News from around the world
Pigs and poultry are likely to be safe from Covid-19, according to German scientists, whose study showed that while fruit bats and ferrets were susceptible to infection, pigs and chickens were not. Coronaviruses have devastated farm animals in the past. Swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus (SADS-CoV) killed nearly 25,000 piglets in China in 2016-17.
A new outbreak of African swine fever (ASF), a highly contagious virus fatal to pigs, has been reported on a farm in Poland close to the German border. The German states of Brandenburg and Saxony have both recently built fences along the border with Poland to keep out wild boars infected with ASF. Meanwhile, in China authorities have launched a 60-day campaign to crack down on improper or illegal transportation of pigs to reduce ASF transmission. The outbreak in the country has already wiped out 40% of its pig population.
MEPs and campaigners have called on the EU to ban live exports to reduce the spread of zoonotic disease. The European Food Safety Authority has said in the past that the live export trade is a potential risk to public health. It said stresses associated with handling and transport may cause latent infections to proceed to clinical disease. These animals may infect others and in many cases (such as salmonellosis) would also increase the risk to public health.
A group of 40 NGOs have also written to the EU to demand an overhaul of its food and farming system post Covid-19. The pandemic had “brought to light some of the dysfunctions of our current globalised and unsustainable food systems, including the link between the increased emergence of zoonoses and intensive animal farming”, they said. The letter also urged the EU not to delay the launch of its new Farm to Fork strategy any later than this month.
The US is to give billions in aid to farmers to help them cope with falls in commodity prices. Dairy farmers and processors in the US and Canada have been dumping milk after a collapse in demand following the closure of restaurants and schools, which are large buyers of dairy products, left them with a glut. The government has been asked to pay producers to cut milk output and buy up cheese, butter and other dairy products for food banks. Meanwhile, the closure of a number of US meat processing plants due to Covid-19 is leading to fears of disruption to food supplies and a lack of places for farmers to send animals.
News from the UK
The UK beef and lamb sectors say a decline in sales of prime cuts with the shutdown of the food service sector is leading to a collapse in the value of animals. Converting higher value cuts into mince is less profitable for farmers. Abattoirs and processing plants across the meat sector are also having to reduce production due to employees self-isolating with Covid-19 and the requirement for two-metre distancing in factories.
Dairy farmers and processors are already dumping milk after a collapse in milk prices. “Food service volume is not being replaced by supermarkets,” said one major processor. “There is nowhere left [to send it]”. Farming charities have called for the government to step in to buy or reimburse dairy farmers who are not insured for milk losses or are being affected by Covid-19 price cuts.
Farming groups have protested after retailers started stocking Polish mince in UK stores. Red meat processor ABP said panic buying had forced it to source Polish beef because it did not have the processing capacity to meet the surge in demand.
MPs from the environment, food and rural affairs committee are launching an inquiry into how the food supply chain has been disrupted by the Covid-19 crisis and what steps are needed to manage consumer access to healthy food. The public have been asked to submit their views to the committee via an online survey.
News from Animals Farmed
Animal welfare campaigners have expressed concern after China included wildlife such as deer, game birds, mink and foxes on a list of animals that it plans to allow to be farmed. “Rebranding wildlife as livestock doesn’t alter the fact that there are insurmountable challenges to keeping these species in farm environments … some of these species can act as intermediate hosts of viruses, such as Covid-19,” said Peter Li, China policy specialist with Humane Society International, who welcomed additional plans to ban the eating of dogs.
The number of large-scale intensive pig and poultry farms continues to rise in the UK, according to new analysis. There are now more than 1,700 farms with upwards of 40,000 birds or 2,000 pigs, up 7% between 2017-18. The increase has caused a backlash in Powys, known as the “poultry capital of Wales” with 60 times as many chickens as people in the county. Intensive farms have been linked to local biodiversity damage from ammonia emissions, as well as potentially harmful bacteria, viruses and air pollutants.
Irish calves have been filmed apparently being beaten and kicked by workers at a French feeding station. One calf was put down by a vet. Ireland’s dairy sector, which earned the country EUR4.4bn (GBP3.9bn) in export revenues last year, relies heavily on veal farms in mainland Europe to buy unwanted male dairy calves. Just under 250,000 were exported in 2018.
Boris Johnson was personally thanked by the Brazilian government after refusing to criticise the Amazon fires and sharp rise in deforestation in Brazil last summer. Opposition parties in the UK have called for guarantees that any future UK-Brazil trade deal would not contribute to the destruction of the Amazon.
Lastly, a micro-tannery owner has spoken out about his quest to help create a value for thousands of male “billy” dairy goats that would otherwise be killed at birth through producing luxury bags, wallets and made-to-order shoes.
Quote of the month
Camilla Saunders, from Sustainable Food Knighton, a group of local residents campaigning against a broiler unit in the town of Knighton in Powys, contacted us last week in response the article: Life in the ‘poultry capital’ of Wales: enough is enough, say overwhelmed residents. She said:
What is happening in Powys is a microcosm of all that is bad about global food production… [We] have come to the depressing conclusion that in the case of intensive farming, planning departments routinely ignore laws and recommendations that try to protect animals, humans, and ecosystems, locally and globally.