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April 27th, 2012

5 Reasons a “Global Cattle Drive” to China Is a Bad Idea

By Wenonah Hauter

The Wall Street Journal reports that China is importing 100,000 heifers — 25 ships’ worth — to boost domestic dairy production in the wake of melamine and other milk-powder scandals that have decimated China’s relatively small dairy industry since 2008.

Where to begin? There are so many problems with this scenario, but here are just five reasons why this is a terribly bad idea:

1) The cows are destined for factory farms. China may be importing the cattle from Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand, but they are importing the model for factory farming from the U.S. The animals’ long nightmare starts on a harrowing journey overseas in ships, where they are confined tightly and face multiple health issues that may result in death. Those buried at sea might be the luckiest cattle, because once the animals get through the 45-day quarantine, they will continue their confinement in “football-field-size sheds” that resemble electronics factories more than farms and are milked three times a day on “bovine merry-go-rounds,” according to Wall Street Journal reporter Alex Frangos.

The Chinese government has created tax incentives and other policies that favor investors in big dairies. These facilities will widgetize animals in the same model that China has used for electronics and other manufacturing sectors that have made the country an export powerhouse. But the factory farm model has been a failure for public health, the environment and animal welfare in the U.S., just like it will be in China. The only people who will benefit are the investors who aim to concentrate Chinese dairy production. 

2) It’s bad for Chinese farmers and relies on genetically modified feed. Policies that favor factory farms and the economic concentration of food production in the hands of a few small producers is bad for Chinese farmers and consumers who want local, farm-raised food. The U.S. factory farm model has already been exported to Europe, thanks to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that has made it very difficult for small farms to thrive. They’re even forced to import genetically engineered soy feed because there are no more local feed markets that can compete with these cheap yet dangerous imports.

3) Essential resources are being traded away for profit. A New Zealand farmer was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that selling the country’s strong milk producers is like “selling the family silver, you can only do it once.” Farmers like Roma Britnell in Australia are selling to Chinese buyers because of the good price and income, which helped her pay down the debt on her farm. Like so-called land grabs, where fertile land is sold out from under farmers and peasants by foreign interests, this is a resource grab that New Zealand’s dairy farmers may come to regret if China is successful in becoming a dairy powerhouse.

4) It’s already affecting farmers elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal reports that the price of alfalfa, the preferred feedstock for dairy cows, has gone through the roof. Since China doesn’t produce it, it needs to import it from the U.S., where the price has doubled in the past year thanks to increased Chinese demand. This is an extra expense for U.S. dairy farmers who are already squeezed thanks to low dairy prices and industry consolidation that favors the biggest producers.

5) This does nothing to address real food safety problems in China. The effort to create a booming domestic dairy industry is a nice PR effort, but by favoring factory farms it won’t make the Chinese food system any safer. Further consolidating the food system is a sure-fire way to increase the chance that a problem in one facility can make it halfway around the world before a problem is even detected.

Polices like these that import heifers from around the globe to fuel China’s factory farms are just further proof that globalization and the industrialized food system have gone too far.

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7 Comments on 5 Reasons a “Global Cattle Drive” to China Is a Bad Idea

  1. pdjmoo says:

    When only profits drive our economy, we will find that in the final analysis we cannot eat money!

    I am so glad you caught this. The BigFood/BigAg cartel is no doubt behind this to ensure a market for their gmo food productions, as you so accurately reported. Recently a deal was done with China and Brazil by the USDA and USA Government which must have included this deal to get gmo food and products into the Chinese markets. The quiet collusion the USA Government is engaging in is ecocide and a disgrace to our human food system.
    There is absolutely no conscience by these multi-billion corporations. The only thing of concern is their quarterly bottom-line profits…until the demise of our ecosystems, biodiversity, water quality has degraded beyond rehabilitation.
    This BigAg global cartel will be the death of us and the planet.
    I would like you to investigate the truth behind this “deal”; where it originated, by whom, and the USA/international operations behind it. This is just the tip of the iceberg, I can smell it.
    Thank you so much for staying on top of this juggernaut sweeping across the planet.

  2. pdjmoo says:

    Food and Water Watch has got to stay on top of this. This is just the beginning for China of the US Govt’s well established push to control world food supply. Can we get ahead of the curve on this. Next will be exporting beef cattle, all of which will be tied to buying USA gmo food which goes into their agricultural soils and human food supply. A blatantly obvious trojan horse. And how does China raise and slaughter their human food supply animals?
    What is interesting is why China is are not opting for traditional breeding methods or artificial insemination vs. subjecting 100,000 live cattle to an arduous and torturous journey all the way to China and who knows what conditions these animals will be subjected to. The objectification of our animals for food is horrifying. We all know what CAFOs have done to animal dignity and destruction and pollution of our environment, let alone the quality of our food and water.
    Next Step will be EXPORTING BEEF CATTLE As USA domestic demand falls- A VERY INHUMANE BUSINESS: SEE An Australian Expose on the cattle export to Indonesia: (PLAY Top left hand corner of website) Via @4corners – Australian Broadcasting Co: A Bloody Business http://ow.ly/aDIOD

  3. Lorraine says:

    This is appalling–for economic, health and humanitarian reasons.

  4. Lisamarie Grosso says:

    how do we stop this horror???!!!!

  5. Michael says:

    Ha ha ha this story only proves one thing, you don’t know what your talking about. I haul cattle for a living the meat market determines my bottom line. We already export live cattle on ships out of this country to Russia and Europe its nothing new. Alphalpa prices are up this year because of the droughts in Texas and New Mexico not because it is being exported to China and if it is they are paying top dollar for it which will bring down the prices here. The ships they use to transport the cattle are set up like small feed yards seen in the U.S. the cattle are fed cleaned and exercised daily. I see this report as bogus.

  6. Patrick Woodall, Food & Water Watch says:

    Michael, I think you misread this post and the Wall Street Journal story, which is about dairy heifers being shipped from Latin America and New Zealand to China not hauling meat or the meat market or American beef cattle being shipped overseas. Instead, it is about China replacing a dairy sector destroyed by widespread intentional adulteration of milk with a deadly industrial chemical that sent 12,000 Chinese children to the hospital with kidney damage. Now, China is trying to rebuild the fragments of its industry with industrial-scale dairies and it is importing the dairy cows because its own herd is so compromised that people won’t drink domestic milk. China’s solution? Restore confidence in the food supply by adapting the worst American industrial dairy practices — factory farmed dairy cows, tens of thousands crammed onto concrete feedlots, and pumped full of artificial hormones. China’s appalling food safety record combined with an American industrial mega-dairy model is a recipe for future milk scandals in China. Finally, the notion that these dairy cows get a lot of exercise on freighters is somewhat laughable. As you admit, the conditions are like industrial feedlots here, but smaller and more confined. And on a boat.

  7. Momz says:

    The farmers in America no longer receive set aside money. Money for letting fields lie fallow. Here in Michigan farmers are destroying tree rows, and placing more tile than ever. Those fields that used to earn money for nothing will be now put into use. The drought was not near as bad as everyone is making out, but the greedy people will get PAID no matter what. Hay is one product they are taking to the bank, regardless of quality. The animals suffer, we all suffer, nobody seems to care. Greed isn’t solely reserved for the idiots on wall street. Its everywhere. I got mine, you get yours attitude will destroy the world. Sickening.

    Farming should NEVER be done in this manner anywhere on the globe. Cattle are mammals, just like us. They love, they cry, they have feelings people never know about. Have any of you ever been near a dairy cow or steer in your lives? nope? didn’t think so.

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