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From farm to fridge - truth about livestock

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UNESCO: From farm to fridge - truth about livestock


The Korea Herald (Seoul) April 4, 2011


The following article was contributed by UNESCO

on meat production and consumption in Asia. -




From farm to fridge - truth about livestock


By Emily Chu


Tens of billions of pigs, chickens, turkeys and

cattle are eaten globally every year, and about 2

billion people worldwide live on a meat-based



Asia's population and economic growth has been

charted as the fastest annual growth of any

region in the world in energy demand. Even though

the demand for meat and poultry is steadily

increasing, the number of farms providing them

has decreased, allowing for corporate

consolidation and industrialized intensification

agricultural techniques. Traditional farming

practices have been given up.


The global production of meat grew fivefold in

the latter half of the 20th century and continues

to increase. A recent UNESCO publication shows

that 4 of the top 10 meat-producing countries in

the world are Asian.


Robert A. Kanaly, head of a UNESCO working group

on ethics, energy and meat production from

Yokohama City University, Japan, said:

"Consolidation in the agricultural markets

continues worldwide and currently in Asia, meat

production intensification and CAFO-(Concentrated

Animal Feeding Operation)-type models are rapidly

becoming more popular ..."


"Š (However,) there is a lack of discussion of

core issues such as their heavy reliance on the

availability of cheap non-renewable fossil fuel

energy, combined with a large number of

potentially serious environmental, socioeconomic

and public health consequences," he added.


As a country becomes wealthier, people tend to

eat more meat, resulting in over-consumption and

potentially chronic diseases common in developed



Meat production and climate change are closely

interrelated. Extra attention should be paid to

serious health risks posed by meat production, as

well as indirect health consequences caused by

increased greenhouse gas emissions.


The intensity of animal production is a key

factor in controlling carbon emissions due to

land use and animal waste. Up to 180 million tons

of animal waste are excreted in the United States

each year, releasing methane and other toxic



"I think many people assume that vegetarians are

animal-loving tree huggers and it is a political

statement against cruelty to animals, which I

agree has its merits," said avid vegetarian Lisa

Joya from the Philippines.


"But I have issues with how meat is

contemporarily produced by modern farmers and

food companies. I have a problem with the

hormones and other chemicals meat producers use

to plump up their animals and produce at an

unnatural pace."


Meat production is a complicated issue, deeply

integral to the environment, public health and

economics, among many other factors. Since it is

a major factor in global GHG emissions, it should

be more heavily scrutinized.


"Environmental experts have been warning about

the severe consequences of producing meat for

years now. It's nothing new, just that

consumption is exponentially growing at the same

time we want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions"

said Darryl Macer, Regional Adviser for Social

and Human Sciences in Asia and the Pacific at

UNESCO Bangkok.


"Beef, for instance, is particularly damaging due

to the low conversion rate of energy from maize

to cattle and because methane Š is released both

by cows and by manure."


Seventy percent of all agricultural land and 30

percent of the earth's land surface is used for

pastoral, mixed-system and intensive livestock

production. One of the most serious consequences

is soil erosion, which diminishes productivity.


"An integral part of intensive meat production is

that cereal crops are fed in large quantities to

animals that in turn require large amounts of

fertilizer, water, land and industrial chemicals

to produce. The fertilizer is basically made from

nitrogen fixation using oil," said Kanaly.


"Indeed, Food and Agriculture Organization

projects that account for 50 percent of global

grain production will be used for animal feed by



Through intensification, biodiversity decreases -

a single crop is grown over a huge area, allowing

large harvests with minimal labor. The downsides

include a quicker spread of diseases since a

uniform crop is more susceptible to pathogens.

Situations where there is little genetic

diversity will result in expansive host

populations of animals that will be increasingly

vulnerable to emergent pathogens.


Livestock farms are responsible for exacerbating

environmental problems. UNESCO's report revealed

that sewage from animal operations in the

Philippines contributed to about 52 percent of

the pollution.


Another issue is pig waste, which has a low

demand as a fertilizer. Most swine farmers

deposit pig waste in lagoons, septic tanks or

digesters. Pig manure contains

antibiotic-resistant bacteria and compounds such

as ammonia, organic acids and sulfides. These

pollutants can have severe health effects on

animals and humans, and the report notes that

most of the manure is thrown into canals, rivers,

open pits or left on the ground to decompose.


These antibiotics' effects on ecology are also a

concern. Since many antibiotics are poorly

absorbed by farm animals, up to 90 percent may

end up in manure, then released into soil,

surface waters and possibly ground water.


Another concern is the transfer of infectious

diseases due to close contact between animals and

humans under unhygienic production conditions.

When animal production facilities are built

closer to the city center, this allows for more

human-animal contact. The consolidation of

facilities, transport routes and coincident

networks increases the transmission of pathogens.

Regulations to protect public health and related

issues have not kept pace with intensified meat



Several meat companies in the Philippines were

contacted for a survey on environmental values.

However, the producers were unwilling to be

interviewed, a clear indication of

non-transparency leading many to distrust meat

producers. Furthermore, the environmental effects

and health consequences that occur affect

livestock, human beings and the world around us.


"Transparency and ethical concerns in relation to

intensive farming clearly need to be considered

more deeply on the production side," said Kanaly.

"But at the same time, the consuming public also

needs to consider the ethics of their choices."


The ethics of producing animals for food by

industrialized systems also needs to be

considered. From a health perspective, lower

levels of saturated fat are always conducive.

From an environmental viewpoint, food and energy

is arguably wasted since animal production is

based on eating animals fattened with grains and

other foods that humans could have eaten directly.


Animals' living conditions are also to be

considered, as most live miserable lives so that

their meat can be made available at the lowest

cost possible, and society tolerates animals

being left to unsuitable conditions. It is

important for ethical standards to be present in

different countries.


In terms of policy options, effective public

policies are essential to ensure that livestock

contribute to development goals and minimize

damage to social equity, the environment and

public health.


The UNESCO report recommends that new policies

need to influence intensive livestock production,

plus abolishment of non-transparency methods.

Better regulations, more periodic checks on

producers and stricter enforcement would

encourage companies to practice healthier

livestock production.


For further information, email the Regional Unit

for Social and Human Sciences in Asia and the

Pacific (RUSHSAP), UNESCO Bangkok, at:


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