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Natural High: Argentina’s Grass Fed Beef

November 26th, 2014

What a difference can be seen in today’s short video, when juxtaposed with last week’s one. In this film, I’m still in Argentina, but in a totally different world. Animals and crops are intermingled in a sustainable way. The beef cows here are free range; and there are butterflies and birds all around, as opposed to the barren mud and faeces land that the feedlot cows were kept in.

The local farmer tells me: “Our animals spend their whole lives in the open fields – animals raised this way enjoy a level of optimum well-being, because they are not stressed.” The whole feel of this farm is world’s away from the last one that I visited – it’s hard to believe that they are in the same country.

The farmer also tells me about the human health benefits that his beef supplies. He claims that the feedlot cows have more highly saturated fat in their meat, because they can’t and don’t move around. He proudly tells me how his beef on the other hand has less saturated meat.

Without a doubt, the animals themselves here are benefitting from better living conditions, as is the local wildlife – biodiversity is thriving, and the people living here. There are no smells bringing infestations of rats; only butterflies, adding colour to an already vibrant scene.

For your copy of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’, click here.


Battery Beef: Welcome to the Feedlot

November 21st, 2014

“The feedlot is the most inefficient system that exists.” This is what a local agronomist told me about the feedlot systems in Argentina.

When most people think of Argentinian beef, we think high quality, high welfare. What I discovered when I visited an Argentinian beef feedlot, showed just how misrepresentative that can be.

Cows were crowded together, some were walking through mud and excrement up to their stomachs. A local resident shared his experience, which was one of flies and rats – that were attracted to the pungent smells coming from these feedlots.

The environmental damage is as yet, unknown. The water pollution alone will be huge but hadn’t been quantified at the time of my visit.

Animals are suffering. The environment is suffering. And local people are suffering. Watch my latest short film to find out more and to see that ‘battery beef’ exists in Argentina as well as higher welfare farming.

For your copy of ‘Farmageddon: The true cost of cheap meat’, click here.


Victory: notorious slaughterhouse is shutdown

November 20th, 2014
The empty Karantina slaughterhouse. (Photo © The Daily Star Lebanon / Hasan Shaaban)

The empty Karantina slaughterhouse. (Photo © The Daily Star Lebanon / Hasan Shaaban)

I am delighted to share with you the wonderful news that thanks to our supporters and my team here at Compassion, the notorious Karantina slaughterhouse in Lebanon has been shut down.

In an investigation that my team carried out last year, we witnessed some of the most horrific slaughter conditions that any of us have ever seen. Animals were beaten, dragged by their limbs, had their eye sockets gouged and were suspended from the ceiling for extended periods of time before their throats were cut. They were fully conscious while all this occurred.

Karantina, the home to this horror story, is Beirut’s biggest abattoir. One where many animals, including European ones, ended their lives in fear and agony. It was the stuff of nightmares and we asked people from across the world join us in speaking out against this barbaric and unnecessary violence.

I am delighted to say that more than 130,000 of you signed Compassion’s petition calling for the abattoir to be shut down. Following this, we met with the Lebanese embassy who were overwhelmed by the volume of correspondence they received on the issue and committed to contact Lebanese officials to alert them to the situation.

Our French office coordinated a meeting with an MP who had connections in Lebanon and they told the Environment and Agriculture Minister that they must visit Karantina to see for themselves. When the Ministers visited they described the conditions as ‘catastrophic’.

Not only this, but further horrors emerged – effecting consumers in the area. Lebanon’s Health Minister announced that some of the country’s most prominent restaurants and supermarkets were selling contaminated meat. The meat was linked back to Karantina and scrutiny of the conditions for animals and related food safety issues mounted.

While this closure could be temporary, I truly hope that it is permanent. If it isn’t, I can assure you that we will continue to work with the Lebanese officials to bring about humane slaughter conditions – ones where farm animals don’t spend their last hours and minutes in terror and in extreme pain.

Of the many instances of poor animal welfare that my colleagues and I see on a daily basis, inept slaughter is one of the most harrowing because of the fear and pain felt by animals at the very end of their lives.

That is why we’re celebrating this small but incredibly significant victory. We will continue to fight against cruel and inept slaughter methods wherever they are practised across the world.


Avian flu: Address the REAL cause not the effect

November 19th, 2014
Intensive broiler farm

Intensive broiler farm

Yesterday, it was confirmed that the strain of bird flu present on a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire was the same as that discovered in the Netherlands over the weekend.

The highly pathogenic H5N8 avian influenza should be a major cause for concern, but it should not lead to a knee-jerk reaction that would see the welfare of millions of birds compromised.

Often in reaction to an outbreak like this the call goes out for birds to be farmed indoors, to avoid catching the disease spread by wild birds. This would see birds that enjoy all of the welfare benefits that free-range farming brings them, including the far greater potential for them to express their natural behaviours, condemned to a life indoors often in cages.

Let’s just think about this for a second – because that’s all it takes to realise this would be a bad idea – in both of these cases, the birds infected, and now being culled, were being kept indoors, they were not free range. It could even contribute to the likelihood bird flu would spread among a flock, as keeping them in closer confinement would lead to more stress, which would up the chances of them becoming infected as their immune system is lowered, and would allow the disease to jump between birds far more easily and risk mutating as it does so, giving the potential for a strain that is highly infective to humans.

Secondly, wild birds do often carry the low pathogen strain of bird flu but blaming them for spreading all of the more virulent strains of the disease is, again, unlikely. The bird flu strain that has been discovered in the Netherlands and in the UK is highly pathogenic. Wild birds can carry this strain too, but being highly pathogenic, it is likely to kill them before they can spread it.

A free-range broiler farm where birds can express their natural behaviours

A free-range broiler farm where birds can express their natural behaviours

So we should strongly resist any calls to bring free-range birds indoors to the close confinement of intensive farms.

We need to ensure we have a food system in place that protects our health and the health of the birds. Rearing birds in less stressful conditions, with lower stocking densities and ensuring the range is not attractive to wild birds can all help reduce the risk.

Having highly intensive farms in close proximity to one another will only increase the risk, regardless of whether the birds are inside. These latest cases have shown that free-range birds should not be the scapegoat for avian influenza and wild birds have always had this in their population – what has changed now is the ever increasing number of intensive farms.


Avian flu: Why we should be cautious before blaming wild birds

November 18th, 2014
© Martin Usborne / CIWF

© Martin Usborne / CIWF

The spectre of avian influenza has once again been raised by a double-strike in Europe. The highly contagious strain, H5N8, which could potentially affect people, has been discovered on a Dutch poultry farm, whilst a further case has been found on a duck breeding farm in Yorkshire, England, although the strain has yet to be confirmed.

Some are already trying to scapegoat wild birds as being responsible for bird flu and, on past form, using it as an excuse to support greater farm intensification is sure to follow. They claim that keeping poultry inside protects them from wild birds carrying disease. What this argument conveniently overlooks is that low-level avian flu is a perfectly natural disease in wild birds.

It is only when the bird flu virus enters the pressure-cooker environment of an intensive farm that the disease tends to mutate dangerously. Once a virus gets into an intensive poultry shed with many thousands of birds crowded together, it can move quickly through the flock, constantly replicating itself. Any ‘errors’ or changes to the genetic code during replication don’t get repaired: this is how the virus mutates and new variant strains emerge. The tragedy is that while intensive farms provide ideal conditions for the emergence of new aggressive disease strains, wild birds can then become infected too.

Experience from the 2005 outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (AI) H5N1 suggests that the disease is more likely spread along major road and rail routes than on the flight routes of migratory birds. In addition, the overwhelming majority of wild birds found infected with H5N1 were dead, preventing them from carrying the virus over long distances.

When H5N1 hit a Bernard Matthews turkey farm in Suffolk in 2007, there was no evidence of highly pathogenic AI in wild bird populations in Britain. Defra reported at the time that over 4,000 wild birds had been tested over the previous six months; only 0.4 per cent were found to be infected with AI, of which none were highly pathogenic strains.

Blaming wild birds is an excuse for doing nothing about the dominant source of the problem: the factory-farming system itself. Dr Aysha Akhtar, a neurologist and public-health specialist and Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, sums it up like this: “By confining billions of animals on factory farms, we have created a worldwide natural laboratory for the rapid development of a deadly and highly infectious virus”.


Farmageddon on film

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About Philip Lymbery

Philip Lymbery is Chief Executive Officer of Compassion in World Farming and co-author of Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat. He is an internationally respected authority on the impact of industrial agriculture on people, animals and the planet.