New Trade Deal With UK A Disaster
Sandra is a Whanganui-based animal rights campaigner, writer and teacher.
This week I watched the news with dismay as Jacinda Ardern and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson congratulated each other on their new trade deal. In the new arrangement Aotearoa New Zealand’s beef, sheep and dairy farmers, relieved of trade tariffs, will be financially better off. Farmers will spend their increased riches, and everyone in New Zealand will benefit. This is capitalism working for the social good.
Except it’s not. It’s capitalism working for naked self interest without regard for morality, ecology, and common sense.
Here’s why I think this deal is a disaster. The agriculture sector is one of the biggest drivers of anthropogenic climate change. It accounts for some of the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses, is implicated as a cause of pandemics, and is a major cause of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Our desire to eat meat perpetrates the most egregious suffering and injustice on our fellow and animals, and fails to read the march of history.
Because global warming is critical for the entire planet the deal is frankly astonishing. New Zealand already has too many cows for the land, water and climate to sustain. Encouraging more cows is environmentally irresponsible. One probable result of this deal will be increased dairy production requiring methane-producing cows, more synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, and more imported feed such as Palm Kernel Extract. New Zealand already uses more palm oil than any other country. Christine Rose, Senior Agriculture Campaigner at Aotearoa Greenpeace puts it this way: “This deal potentially encourages dairy intensification and expansion based on inputs of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and palm kernel extract. It trades on animals’ lives”.
As an animal rights campaigner, my priority is the animals. “They live a happy life and are killed humanely” beef, sheep and dairy farmers claim ad nauseum. Their websites are filled with photos of carefree animals frolicking in green fields under blue skies. But here’s my beef. Despite the gaslighting discourse, our lamb, beef cows and dairy cows are not 'happy'. During their short lives they are largely denied freedom, autonomy, and instincts to mate and form families. They endure painful procedures such as tail docking, de-horning and castration. Anyone driving around New Zealand can tell you many are out in all weathers with no shelter from rain nor sun. Dairy cows in particular have a hard time of it. Theirs is a life of drudgery and servitude, where they are forced to keep having babies to produce milk that is then taken from them. Their babies are removed shortly after birth, many going to slaughter from just 4 days old.
A few kilometers from where I live there is a large layer hen farm. This farm hasn't converted to the colony system. It still comprises sheds of massive stacks of chickens crammed into tiny battery cages, so small the birds cannot walk or spread their wings. These birds eat and lay eggs until they are spent, at around 18 months old. They then either have their necks wrung and are tossed into a bin, or are sent to a slaughterhouse to be killed by a largely automated process that sometimes fails, resulting in birds being conscious when their throats are slit, and when they are tossed into a vat of scalding water meant to de-feather them.
In nearby Taranaki, the ‘broiler region of NZ’ there are hundreds of individual dark, windowless, crowded, ammonia-filled warehouses filled with tens of thousands of chickens who have been bioengineered to grow obese and lame during their few short weeks of existence. Both meat chickens and layer hens live in Hell upon Earth right under our noses, because we want to eat their flesh and eggs.
Around 15 minutes’ drive from my home is an industrialised pig farm. About 60 percent of pigs farmed in New Zealand are raised indoors. Sows are forced to give birth and raise their piglets in cages. These mothers can only take a few steps forward and back. They cannot turn around, cannot perform instinctive behaviours like nest building, nurturing and teaching their young. They are overwhelmed with hopelessness. The only time they feel the sun on their back and the wind in their face is when they board the truck taking them to the slaughterhouse.
No, our farmed animals are not happy. While the degree of suffering is different - factory farms are particularly loathsome, amounting to torture for the animals concerned - all animals in our food system suffer, and all of them die needlessly to feed us. Needlessly because healthy, sustainable plant-based protein is now readily available in New Zealand, and at an increasingly affordable price.
Saying they have a humane death is a complete oxymoron. No animal wants to die. I have looked into the eyes of thousands of cows in holding pens at slaughterhouses, and have seen their fear and distress. I have heard the chilling and bloodcurdling screams of pigs. The animals I witness are intelligent and aware; they know something is very wrong, but, as in every other stage of their life, they are powerless to do anything about it.
The new deal between Aotearoa and the UK is a disaster for animals and for our environment. Jacinda, there is absolutely nothing to laugh about in this cruel and backward move. The only positive is that there is a gradual phasing in of the new arrangements. It is still not too late to do something about it.
One thing we can immediately do is to decrease our meat and dairy consumption, and begin to eat more humane and sustainable plant-based foods.