery of any right to human dignity. That’s where human interests and animal interests morph into one entity. I am reminded of the words of community worker, the late Gwen Dumo, “It is an insult to assume that because we are poor we have no heart.” 


The supermarkets cannot look to consumers to right the wrong. For starters, consumers are not allowed on the production factory farms. Second, consumers are obliged to "buy blind" because suppliers refuse to label their products in terms of the methods of production. Supermarket culture created the Frankenstein farm model and activists should look to supermarket culture to dismantle it. Supermarket culture should drive the force for change towards lives worth living for farmed animals.

 

Ironically, as the new book Chickens’ Lib by Clare Druce points out, global warming coupled with enlightened views on health will likely benefit "food animals" faster than half a century of campaigning on their behalf. Eminent thinkers and scientists are opening their minds to exciting new ways of eating.

 

We need to bring this discussion into the open - not just among consumers - but among those who sit on the management and boards of the supermarkets as well. This is why the dialogue offered by EthicsXchange on 5 November is so vitally urgent and important.

 

[Louise van der Merwe, a journalist by profession, is the SA Representative on the international NGO Compassion in World Farming, and the editor of Animal Voice. She is also a Managing Trustee on The Humane Education Trust,]

 

For more information about EthicsXchange visit: www.EthicsXchange.co.za

Featured in the Daily Maverick, Louise van der Merwe's article -

The cruelty of industrialised animal farming & human harm that follows it.

A journalist by profession, Louise van der Merwe has worked towards a better dispensation for farmed animals in South Africa for the last 24 years. She is the representative in South Africa for the international NGO Compassion in World Farming; is the Editor of Animal Voice, a quarterly national magazine dedicated to creating awareness of the suffering of farmed animals and lobbying at every level for better welfare; and is the Managing Trustee of The Humane Education Trust which works in schools towards creating a sense of respect for all life.

 

 

 

 

The overwhelming majority of animal-derived produce available in supermarkets today is sourced from intensive farming production systems that cram animals into impossible spaces, preventing them from exercising even their most basic of natural behaviours. Industrialised farming is designed to maximise profitable yield regardless of the cost in suffering to the animals involved.

Lobby local supermarkets to phase-out such cruel farming practices on their supply farms, and you will be met with the response from most of them that their priority is to relieve the poverty that besets some 30 per cent of South Africans by offering food at an affordable price. And you will not be able to miss their implication that somehow your priorities do not include the poor, and worse, that your priorities place animal interests above human interests. "   

 

See article

" Supermarkets are quick to tell us that consumers must drive the change for better lives for farmed animals.

But are they simply shifting the shopping trolley?

Humane fishing... is there such a thing?

Animal welfare matters. All sentient animals used for food deserve compassion, and killing should be as humane as possible.

Commercially-caught wild fish suffer slow and distressing deaths in huge numbers, estimated at 1-3 trillion each year. Commercial fishing is therefore a major animal welfare issue.

 

fishcount.org.uk is a website to increase understanding of fish sentience, raise awareness and promote solutions to the suffering of fishes in commercial fishing. It also aims to increase awareness of the welfare issues in fish farming. 

 

See article @ Fishcount.org.uk

Research into the origin of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the food chain…

Professor Pieter Gouws, Head of the Department of Biotechnology and Professor of Food Microbiology at the University of the Western Cape, is researching the origin of antibiotic resistant bacteria in the food chain.

Compassion in World Farming (SA) is pleased to have been able to play a role in assisting Professor Gouws to include in his research, the chickens off-loaded at cull outlets for disadvantaged communities around Cape Town.

 

Compassion’s Louise van der Merwe took this photo of Professor Gouws (left) with a research colleague, at UWC, this morning (17th October 2013).

Health authorities world-wide are gravely concerned about the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria or ‘Superbugs’. Poultry farms, where low levels of antibiotics are administered routinely to chickens, are believed to be the source of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

In the case of the freshly slaughtered chickens delivered by Compassion to Professor Gouws this morning, Compassion’s Louise was shocked, yet again, at the exorbitantly high price of food delivered to the poorest of the poor. Says Louise: “Sold live to disadvantaged communities, broiler chickens cost the poor R80 each while end-of-lay hens cost them R50 each. These prices make an absolute mockery of the excuse that cruel industrialised (factory) farming is a necessary evil in order to feed the poor cheaply. Nobody cares about the poor – let alone the misery and ghastly suffering of the chickens. I just wish the food industry would own up and admit that it’s all about profit.”

 

(Note: 19 million broiler chickens are slaughtered for food every week in South Africa.

Please see Pages 2 and 15 of our latest issue of Animal Voice for more on the calamity of being born a broiler chicken).

 

To view this ANIMAL VOICE issue, click here.

Cow’s tragic final journey highlights the urgent need for traceability from farm to fork

Please Note: We have withheld the full name of the brave woman who took this footage.

 

A dairy cow’s fall in the back of a truck in the Overberg last week,  puts focus yet again on the dire need in South Africa for traceability from farm to fork.

 

Marina, an export fruit farmer from Grabouw, told Animal Voice’s Louise van der Merwe that her journey along the N2 on Wednesday last week, developed into a distressing effort to help a cow that had fallen in the truck travelling in front of her.

 

“I was driving behind a truck carrying cows when suddenly there was a commotion in the truck and I saw two cows had fallen while the others were scrambling over them trying to regain  balance.

“I indicated to the driver to pull over – which he did -  and I asked what he was going to do about the cows that had fallen in the back of his truck. He told me he was on his way to the abattoir in Grabouw.

 

“At that moment I saw one of the cows was being trampled by four or five other cows as they tried to find a place to stand. They stepped on her jaw and on her throat. They stepped on her udder, her stomach and there were wounds on her. I know cows, and what I saw was that they were extremely stressed. The cow that had fallen had her eyes rolling back and the other cows were foaming at the mouth and the whites of their eyes were showing – both are signs of stress and fear.”

 

Marina said that she and the truck driver and his assistant struggled for about 30 minutes to  help the fallen cow to her feet. “But it was no use. She was too weak, exhausted and injured. There was no way we could get her up. Finally the driver went on his way to the abattoir.”

 

Marina said she found out from the truck driver that the cow came from a farm in the Genadendal Valley, in the Overberg. “I phoned the farmer concerned to tell him about the plight of his cows and the conditions in which they were being transported.  After that, I phoned the abattoir to alert the manager there that there was a downed cow en route. I said I wanted to know what injuries and bruising she had sustained but he said he would not be able to give me this information.”

 

Marina added: “We fruit farmers who sell to Europe are forced to adhere to the strictest of protocols and regulations. “When somebody in Europe buys an apple from our farm, regulations enforce that it is traceable right back to where it was grown, how it was grown, even to which orchard it came from and on which day it was picked.

 

“If we are forced to comply with these kind of strict, unbendable regulations for fruit, how come there is no traceability when it comes to sentient beings? Each and every kilogram of meat should be traceable back to the farm from which it originated, how the animal lived, how the animal was transported, in what condition the animal arrived at the abattoir, and so on. In the case of this cow, her meat would have been massively bruised.”

 

Note: Compassion in World Farming (SA) has sent the above information to Acting Consumer Commissioner Mr Ebrahim Mohamed, as well as to Dr Rob Davies, Minister of Trade and Industry, as part of our on-going appeal for labels that supply traceability from farm to fork. Such labelling would, of necessity, include acceptable methods of transport of animals to abattoirs. Compassion awaits their replies.

Meantime, this is as much as we know about the cow in Marina’s video clip:

 

  • As a Jersey cow, she was light brown and her milk had a high butterfat content favoured for making cheese.

  • She belonged to a fruit/dairy farm in the Genadendal Valley, Greyton

  • From her second year onwards, she gave birth to a calf every year. Like humans, cows come into milk (lactate) in order to feed their calves. Like humans, they are pregnant for nine months.

  • Although deeply maternal, her calves were all removed from her soon after birth so that her milk could be used for human consumption.

  • Her boy calves  were probably killed at birth      

 

She was probably about six years old and had given at least 22 litres of milk a day ever since her first lactation at the age of 2. Cows can live for 20 years but very often milk production declines at 4 – 6 years old.

 

Farm Animal NGO asks Consumer Commissioner for labelling to identify 'unconscionable and offensive' methods of animal production

Open Letter to the Consumer Commissioner Ebrahim Mohamed

For Kind Attention: Mr Ebrahim Mohamed, Acting Consumer Commissioner


Copy for attention: Dr Rob Davies, Minister of Trade and Industry

 

Dear Mr Mohamed,

 

As the leading NGO for farmed animal welfare in South Africa, Compassion in World Farming (SA) requests your urgent attention to the need for labelling of animal derived products in order to identify the methods of production used to achieve these products. It seems logical to address this issue as part of your current investigation into the incorrect labelling of meat products, as stated in newspaper reports recently.

Compassion’s repeated appeals to food retailers to become involved in the phasing-out of callous and cruel methods of animal production, have been fobbed off consistently with the excuse that they (the retailers) simply supply what the consumer demands. We suggest that this reply is unacceptable since consumer demand is mostly driven by uninformed choices in that:

 

  • Consumers do not have access to farms

  • Consumers are therefore unable to witness the gross cruelties involved in, for example, the industrialised farming of pigs and chickens and in many instances, calves

  • Consumers are misled by packaging that displays cute pictures and misleading words like ‘farm fresh’ and our complaints in this regard to the Advertising Standards Authority have been declined   

 

Compassion believes that it is scandalous that an NGO like ourselves is  ‘encouraged’ by food retailers ‘to keep up the good work’ while they continue to profiteer from gross cruelty. In addition, Compassion believes it is an insult on the part of retailers to assume that consumers do not care how their food is raised as long as it is cheap. In our view, this is patronising and paternalistic. We believe that it is the NCC’s duty to introduce comprehensive labelling that includes methods of production, in order to achieve a nation of informed, educated, responsible and ethical consumers.

 

We also draw your attention to the fact that Compassion and its supporters submitted a Class Action complaint to the NCC regarding cruel production methods, on 21 February 2011. Subsequently, Compassion met with then Commissioner Mohlala and duly complied with her request for further information. We have not yet received a reply from the NCC.

 

Compassion’s Class Action complaint alleged that in terms of Section 4 of the Consumer Protection Act, the production methods of certain animal-derived products were “unconscionable and unethical or improper to a degree that shocks our conscience and offends us, as reasonable people.”

Please see http://www.animal-voice.org/index.php/animal-voice-publication/32-animal-voice-april-2011 for further details of Compassion’s Class Action complaint to the NCC.

 

With regards,

Tozie Zokufa
Represantative: Compassion in World Farming SA

 

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