Let us not call for donor support for small farmers

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2012:

Let us not call for donor support for small farmers

By Erika Abrams, cofounder, Animal Aid

Like many and perhaps most grassroots animal advocates, I appreciate the tremendous work that the Humane Society of the U.S. and their global arm, Humane Society International, does for all animals, including cattle and chickens. I want to say at the outset that any of the following discussion that appears to be a “welfare versus rights” argument is not offered to enhance that sense of versus, because I don’t much believe in it. I see that HSUS/HSI, like other organizations campaigning on behalf of chickens, are helping to raise consciousness that people can make choices, with their pocketbooks and what is served on their plates, that have a positive influence on the well-being of animals.

With this much said, I want to address some of the arguments that Humane Society International has advanced recently in campaigning on agricultural issues in the developing world. I would like the HSUS/HSI strategists-and those advancing similar arguments for the World Society for the Protection of Animals and other animal charities-to reconsider whether there is really any campaign value in promoting the economic development of rural poor through small-scale animal businesses as an argument against factory farming.

Said the HSI statement to which I am responding, “To ensure long-term food security, particularly for vulnerable groups in the developing world, development finance and policies must favor small farmers who give proper care to their animals, act in accordance with the basic ethic of compassion towards animals under their control, and practice and promote more humane and environmentally sustainable agriculture.”

I live in a small agricultural village near the city of Udaipur in Rajasthan. It is not possible to carry on the milk business here, or anywhere, without destroying the lives of cows and their offspring. HSI should know this. HSI provided fantastic support when the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations ran its farmed animals workshops, helping to provide background data to illustrate that given the magnitude of human food needs, there is not enough grazing land to support the lives of bull calves, even if they were merely turned loose rather than being carved up for leather.

Dairy farmers do not usually let their cows wander during the day, even here in India, whose wandering cattle are globally renowned. Only unproductive older, injured, or ill dairy cattle are turned loose to fend for themselves. Almost all productive cows are tethered or otherwise closely confined all day long. The reason we don’t see buffalo abandoned in the same manner as unproductive dairy cows is that buffalo are killed for meat and leather if they can’t produce the anticipated quantity of milk. No matter how they are kept or housed, they will be slaughtered if they do not produce.

So I don’t see anything sustainable in the dairy industry for animals. I don’t see welfare that meets my standards of “good” for any of the animals kept for commercial purposes in this village of 1,000 farmers. Each family does bad. Some do worse than others, but the best is bad, especially for the bull calves.

The HSI statement continued, “Hope for the future lies in positive examples of donor support for small-farmer led and animal welfare-friendly agriculture.”

Donor support?! Am I reading this right? Let us not call for donor support for small farmers. Let us not perpetuate the myth that the small farmers run “welfare-friendly” agriculture. Let us not assume that we have a common understanding of the meaning of “welfare.” This word is often used by people who accept the idea that it is okay to eat meat and use animals. This is part of the Judeo-Christian-Indian religious legacy. Our cultures are filled with images of romantic herders of animals, from the happy flute-playing milk sucking gods of rural India to sacrificing priests and zealots, and mounted cowboys also colloquially known as “cow-punchers.”

Providing donor support to small farmers means providing donor support to the fellow next door who every season sells the male offspring of his four cows to the man who takes them to an auction yard where the calves are starved to death, since they cannot be slaughtered by law and religious custom. Their hides are then re-fashioned into leather booties. This fact looms over every house here in Chota Hawala Village. This village is typical of cattle-raising villages throughout India.

The strategists at HSUS/HIS, WSPA, and elsewhere must be brought to realize that the economic development arguments about “backyard farms” only parcel out the cruelty associated with factory farming into smaller units.

Currently HSI and WSPA are promoting backyard poultry farming here in India, in the misguided belief that this might slow the growth of factory egg farming, which has already captured more than 90% of the fast-growing Indian market for eggs-as documented by Mia MacDonald & Sangamithra Iyer in their free downloadable report Veg or Non-Veg? India at the Crossroads (<www.brightergreen.org/-files/india_bg_pp_2011.pdf>).

HSI and WSPA in their poultry campaigns could make a tremendous impact by continuing, as before the present promotion of small farmers, to limit their arguments to explaining the cruelty suffered by hens, chicks, and chickens; explaining the environmental ruin that comes from having unnaturally-bred birds; explaining the health disaster that occurs as result of keeping the sheer numbers of birds whom humans have bred and intensively housed; and explaining the negative health effects of consuming eggs and meat.

Encouraging the economic development of small farmers, which has no inherent relationship to improving animal welfare, could be left out completely. I would like to see this argument deleted from animal advocacy organizations’ campaign strategies. And I certainly don’t want to see HSUS/HSI, WSPA, or any other animal advocacy organizations using donations to support animal industries of any kind.

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