Global Free Trade is damaging to rural communities and the rural environment. Each year 50 billion animals are slaughtered for their meat, to feed a growing world population of 7 billion people.
Global Free Trade has been characterised by a retreat of the state, deregulation and increased power to the private sector. In agribusiness, this has meant they increasingly have to produce more, faster, and at a lower cost. According to FOE, Industrial animal agriculture today is based on maximising productivity and profit through corporate consolidation and the intensification of meat production. In these systems, animals are seen purely as units of production and potential profit, moving animals away from the conditions that can meet their needs and into systems that often cause suffering, distress and disease.
I will be highlighting the detrimental effects of Global Free Trade on Animal Welfare, specifically in agribusiness. According to the World Animal Health Organisation, Animal Welfare can be defined as:
“how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives…Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter.”
However, in practise animal welfare is often reduced to mean the absence of diseases. Some of the major issues threatening animal welfare are as follows.
• The conditions in which they are kept
Conditions are appalling, and there are frequent violations to basic regulations. Farms become factories, and animals are often kept in overcrowded conditions. According to the CIWF, chickens are kept in sheds at a density of up to 17-20 chickens per m2. Animals are also often kept in confinement, with little space. Sows are kept in cages so small they cannot even turn around.
• Spread of Disease
Such conditions are a breeding ground for the spread of viruses, and are creating new, more resistant strains of superbugs. For example, the spread of swine flu and avian flu. This is only made worse by the overuse of antibiotics in animals, which are used to ensure animals endure factory conditions until their slaughter and causes further resistance to common pathogens.
Kept in such conditions and unnatural social environments, animals tend to develop severe behavioural problems often damaging themselves or other animals around them. For example, broiler chickens develop a pecking disorder which causes them to incessantly peck other chickens. In order to stop this, their beaks are cut off-; beaks which are full of nerves and vessels, thus being an incredibly and long-lasting painful procedure.
• Selective breeding
Selective breeding causes faster than natural growth and results in lameness, abnormalities and changes in behaviour, such as the KFC scandal of the “instant chicken”. Cloning is another problem, which seeks to produce “the best of the best” but also causes complications in birth, high mortality rate, damaged immune systems and high infant death rate.
• Inappropriate Diet
Animals are also subject to unnatural feeding. Calves are separated from their mothers as of 1 week old, and are raised as necessarily anaemic in order to produce the “white meat” that consumers crave. Chickens are often subjected to periods of hunger in order to ‘shock’ them into laying eggs.
Slaughter raises issues of travel, as abattoirs are becoming fewer thus animals have to travel further and further. According to the Meat Atlas, a deskilling and mechanisation of the workforce means that there are frequently violations of regulations; long transports, inadequate anaesthesia and animal cruelty due to lack of knowledge or even deliberate actions.
The free trade rules of the WTO hamper any efforts for more ethically produced meat. It does not allow countries to ban imports on ethical grounds or require animal protection laws. Under the “investor-state dispute settlement”, companies can sue governments for compensation over rules that affect their profits. Producers have to obey these rules and compete to produce the cheapest product, thus encouraging them to use cheaper processes, lower standards. For example, the EU banned battery caged eggs in 2012, but is not allowed to ban the import of battery eggs from elsewhere. Elsewhere, the US tried to ban net caught tuna on the grounds that it was harming other animals like dolphins. The WTO ruled this as a restriction of trade, and therefore illegal. This is the same for the case on net caught shrimp and its fatality to sea turtles which was also ruled as illegal, despite turtles being on the verge of extinction.
Recently, the European Union released a list of 5 fundamental freedoms
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
2. Freedom from Discomfort
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
4. Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress
The animal industry has resisted codifying these standards as common practice for fear of adding new costs to animal production processes.
I share the view of Animal welfare organisations, that animals are sentient beings; sharing with humans the capacity to feel happiness and suffering. Intensive farming systems do not meet the welfare standards of animals. How an animal is raised; humanely treated, transported and slaughtered is important. Although organisations such as the WTO may see ethical and moral issues as irrelevant to the animal production, I believe they are highly important and should no longer be sacrificed in the name of free trade. Trade and commerce do not exist in an ethical void, and they must realise that they must take responsibility for protecting the rights of all people and animals