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

India and the Hidden Consequences of Nutrition Transition

By Judy Bankman

Note: This blog originally appeared on the Civil Eats website.

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An egg seller talks on his phone

In India today, hordes of people under 30 line up outside McDonald’s to order the Chicken Maharaja Mac: India’s beef-free version of the Big Mac. Fast food and sodas are “all the rage now,” in the country according to public health activist Shobha Shukla.

Ice cream is also becoming much more popular, with Baskin Robbins, Haagen Dazs, and Magnum already vending throughout India. Although many Indians do not eat beef for religious reasons, Muslims, Christians and even some Hindus are eating more cow and buffalo meat.

India’s booming middle class—estimated to number between 50 million and 250 million—is driving demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products like ice cream (milk has long been a staple of most Indian diets). Despite India’s long tradition of ethical vegetarianism, only about 40 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people now call themselves vegetarian.

For many Indians, particularly in urban areas, owning a television, driving a car, wearing Western brand name clothing, or eating meat are symbols of affluence, independence, and modernity.

“We are quick, hygienic, clean, and are seen as part of global culture,” Vikram Bakshi, managing director of McDonald’s India, told Agence France-Presse.

But being part of “global culture” carries enormous health risks. Heart disease is responsible for the majority of deaths in India, and more than 60 million Indians have been diagnosed with diabetes. That’s nearly five percent of India’s people, and this number is expected to rise—and quickly. By 2050, India will have the dubious distinction of being home to the most diabetics of any country in the world (leaping over China).

Like India, many countries in the global South, including South AfricaMexico, and China, are facing a similar dilemma. As their middle classes grow and rural to urban migration accelerates, more people are moving away from diets high in unprocessed starch, high-fiber vegetables, and plant proteins. Instead they are moving toward a Western-style way of eating, replete with animal protein and fat, refined carbohydrates, and sugar.

cow in ice cream shop

A cow walks into an ice cream shop

This phenomenon has come to be known as the “nutrition transition” and it occurs in many developing countries. With more money and easier access to urban centers that provide cheap, tasty, filling food, who wouldn’t want to start eating like an American? But for India and other transitioning countries, there’s a catch.

It’s not just that the standard American diet leads to weight gain and chronic disease. It does, but for those who were undernourished in utero or in early childhood, switching to a diet high in fat, sugar, and salt carries higher risk for developing chronic disease compared to their counterparts who have been affluent for generations.

Poor early-childhood nutrition leads to a host of metabolic and hormonal changes that actually help survival in nutrient-poor environments, according to Barry Popkin, Distinguished Professor of Global Nutrition at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Public Health. However, when confronted with a calorie-packed environment in later years, these adaptive mechanisms may actually lead to obesity.

An important 1976 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that mothers exposed to the 1944-45 Dutch famine during their pregnancies resulted in higher obesity rates among their children.

Similarly, a 2012 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals exposed to the Great Chinese Famine (1958-1961) in utero and during early childhood had higher rates of glucose intolerance than individuals born after the famine. The “thrifty phenotype hypothesis” gives an explanation for this paradoxical phenomenon.

Partly because of these biological mechanisms, people in developing countries are particularly at risk for type 2 diabetes and obesity. As in India, many countries are going through a nutrition transition so rapidly that children whose parents and grandparents didn’t have enough food can now eat at fast food restaurants and regularly consume the calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food typical of the Western-style diet.

Sometimes the speed of the nutrition transition results in the “double burden of malnutrition”: When hunger and over-nutrition occur at the same time. Among women in India, almost 27 percent are considered underweight, while 19 percent are considered overweight.

Diabetes trends in India are “absolutely frightening,” says Nikhil Tandon, professor of endocrinology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.   “Young people who are the drivers of the economy, who are the protectors of their family, are going to be lost,” according to Prathap Reddy, a cardiologist and founder of a large Indian network of private hospitals.

Researchers have found that in India, income is associated with malnutrition: Richer women who likely have access to a variety of foods tend to be overweight, while poorer women who cannot afford the most basic foods tend to be underweight. And even as a growing number of Indians eat higher up the food chain, under-nutrition remains a stubborn problem. More than 40 percent of Indian children younger than five are malnourished.

Is the nutrition transition an inevitable process? Or could food insecure countries provide calories their people need without gleaning them from saturated fats, sugar, and processed foods? What is clear is that curbing accelerating rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the global South requires policy changes, and quickly. Here are a few ideas:

Governments could subsidize production of native grains and vegetables to make them cheaper and encourage their renewed consumption. Developing countries should limit the advertising and availability of unhealthy foods to children and teens, whether these are the products of transnational food companies or “home grown” purveyors.

Ultimately, perceptions need to change so citizens of the global South see the Western-style diet for what it is: A recipe for obesity and chronic disease.