Crossing the Equator: What’s For Christmas Dinner?

By Wanqing Zhou

This blog post originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

No matter where we are, there is one thing in common for the end of year holidays, whether you’re celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or another festival: food. Special dishes. Holiday meals. Gathering around a table. It’s time to be merry and stay happy, to try and forget about sorrow and anger, and often, to give up asking too many questions—questions that may lead to the truth, and the truth can be inconvenient.

On November 28 and 29, 2014, Brighter Green’s Mia MacDonald and Wanqing Zhou joined environmental and rights advocates at the International Strategy Meeting on Impacts of Unsustainable Livestock and Feed Production and Threats to Community Conservation in Paraguay. The meeting and field trips were organized by the Global Forest Coalition, an international non-profit network of organizations based in Paraguay and the Netherlands.

"Agrochemicals violate human rights - a tribute to Silviono Talavera."

“Agrochemicals violate human rights: A tribute to Silvino Talavera.”

Just six miles from the conference site, across the Asunción airport, Elvio Sosa is the “Chief” of 23 MbyáGuaraní families. Five years ago, soybean farmers occupied Elvio and his indigenous community’s territory in Caaguazú Department in east Paraguay (the name Caaguazú means “big forest”) and burned their houses. People fled in different directions, with some families arriving at Zárate Isla, a place where no one came to chase them away.

They settled down with other Mbyá people from other parts of the country, built huts under the tree shades, kept chickens and ducks, and some also began to grow food around their huts. The children don’t go to school because families cannot afford school supplies and required uniforms. Only temporary jobs are open to them, while most of the time, they go to the streets and try to find “luck”—this Christmas season they are probably selling Mbocaya flowers to drivers on the road.

From Asunción heading east, the tropical forest landscape gradually turns into uniform soybean monocultures that run through Canindeyú, Caaguazú, Caazapá, Alto Paraná, and Itapúa. As the raw material for livestock feed, cooking oil, and various food additives, acres and acres of genetically modified (GM) pesticide-resistant soybean cover the red soil, turning natural forests into deserts of dark green or arid brown. Small pockets of woods leave people to imagine the lost habitats of indigenous peoples and other forest-dependent communities.

Huge metal silos shine under the sun. Billboards for pesticides, fertilizers, seeds and farm machinery stand along the repeatedly-mended, two-way, single-lane highway. Ruts left by heavy trucks tell the story of prosperous agribusiness in silence—one cannot hear insects or birds in these fields, nor farmers calling to each other—and two or three people are enough to manage all the work with the help of modern technologies.

According to communities living near the soy fields, four or five people are enough to manage all the work in 50,000 to 70,000 acres of soybean monoculture with the help of modern technologies. Pesticides, sometimes sprayed by small planes, are applied to the soy, ten times per rotation, three rotations a year, without any notice to surrounding communities. Cases of skin disease, malformation, stillbirths, and cancer have increased dramatically in these communities. School kids play by a wall of eucalyptus trees, planted along the edge of soy fields, with the hope that the trees shield some of the fumigation. In 2003, 11-year-old Silvino Talavera died in front of his mother’s eyes after being directly exposed to pesticide spraying in the soy fields near his home in Itapúa.

For campesinos (small-scale peasant farmers) in Paraguay, who try to preserve traditional varieties of crops and practice agroforestry, life is getting harder. The soybean fields are encroaching, withering the peasants’ vegetables and fruit trees as agrochemicals fill the air. Standing by rolls of stakes, peasant farmer Geronimo Arevalos told us how he had to replant his tomatoes because the fumigation just killed his last batch. As an activist for small farmers’ rights, he was featured in the award-winning documentary Raising Resistance, and proudly displayed the Golden Butterfly trophy from the Movies That Matter Film Festival.

Moving up the supply chain, victims of industrial agriculture are affected in different ways, and not all of them are heard like Geronimo. Some soybeans are transported to Capiatá near Asunción, where industrial livestock farms and slaughterhouses are located. Pechugon (pechugón means “big breasts”), the chicken meat brand created by processing company Avícola La Blanca, has a facility in Capiatá that produces poultry feed and slaughters chickens.

Facilities like this usually take advantage of rainy days to discharge wastewater, which run into streams and enter the Ypacaraí Lake. Pechugon has dug five wastewater treatment pools near Fidel Goncalvez’s community. Houses close to the leaky water pipes are frequently inundated with semi-treated wastewater, including a mixture of blood, animal waste, and toxic chemicals like bleach. The smell is constantly awful, those living around the plant say, and one of the company’s responses was to provide households with window screens. Still, the screens cannot keep these insects from occupying dinner tables.

The stories can go on and on and on. And yet, what’s happening in Paraguay is just a snapshot of the impacts of the global system of industrial livestock production. In other words, industrial livestock production is connected to everyone.

Industrial livestock production technologies and business models were invented in industrial countries such as the U.S. and promoted worldwide; consumers in China and Europe have reached out to the U.S. and Latin America for larger amounts of livestock and feed products. Latin American countries, especially Brazil and Paraguay, are becoming dispossessed—their natural resources have become meat and animal feed that is shipped to consumer countries; the profits go into the pockets of multinational agribusinesses; indigenous people and small farmers have lost their livelihoods; and a large part of the unique ecosystems and their biodiversity are gone, forever.

The truth about the global food system is inconvenient, and not only at Christmas. But Christmas, and the overall end-of-year holiday season, may be a good time—as good as any in fact—to learn more about the food we eat, where it comes from, and how it’s shaping and reshaping the world (as in Paraguay), one purchase, one meal, one technology, one forest lost or one community displaced, one bite at a time.

Photo courtesy of Wanqing Zhou

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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

Climate Change and Food Security

By Elana Sulakshana

Image

Climate change will continue to affect crop yields significantly.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Working Group II recently published a report titled “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” One of the major issues that the report raises is that of food security, exploring the connection between mounting pressures due to climate change and agriculture. These links between climate and food are intrinsically tied to inequity.

Agricultural yields are expected to fall at a rate much faster than previously predicted. Production of corn and wheat, in particular, faces grave risks due to changes in temperature and rainfall patterns—the report says yields of these two crops will reduce at least 2% per decade. This may lead to food prices rising 3% to 84% by 2050. At the same time, the global population is increasing rapidly. Predictions state that there will be at least 2 billion more mouths to feed by 2050 (an increase in the world’s population by about 35%), which will require crop production to double, according to National Geographic.

Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, one of the authors of the report, stated: “Climate change is acting as a brake. We need yields to grow to meet growing demand, but already climate change is slowing those yields.”

As Oppenheimer indicates, these are not just concerns for the future. The report discusses how climate change has already impacted food supply and continues to do so. Many link the 2007-8 spike in wheat prices to political unrest and violence in the Arab spring, just one example of the far-reaching influence of fluctuations in food supply and prices.

The world is polarized in terms of hunger. The number of overweight and obese people is booming worldwide, now comprising more than 33% of the population, or 1.46 billion adults. Meanwhile, 842 million—about one in eight—people are starving, struggling with the under consumption of energy, protein, and micro-nutrients.

Recent decades, though, have seen an greater consumption in developing nations. From 1980 to 2008, the number of obese and overweight adults increased about three times from 250 to 904 million (compared to 1.7 times in the developed world). Diets in the developing world are increasingly featuring dairy and meat (check out Brighter Green’s report on industrialized dairy in Asia). National Geographic predicts that the demand for protein—i.e. meat—will increase by 103.6% in developing countries, 69.2% in the least developed, and just 15.3% in developed.

This will have significant repercussions on the environment, as meat production is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, comprising 18% today. Raising livestock is highly intensive in terms of water and grain. Currently only 55% of global crop calories are used for food, whereas the rest is dedicated to feed (36%) and fuel (9%).

As we move forward, one of the key ways that we can tackle climate change and eradicate hunger is by reducing meat consumption in both developed and developing countries. If we were to shift all crop production to direct human consumption, that would create enough food for 4 billion people, easily ending hunger today and fulfilling the needs of the predicted population of 9 billion in 2050. This is wishful thinking, as we are witnessing the opposite process, as developing countries take a cue from the developed and increase meat consumption as incomes rise.

This is the second piece in a series on climate change and inequality. Read the first one here.

Photo courtesy of United Nations Multimedia.

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

Sochi & Environmentalism (& Brighter Green’s Primer in Russian)

By Elana Sulakshana

This blog originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

Brighter Green is partnering with the Global Forest Coalition (GFC) and Biofuelwatch on a new project studying the intersection of deforestation, climate change, and industrial animal agriculture, in hopes of bringing attention to the connections between these issues at the global policy level. Brighter Green and the Global Forest Coalition recently produced a primer on this project that can be viewed here. We also recently translated this primer into Russian, opening it up to a wider audience. Russia is a significant importer of meat products from Latin America, where the livestock and feed industries are major players in the region’s deforestation.

Russia also has been in the hot seat by environmental standards, as much controversy swirls around the Sochi Olympics. In 2007, when Russia received the bid for the games, the administrators claimed that they would work as hard as possible to be “green” and produce “zero waste,” but the past few weeks have revealed a lack of follow-through on these ambitious (and vague) promises.

Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi Olympic Park

Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi Olympic Park

Though they spent nearly $51 billion, environmental standards were almost completely ignored; there is absolutely no mention of provisions for waste disposal in the budget. The Russian government relaxed environmental standards in order to build the Olympic village, which cuts through 8,000 acres of Sochi National Park and the Western Caucasus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The construction destroyed much plant and animal life, in what is considered the region of Russia with the most biodiversity.

Despite their zero-waste promise, tons of waste was produced, and it has been disposed of in the Akhshtyr dump, an illegal landfill located in a water protection zone. This trash has contaminated Sochi’s potable water and is expected to continue to do so for 10 years; journalists covering the Olympics have reported disgusting yellow-colored tap water.

Russian administrators have taken drastic steps to suppress all who have raised awareness of these issues. Russian environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko co-authored a report that chronicled the ecological impact of preparing for the Olympics, detailing, among many problems, the devastation of salmon populations and the building of ski slopes inside Sochi National Park. He was recently sentenced to three years in prison–for spray painting a fence. Members of Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus, with whom Vitishko conducted research and wrote the paper, have reported being in a “state of war” with the Russian government, facing threats from the Federal Security Service.

Russia has continuously put up a front against these claims. A representative for Olympstroy, the state-owned company in charge of the majority of Olympic construction said, “Issues of environmental protection have become a priority in the design and construction of Olympic infrastructure.”

Russia must get on board with the protection of our earth and allow free environmental expression and activism, and the international community should place pressure on them to do so. We cannot face these same issues in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 or Pyeongchang in 2018; sustainability must be a key feature of future Olympics.

Photo courtesy of: Kenyee/Flickr

American Hippopotamus – the Meat Question

By Sangamithra Iyer

This blog originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.

A yawning hippo in the wild

A yawning hippo in the wild

In 1910, Louisiana congressman Robert Broussard introduced a bill to import African Hippopotamuses to the swamplands of the U.S. Gulf Coast to supplement the U.S. food supply. Author Jon Mooallem’s longform nonfiction multimedia story “American Hippopotamus” published by The Atavist details the origins and tracks the fate of this idea, which ultimately never came to fruition. The piece is a fascinating narrative and profile of two of the proponents of this scheme, who were once enemies fighting on opposite sides of the Boer War: American scout Frederick Russell Burnham (The inspiration for Boy Scouts and Indiana Jones), and Fritz Duquesne.

The proposal to import hippos was a response to what was then called the “Meat Question.” Mooallem writes:

“America was withering under a serious meat shortage at the time. Beef prices had soared as rangeland had been ruined by overgrazing, and a crippled industry struggled to satisfy America’s explosively growing cities, an unceasing wave of immigrants, and a surging demand for meat abroad… It was a troubling sign that maybe the country couldn’t keep growing as fast and recklessly as it had been. Maybe there were limits after all.”

Up until that point, U.S. had responded to shortages in food by land expansion, but the limits of this approach started to daylight. The introduction of African hippos to the U.S. was also an attempt to correct a problem caused by the introduction of a another foreign species. Water hyacinths—brought to New Orleans as a gift from a visiting Japanese delegation—rapidly reproduced and caused eutrophication and the formation of aquatic dead zones. The hope was that the African hippos would eat up the Japanese water hyacinths in waters of the U.S.

Burnham, Duquesne and Broussard had formed the “New Food Supply Society” to gain public and political support for this proposal. Mooallem describes the various arguments they put forth to counter initial resistance to the idea.

“Burnham challenged the committee to consider how bizarre it is that we eat only cows, pigs, sheep, and poultry—just four types of animals, basically all of which had themselves been imported by Europeans centuries ago.”

Burnham also provided a history of the adaptation of other imported animals to the American landscape- ostriches in California, Russian reindeer in Alaska, and African Camels in the American Southwest.

The ethics and potential ecological risks of bringing these animals to the U.S. are never fully addressed, as the men proposing this venture felt that those critical of the idea were either too small minded, or let emotion guide their decision making.

Despite the efforts of the New Food Supply Society, the hippo bill never got passed. Mooallem summarized a different path the nation took to answer the Meat Question:

“Rather than diversify and expand our stock of animals, we developed ways to raise more of the same animals in more places. Gradually, that process led to the factory farms and mass-confinement operations we have today—a mammoth industry whose everyday practices and waste products are linked to all kinds of dystopian mayhem, from the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to a spate of spontaneous abortions in Indiana, to something called blue baby syndrome, in which infants actually turn blue after drinking formula mixed with tap water that’s been polluted by runoff from nearby feedlots.”

Over a century after the introduction of the hippo bill,the Meat Question still remains. How do we tackle the limits of our growth, issues of global food security and the ethical and ecological consequences of animal agriculture?

Mooallem isn’t necessarily suggesting that we would have been better off if we had implemented the hippo scheme, but he romanticizes the hippopotamus meat solution as one of idealism, offering a bold, innovative attempt at problem solving. “But there is something beautiful about the America that considered importing them—an America so intent on facing down its problems, and solving them, that even an idea like this could get a fair hearing,” Mooallem wrote.

There could also be something beautiful about an America intent on solving the Meat Question today. And what might that crazy, bold, radical solution be now? How about eating plants?

Photo courtesy of Doug88888/Flickr

Chipotle’s Bold Move Towards Food With Integrity

By Lauren BergerImage
Note: This blog originally appeared on the Brighter Green website.
In response to Chipotle’s new harrowing ad depicting the realities of factory farming, the Executive Director for the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance said that“It’s a fabrication of how food is produced and fabrication that drives the sales for the food they produce”.Well, that is simply not true.

Chipotle is the black sheep among fast food producers. It spends a fraction of its revenue on advertising compared to most fast food chains and advocates for more sustainable and humane sourcing of food products. Even though Chipotle founder and CEO Steve Ells says they do not want to inform policy on food issues, their ads speak for themselves. By depicting chickens injected with hormones and sad cows restricted in crates they are trying to raise awareness on the realities of how our food is sourced and the choices we can make, like they have.

When you walk into a Chipotle restaurant and are deciding which burrito/taco/salad combination to order, you will immediately notice multiple statements: they serve naturally raised pork and beef, their is from pasture-raised cows without the hormone rBGH, and they try to source pasture raised chicken (admitting that this is extremely hard to find) that are not treated with antibiotics or other hormones. They even say on their website and in store that they will let you know if they experience a supply shortage of their naturally raised chicken.

Now, we do not know the extent to which “naturally raised” truly means (as we know that “free range” chicken isn’t necessarily truly free range). But for a major fast food chain this is most definitely a step forward.

But Chipotle has received a lot of criticism from the agriculture industry denouncing the ad as “false advertising” and a “romanticized” vision of feeding the world. But Chipotle’s critics contradict themselves: to “feed the world” and meet the demand for animal products Chipotle’s depiction of factory farming is in fact true.

Many of these critics fear that Chipotle’s depictions will influence policy makers and individuals with their “food with integrity”movement, but Chipotle wants to stay out of the policy debate.

The fact is, demand for meat and dairy products continues to grow and Chipotle’s vision of a better world where our food is sourced naturally cannot truly exist as long as the demand for animal products increases. To truly advocate for a better good-food world, they must advocate for lower meat and dairy consumption in addition to naturally sourced food, and doing so would mean not meeting their customers’ demand.

Even so, Chipotle has taken a brave step forward in the conversation on food issues, particularly as a well-known and successful fast food chain, shedding light on the realities of food sourcing and enlightening its large consumer base to the realities of where their food comes from and how they can make better choices.

Photo Credit: Patrn/Flickr