The Farm Sanctuary Movement Reaches Asia

Tied up Indian dairy cows

Tied up Indian dairy cows

By Jessika Ava

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

As social awareness increases over dietary choices, industrial farming methods, and animal welfare, more individuals are choosing a vegan lifestyle while simultaneously the farm sanctuary movement is becoming a global phenomenon. Farm sanctuaries provide a retirement home for animals removed from the agricultural industry, and often build community awareness regarding animal behavior, healthy eating habits, and the environmental impacts of our diets. In India, two such farmed animal sanctuaries are changing the country for both animals and people, by creating safe homes, building vegan communities, and implementing humane education efforts.

The VSCPA Kindness Farm located in Andhra Pradesh, South India recently opened in 2012 and continues to be a work in progress. Located in in the pristine jungle miles away from the polluted city, this sanctuary offers a peaceful retreat for rescued animals, visitors, and employees. Behind the Kindness Farm gates live hundreds of animals rescued from India’s traditional, small-scale farming industry: cows and buffalos rescued from illegal slaughter, emus left abandoned on the streets, chickens and ducks removed from trading markets, as well as street dogs and feral cats. In addition to helping animals, the sanctuary provides stable employment and livelihoods to local villagers, and the thousands of organic fruit trees and vegetables that line the landscaped grounds provide nutritious food to both employees and the animals. A biogas plant, fueled by the bovines’ manure and urine, provides electricity throughout the self-sustaining shelter, while the manure provides a natural fertilizer for the fodder fields.

Animal Aid Unlimited located in Rajasthan, West India was founded by three American ex-patriots who were so moved by the plight of India’s animals that they devoted their lives to creating a rescued animal sanctuary. The free-range, open ground shelter is home to animals saved from the farming and labor industries, including cows and buffalo saved from the dairy and slaughter industries, former working donkeys, other farmed animals, and feral street dogs who can no longer compete on the streets. The sanctuary provides regular shelter tours, educating local and international visitors on the impacts of diets and empowering individuals to make healthier, more ethical, and more sustainable lifestyle choices. The NGO also provides humane education courses at local schools, teaching children about animal protection, human rights, environmental stewardship, and local cultural issues, while “instilling… the capacity to live with compassion, integrity, and wisdom.”

As more individuals are becoming aware of the environmental, animal welfare, and social consequences of a meat and dairy based diet, the farm sanctuary movement seems to be growing alongside this trend. In countries across the world, sanctuaries are filling the crucial niche of providing lifelong, safe retirement homes for animals who have found their way out of the agricultural industry, while also creating public awareness for the innate needs of farmed animals and empowering individuals to make more informed, ethical lifestyle decisions.

Photo courtesy of Jessika Ava


Got Milk?: New Policy Paper on Industrialized Dairy in Asia

Dairy consumption is increasing across Asia

Dairy consumption is increasing across Asia

Brighter Green is excited to announce the release of a new policy paper exploring the growth of industrial dairy systems in India, China, and countries of Southeast Asia. The report, Beyond the Pail: The Emergence of Industrialized Dairy Systems in Asia, explores the trend toward increased dairy consumption and production and argues that the growth of industrial systems results in severe consequences for the environment, public health, animal welfare, and rural economies.

By 2025, countries in the global South are expected to consume nearly twice as much milk and dairy products as they did in 1997, and Asia is now the world’s highest dairy-consuming region, with 39 percent of global consumption. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) or “factory farms” for dairy production are being set up across the continent, many housing thousands of cows, but the detrimental impacts of this phenomenon for Asia are still largely undocumented.

The report analyzes the effects of CAFOs on a range of ecological, economic, and social systems, and it discusses the possibility of a sustainable future in dairy production with far fewer negative effects on the environment, livelihood, and equity. Country case studies chart the growth and effects, current or anticipated, of CAFO-style dairy production in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

“It’s crucial for policy makers and civil society to take notice of the consequences of dairy CAFOs now,” says the paper’s author Jessika Ava. “Many operations are in the early development and planning stages, and can thus be halted, allowing for the reintroduction of more traditional, more sustainable plant-based agricultural systems for long-term food and livelihood security.” Beyond the Pail: The Emergence of Industrialized Dairy Systems in Asia includes a set of recommendations for policy-makers, civil society organizations, international institutions, and the private sector to move in this direction before it’s too late.

Photo courtesy of: Meena Kadri

Update on Brazil: The Effects of the Soybean and Meat Industries

By Lauren Berger
This blog originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

Soybean fields in Brazil

Brazil, the world’s second largest producer and exporter of soybean, and the world’s largest exporter of poultryreports a 39 percent drop in greenhouse-gas emissions between 2005 and 2010.

However, this “good news” is not all its cracked up to be. For the first time, greenhouse-gas emissions from the agriculture industry make up the largest share of Brazil’s total emissions.

Cattle raising and industrial soybean farming have wreaked havoc on the Amazon and Cerrado. In an effort to stop deforestation, a 2006 moratorium on soybean farming on deforested land has dramatically decreased deforestation rates in the country. This accounts for the 76 percent drop in emissions from deforestation from 2005 to 2010. However, emissions from the agriculture industry increased 5.2 percent from 2005 to 2010 with crop yields growing faster than emissions, indicating an increase in agricultural production and an increasingly potential threat to the environment.

Historically, deforestation in Brazil has been a direct result of cattle raising and industrial soybean farming. In order to increase soybean production and exportation, parts of the Amazon and Cerrado forests have been deforested for farmland. The moratorium helped dramatically decrease deforestation, but the soybean industry has been complicit in indirectly contributing to deforestation. The soybean industry has been using abandoned cattle raising plots to plant and produce soybeans. Cattle ranchers continually burn down the jungle (as it is inexpensive) and plant grass in order to raise cattle. When the land is no longer viable, ranchers typically move on to deforest other parts of the jungle while the soybean industry buys this used land that is easier to cultivate soybean production. And while deforestation has declined over the last few years, Amazon deforestation has increased 5-fold in 2013 compared to 2012, believed to be linkedto the soybean industry’s continual “indirect” deforestation.

Additionally, Brazil’s meat production is expected to expand over the next 10 years, which will indubitably contribute to Brazil’s agriculture industry’s greenhouse-gas emissions. Increasing meat production will also directly increase Brazil’s grain production as soybean (projected to increase 22 percent over the next decade) and other grains are continually used in animal feed.

While the moratorium and overall decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions in Brazil seems positive, when looked at more closely, the soybean industry continues to negatively effect the environment through deforestation, pesticide use, and greenhouse-gas emissions. The effects of increase soybean and meat production have direct links to the environment and while past actions have helped decrease environmental effects, its clear that with continued growth expected, the negative effects will only continue to increase.

Photo courtesy of Dami Izolan/Flickr

Preventing a Livestock Revolution in Liberia: the Need for a New International Vision

By Ross Miranti

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 12, 2013.

In Liberia, the FAO has been involved in a number of poultry projects for both broilers and laying hens. It has constructed three factory farm style operations in the interior of the country to train locals in “modern and intensive poultry production and management practices.” It has also teamed up with the Ministries of Gender and Agriculture under the Joint Program on Food Security and Nutrition to construct ten other poultry houses throughout the country. None of these operations house much more than 1,000 birds, though they are set up like intensive factory farms and provide a model for future operations, which will surely increase in size and numbers as the country develops. So in short, the FAO — which outlined the heavy environmental impacts of the global livestock sector in the widely cited report Livestock’s Long Shadow — is now encouraging the future development of factory farming in Liberia.
The government of Liberia has also led livestock projects. As part of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Resettlement, and Reintegration program (DDRR), it worked with the UNDP to train ex-combatants in animal husbandry, with emphasis on poultry farming. While most other DDRR programs made a positive impact on the livelihoods of ex-combatants, the livestock program had very limited success because of a shortage of start-up animals, the heavy cost of feed and other inputs, and the difficulty participants had in selling to local populations that couldn’t afford to eat meat regularly.

Liberian rain forest

Liberian rain forest

Even though intensive, modern livestock is the wrong way to improve nutrition and food security in Liberia, that is not to say that supporting the production of plant-based food alternatives will take care of the country’s food problems by itself. Resolving these issues is a complex endeavor because Liberia’s food system is dysfunctional in so many ways: unstable property rights, endemic corruption, lack of access to credit, low technological innovation, few storage facilities, the absence of an electrical grid outside the capital, paralyzing flooding that comes with heavy rains, poor transportation infrastructure (especially in the interior of the country, where most food is produced), the reliance of the country on expensive imported food, and low government investment and support for agriculture.

So, reducing malnutrition and promoting food security in a responsible way requires the broader development of the country. While Liberia makes progress in these areas, they should also shift support away from intensive livestock operations and more towards the production of protein-rich, plant-based foods for direct human consumption. This would yield more food per acre and have the added benefit of using less water, lowering carbon emissions, protecting Liberia’s biodiverse rainforests, reducing animal suffering, and, in the long-term, preventing some of the diet-related health problems associated with the high consumption of animal products.

Admittedly, it is a bit unrealistic to think that Liberia or any other developing country could be steered away from adopting diets high in meat, especially when the overwhelming majority of the population eats and craves meat, but is unable to consume as much as they want due to their low incomes. Policy makers in these countries – and in the rest of the world, for that matter – are unwilling and uninterested in supporting policies to lower meat consumption because they themselves have a bias in favor of eating meat and because any such policy would be hugely unpopular with their constituents. And even if the production of plant-based proteins were to be ramped up, as long as there are cheap (and often subsidized) livestock products available on the world market, they will be imported.
Any hopes of keeping meat consumption at bay in Liberia will not only require institutional support but also a dramatic shift in public sensibilities; a social education, of sorts. This seems unlikely to happen in the relatively short period of time that development is occurring, especially given that most of the population is illiterate. Even in the developed world, where populations are literate, educated, and, in general, sensitive to environmental concerns, most people do not perceive the negative impacts of livestock as a major global issue – in fact many don’t see it as an issue at all.

So in the end, Liberia could, hypothetically, do everything in its power to see that it doesn’t replicate the dietary shifts that other countries have adopted during their development, but reversing the livestock revolution there will truly require a global partnership that transcends borders, culture, and habit. It will also require a radical global shift in how people think about food. Hopefully the world doesn’t have to come to a crisis point for its population to see that livestock is not a sustainable way to nourish a burgeoning world population, but the current path we are on is leading in that direction.

This blog is third in a series of three blog posts on Liberia and animal agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Flora and Fauna International

Livestock Intensification as a Misguided Response to Liberia’s Food Woes

By Ross Miranti

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 7, 2013.


Liberian poultry operation

Like much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Liberia struggles with malnutrition and food insecurity. While finding solutions to these problems is a major developmental goal for the country, unfortunately, the government and its international partners’ response has included a strong emphasis on livestock production. This is problematic given the negative impacts animal agriculture has in terms of sustainability, food security, climate change, and animal welfare.

The problems of malnutrition and food insecurity in Liberia are quite distinct from those of East Africa, where there have been repeated climate change-related droughts in recent years. At the height of the 2011 food crisis in the Horn of Africa, 13.5 million people were facing food shortages and 3.2 million were on the brink of starvation due to a lack of food and water. Liberia, on the other hand, gets plenty of rain – in fact, during the wet season the rain can be too abundant for certain crops to thrive (the capital, Monrovia, can get up to 5,000 millimeters of precipitation annually). In the lush tropical climate of equatorial West Africa, where banana, palm nut, and mangoes grow everywhere, Liberians may not be starving, but many are not eating as much as they would like to eat and even more are lacking in certain key nutrients such as protein, iron, and vitamin A.

The funding and support for livestock in the country is grounded in the fact that meat, eggs, and dairy can provide nutrients that are deficient from the diets of many Liberians. To increase consumption of these products, there has been a concerted effort to boost domestic supply. Currently, production falls short of demand since there are only a few small commercial operations and most poultry is still produced in small-scale, backyard operations consisting of a few free-roaming chickens. Because of production shortfalls, the country imports most of its poultry products; according to the FAO, 3,190 of the 6,647 tons of eggs consumed in the country in 2009 came from India, with much of the rest coming from neighboring Guinea.

The support for livestock is misguided in that there are plant-based food alternatives that offer the same nutritional benefits as animal products without the negative impacts. In emerging countries such as China, where incomes have been increasing rapidly, there has been a corresponding rise in the consumption of animal products to levels at or even above that in some developed countries. These massive dietary shifts are not only having negative impacts in terms of sustainability, food security, climate change, and animal welfare, but the health gains are lost as populations become “overnourished” by consuming an excess of calories and animal products, which leads to a range of chronic, diet-related health problems.

So it is commendable that the UN, NGOs, and the Liberian government respond to the country’s food woes by promoting the production and access to food that can keep the population nourished, but the enthusiastic support for modern livestock seems to lack any consideration for the long-term impacts of factory farming and high meat consumption. In other words, if Liberia and its development partners were thinking about how to best develop the country’s food systems in a way that is sustainable, healthy, climate-friendly, and protective of their precious rain forests, then they would not be instructing Liberians in how to set up concentrated animal feeding operations.

This blog is two in a series of three blog posts on Liberia and animal agriculture.

Photo courtesy of Liberia Broadcasting System

Meat and Development in Liberia

By Ross Miranti

This blog originally appeared on the Brighter Green website on June 4, 2013.

Meat consumption correlates with income; poorer individuals and countries tend to consume less than their wealthier counterparts. This applies to Liberia, one of the poorest nations in the world, which has an annual per capita income of about 374 dollars and an annual per capita meat consumption of about 10.4 kilograms/kg (22.9 pounds/lbs).

Three decades ago Liberia was one of the more prosperous nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the violent, fourteen year civil war (1989 to 2003) devastated the country in countless ways; it claimed 250,000 lives, displaced over 600,000 people, demolished infrastructure, and ravaged the economy.

The standard of living for the average Liberian diminished quickly, with the GDP falling 90 percent in the first five years of the war. Today, incomes remain low, even with a flood of aid money, the presence of a major UN peacekeeping force, and the ambitious efforts of president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state.

Unlike most countries in the world, including many of its neighbors, Liberia has lower levels of meat consumption than it did fifty years ago (see the graph below). Today, average per capita consumption is slightly less than it was in 1961, when Liberia’s meat consumption was above that of most other Sub-Saharan African countries and three times higher than that of China. Since then, per capita consumption in China has increased fifteen fold and is over five times that of Liberia.

 Source: FAOSTAT

Though meat consumption in Liberia remains low, it is likely to rise dramatically with increasing incomes, much as it has in other countries. In the coming century, the entire region of Sub-Saharan Africa seems set for a massive increase in the consumption of animal products as incomes creep up and populations grow rapidly. The net impact of this regional dietary shift will be harmful in terms of sustainability, climate change, food security, animal welfare, and public health.

While this dietary shift in Liberia and the region will push our global food system more towards an ecological tipping point – spiking global demand for scarce agricultural land, consuming more fresh water, contributing further to climate change, and consigning an increasing number of animals to livestock production (over 60 billion animals worldwide are involved in livestock each year) – one mustn’t overlook the persistently high consumption of meat and other animal products in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world. If the international community is to mitigate the global externalities of livestock, developing countries will need to resist the urge to put meat at the center of their diets, but likewise, developed countries will need to work on removing it from the center of theirs.

Rich countries can help to prevent or reverse the livestock revolution in poor countries like Liberia by leading by example. So far, only a minority in the U.S. and the rest of the developed world believe that meat, eggs, and dairy are not the right foods we should be using to nourish the world’s population. Perhaps high-income countries need to develop their understanding of the impacts of the livestock revolution before they can help Liberia and other low-income countries develop their food systems in a truly humane, sustainable, and climate-friendly way.

This blog is first in a series of three blogs on Liberia and animal agriculture.

Graph created by Ross Miranti using FAOSTAT statistics

World Environment Day: Food Waste, Sustainability & China’s & the U.S.’ Pigs

World Environment Day: Food Waste, Sustainability & China’s & the U.S.’ Pigs

WED 2013 logo

WED 2013 logo

Note: this post was originally published on the Huffington Post’s Green section.

It’s World Environment Day and this year’s focus is on reducing food waste and getting people to shrink their “foodprints,” particularly, of course, if they’re large. Many are. In the U.S., between 30 and 40 percent of the food supply is simply wasted, according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, announcing a national Food Waste Challenge.Some of the bad habits around food we’ve developed in the U.S. have gone global. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that 1.3 billion metric tons of food iswasted throughout the world every year, the amount of food that’s produced in all of sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries. A study by Chinese researchers concluded that the food wasted in a year by 2,700 families in differently sized Chinese cities could have fed 200 million people, about one-sixth of China’s population.

World Environment Day’s “Think.Eat.Save.” theme probably wasn’t on the minds of those shepherding last week’s $4.7 billion deal to sell Smithfield, the world’s biggest pork producer, to Shuanghui, a Chinese conglomerate with global investors that include Goldman Sachs (Morgan Stanley is providing some of the financing). And yet there is an important link.

A particularly wasteful source of food is industrial animal agriculture. Raising pigs in batches, thousands at a time in tight enclosures on factory farms as Smithfield does, is inherently wasteful. It demands large allotments of grain-based feed and therefore land, pesticides, and fertilizers; considerable amounts of water; and antibiotics and hormones to speed the pigs’ growth. Most are slaughtered at the age of six months.

China already raises and slaughters about 500 million pigs a year. Since 1980, overall meat consumption in China has more than quadrupled to 128 pounds a year, about two-thirds of average U.S. levels. Similar to the pattern in the U.S., animal agriculture in China is becoming more vertically integrated, with large corporations increasingly owning not just factory-farm facilities, but also slaughterhouses and feed companies.

An estimated 576 gallons of water and more than four pounds of grain are needed to manufacture just one pound of pork. Factory-farmed pigs also produce titanic amounts of waste, pound-for-pound four times the volume people do. Moreover, the global livestock industry is “probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution,” according to the FAO.

With the cash of its soon-to-be new owners, Smithfield is gearing up to sell more U.S. pork to Chinese consumers. Smithfield is also expected to expand operations in China. It’s no stranger to the country. In July 2008, the state-owned China National Oils, Foodstuffs and Cereals Corporation (COFCO), China’s largest food importer/exporter and a Fortune 500 company, bought a 5 percent share in Smithfield; the year before, Smithfield began exporting pork to China.

China is beginning to reel under the weight of its livestock population, the world’s largest. Even though it’s not yet a fully fledged “factory-farm nation,” strains from its fast-growing livestock sector, and burgeoning appetite for animal-based protein, are showing — in significant water pollution, soil degradation, rising rates of obesity and chronic disease, risks to food security and food safety, pressure on small farmers, and declining farm-animal welfare.

A report released in April by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of Rural Development concluded that, in 2012, large-scale livestock and poultry pollution had become the biggest source of agricultural pollution in China.

China has also become a major importer of soy, for use as livestock feed. In 2010, China bought 55 million tons of soy in global markets — a record. China’s rising demand for soybeans has been met in large measure by the expansion of soy acreage in Brazil, in both the Amazon forest and the Cerrado, the Brazilian savannah. Currently, Chinapurchases more than 40 percent of Brazil’s soy. Through buying Brazilian soy, China is also importing water, an increasingly precious resource for the country.

Although Smithfield gave a nod to environmental and animal-welfare concerns in thepress release announcing the Shuanghui purchase, the company’s business practices have raised numerous concerns. Manure from the company’s hog facilities has pollutedcreeks and rivers in North Carolina. It has been accused of intimidating unions, hiring illegal immigrants, and violating labor laws. A 2010 undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the U.S. exposed systematic cruelty at a Smithfield-affiliated pig farm.

It’s hard to know how high China’s consumption of meat will or can go; presumably Shuanghui and Smithfield are “all in” for boosting supply. But whether China will be able to intensify production on a level akin to that of the U.S. or expand its share of the world protein-export market are open questions. Among the challenges: concerns abroad and at home about Chinese food-safety standards; ecological limits; and rising prices of grain and oil, both essential inputs for large-scale industrial animal agriculture.

Increasingly, Chinese government officials, activists, and netizens alike are focusing on food waste and its effects on food security, natural resources, and climate change. On this World Environment Day, shouldn’t we all be doing the same wherever we are, and with the global perspective that’s required?

Much of the information in this article is drawn from Brighter Green’s policy paper, “Skillful Means: the Challenges of China’s Encounter with Factory Farming”, which is available, along with other multimedia resources, on Brighter Green’s website here.