Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Factory Farming in NZ...The Spectre Rises Again

The proposals for large scale factory dairy farming in the Omarama and Ohau regions of the South Island that were only recently stalled due to environmental concerns may be back 'on the table'.

The companies (Southdown Holdings, Five Rivers and Williamson Holdings) have, according to a New Zealand Herald article, lodged proposals anew for the factory farms, in which 17,850 cows would be housed in cubicles.

I have written on numerous occasions about the health ramifications of factory farming, something which in this current debate seems to have been ignored to a large degree. I will not repeat all of these arguments again...but beyond our health there are so many reasons why we should not launch ourselves down the slippery slope of factory farming and that we may be on the cusp of doing so stuns and baffles me!

A few quick points ~

Our Health:
It is well known and conclusively proven that when cattle are fed grain instead of their natural feed of grass their tissue fatty acid composition changes markedly. Omega 6 fat levels rise dramatically in proportion to Omega 3 fats. Both Omega 6 and 3 fats are 'essential fatty acids' and are therefore 'healthy' however we, in the modern world have subverted the natural balance of these fats in our diets (due to highly processed and refined food and grain feeding of cattle, chickens and fish). We now consume far too many Omega 6 fats. This causes increased inflammation in the body and is a co-factor in the development of heart disease, diabetes and especially in the development of cancer. Many years ago I was hired to conduct an 'in house' research review on nutrition and breast cancer for a health organisation. The cofactor that kept popping up time and again was a preponderance of Omega 6 fats in the diet.
It is theorised that grass fed milk and dairy products contain more of the health promoting fats CLA as well as Omega 3 fats.
I noticed while living in North America that a lot of the butter was white....In NZ the butter is yellow. I have read that this difference is due to the higher amounts of beta-carotene in our (grass fed) butter milk. This is another vital nutrient we would lose if we are to go down the factory farming route.

Animal Welfare:
Grain fed cattle suffer from a host of gastrointestinal and other problems.
Acidosis is common in grain fed cattle and causes symptoms for the cow that resemble pneumonia.
Other gastrointestinal problems often result from feeding grain to cattle and are uncomfortable and painful at best, and fatal at worst (The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan has some great info on the problems resulting from grain feeding.)
That we continue to 'improve' farming methodology by harming other living beings on an increasing scale should, I believe, be anathema to more of us...

The Environment:
The reason why the proposal was initially turned down was an environmental one.
Condensing large numbers of cattle into small areas provides for increased problems with waste and run off. Should these not be dealt with, it is potentially devastating, particularly for local water quality and water based environs.

The Economy:
I actually think that this is one of the primary areas we need to look at in New Zealand, and one that is seemingly ignored.
The argument has been framed as one of 'progress and capitalism vs. environmentalism'. But in reality that picture is not so.
Commodity based industrial practices have dominated our farming for a long time. We have had considerable success in this, and factory farming would be seen by many as a way to continue and preserve this advantage. However our advantage may be running out...
Countries such as Uruguay and Argentina among others have huge amounts of land and an abundant and cheap workforce, great cattle stock and a history of farming that rivals ours.
Do we really believe that in the face of competitors like these we will be able to keep our competitive advantage?
It is possible...but not assured and I dare say highly unlikely.
By factory farming, proponents say that we can more intensely and more cheaply produce the commoditised goods that have supported our economy for so long.

This to me seems to be the beginning of a battle we are sure to lose.
We are sure to lose I believe because we would be giving away the primary economic advantage we will have in the future!
NZ is still seen as clean and green, although we are doing a stellar job of squandering that...

I have seen in my travels around the world the welcome growth of organic, sustainable products and industry and WE are in a prime position still to take advantage of that.
One way to future proof yourself is to have an economic advantage in emerging markets - to be an early up-taker...and while we are not early enough by my estimation, we can still capitalise on the great image and infrastructure we have (with a little tweaking) to shift some of our agricultural commodity production into greater value added niche and custom products. Products that are not as easily replicable (commodities have no inherent point of difference and so only have price point competition) and that help to preserve our economic future. In other words products that are organic, sustainable, grass fed...and uniquely NZ!

By not letting cattle roam free and eat grass we are stopping them from exercising their inherent 'cowness'! We have a Utopian idea of 'farming', but rest assured that modern farming  is not that of our distant forebears. The farming that exists now in many countries and threatens to appear here in the form of buildings housing thousands of unhappy, unhealthy, grain fed and completely and inhumanly incarcerated animals is an abhorrence.

Please let's get this thing going again! Sign up to the petition here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/banfactoryfarming_nz/

And:
If so inclined contact your local MP or a list MP and voice your opposition to factory farming. Feel free to use the points presented here. [Here is how to contact your MP]

Here's just a few of the other things you can do:
1. Become Vegan or Vegetarian (The North American Vegetarian Society is running a competition with a $1000 prize for people who choose to abstain from meat for the month of October - Vegetarian Awareness Month)
2. Choose ONLY organic, grass fed beef and other meats.
3. Choose ONLY organic, grass fed dairy and milk products.

I'm not saying you HAVE to do these things....I'm simply asking that you think about how your actions affect your health; the health and happiness of other living beings; our environment and; our economic future.

~ Blessings
Cliff

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