Business is booming.

The high price of cheap meat Part II and Final

Early in the financial crisis, political leaders should have banned speculation on basic foodstuffs, but didn’t. Despite a reduction in the real cost of cereal productions, prices kept going up. In February 2011 the World Bank warned: ‘Global food prices are rising to dangerous levels and threaten tens of millions … The price hike is already pushing millions of people into poverty, and putting stress on the most vulnerable, who spend more then half of their income on food”.

Most cattle are grazed, and while a small herd of black and white Pie Noir cows chewing the cud in the shade of cider apple trees in the Breton countryside might not be a problem, environmental damage increases as herd density rises. In South America over the past few years, overgrazing has left the soil sterile and saturated with animal manure. Producers easily resort to illegal logging to clear fresh land, especially in Brazil, which is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of beef and leather, supplying 30% of the global market. It exports primarily to Russia and the EU. A 2009 Greenpeace report revealed that Brazil’s 200 million head of cattle were responsible for 80% of the deforestation of the Amazon-10m hectares of forest destroyed in 10 years, to the detriment of small farmers and native peoples. For 40 years Survival International has condemned the killing of indigenous people by ranchers in Brazil’s forests.

The Amazonian rainforest is being destroyed primarily to produce bio-fuel and cattle feed. According to the peasant movement Via Campesina “Soybean monocultures … now occupy a quarter of all agricultural land in Paraguay and … have grown at a rate of 320,000 hectares a year in Brazil since 1995. In Argentina, where soybeans occupy around half the agricultural land … 5.6 million hectares of non-agricultural land was converted to soya production between 1996-2006. The devastating impacts that such farms have had on people and the environment in Latin America are well documented and acknowledged”.

Cereals and oil-producing plants, are transported across the Atlantic to the huge silos of agribusiness multinationals in Europe, ready to be turned into concentrated feed for millions of battery-farmed pigs and chickens around the world-in 2005 they consumed 1,250m tons. Factory farms supply processors and supermarkets internationally. The industry tries to minimize costs by “rationing” the production and distribution chain, reducing the workforce, automating tasks, standardizing products and mechanically recovering meat slurry for cheap processed meals. The system is there to meet the demands of agribusiness and big supermarkets.

Processed food makers produce sausages as if they were assembling a car from components; and in a way, the animals they use have become artificial, the product of agricultural research, selectively bred to accelerate muscle development and boost productive performance, their vital organs reduced to the point where they are not able to function properly. They are extremely vulnerable to illness, and producers try to remedy this by heating the buildings in which they are raised, although this is often not enough to avoid infections, so they are given antibiotics. The liquid manure they produce, a dangerous mix of nitrogen and phosphorus, is disposed of by spreading on land that is already oversaturated. In Brittany, cyanobacteria pollution of groundwater rivers and shores caused by the industry, is now endemic.

Traditional farming takes account of how much feed is available locally. Pastureland is nurtured, grass growth protected from too many hooves, and animal wastage prevented from affecting soil and water quality. Animals are reared in symbiosis with cereal and vegetable crops: green waste with peas, lupins and field beans makes a balanced and healthy fodder, straw provides bedding for the animals, and manure fertilizes the soil, completing the cycle. A new generation of farmers who want to produce local healthy food that does not damage the planet have been inspired by traditional practiced; they have studied, tested, improved and modernized them, and some have moved into agro-forestry, as recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization, in which trees shelter crops from the wind and sun and contribute to soil fertility, while tree roots keep water at the base of the plants. 

Source: DIJEST: Compiled by RDC


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