a guest post by Hugo Durieux
A film critic writes: “Filmmakers are asking us to look through the eyes of pigs, sheep and cows. The idea that animals are not extras in human life is also gaining ground in the courts.” Nice of the filmmakers, but in the meantime there are livestock farmers who without hesitation consider their animals as ‘dual purpose cows’ – and then there are the farmers who have the good intentions.
The laughing Cow
It is still strange to talk about animals as if they were just means of production. I love cows. They are such sweet creatures, with the big clumsy body, always curious when you get to the edge of the meadow, and always startled when you gently reach out your hand to them. (Yes, for me, cows belong in the meadow, not in factory halls.) They are most beautiful when their horns are not removed (which is very painful for the animals), but especially in early spring, when after a long time they winter they see the sun on the meadow for the first time in the barn. Then you see the big unmanageable beasts running and jumping with their few hundred kilos. The laughing Cow.
The dual purpose cow
So now you also have the dual purpose cow. There is fairly general agreement that domestic animals (also such a word!) In Western Europe are far too large. It is bad for the environment for all sorts of reasons (more on that later) and also for the quality of the food and for animal welfare.
For some time, Western agriculture has been breeding either beef cows or dairy cows. The dual purpose cow now (one used to call it a ‘cow’), which provides both meat and milk. Then you should think: with that, you are already halving that herd of cows: a cow for meat and milk instead of two separate specialized cows. Or is it too simple? Because if one cow is killed for the meat, of course, she no longer produces milk. Don’t you just need more cows if you want the same amount of meat and milk on the market? Or is it a smart trick to reduce the supply and thus the consumption of meat and milk? Or does it all matter?
In any case, the Flemish Farmers Forum believes that one should think carefully and strategically about the future of livestock, and that the dual-purpose shoe is an indispensable part of this. They argue for the revaluation of local cattle breeds that produce both milk and meat.
You must assume that all cow breeds, including those now called traditional breed or landrace, as if they have always existed, were not there before e.g. 1880. They are the result of the cooperation of breeders and decentralized work in the various regions. Boerenforum describes it as follows: “By a landrace we mean all agricultural animals and plant varieties that have arisen on farms without much artificiality. Varieties that ‘arrived’ in a region and were often crossed with the local genetics under the influence of the local climate, the local soil conditions and geography and the local ‘desire’ of the farmers or gardeners. Because there was little transport of livestock or agricultural crops, these stocks remained stable and anchored at the local level. There they adapted to the local conditions. “
Today, most breeders in connection with mass production have become part of a production chain, from the animal feed producers, over the banks, to the producers of the polystyrene meat trays to the supermarket. A decision at the end of that chain can have direct consequences for livestock breeders in the beginning. If supermarkets decide that chops should be ten percent smaller because smaller meat dishes are better stacked together, livestock farmers will have to adapt the cultivation of their animals accordingly. A livestock breeder who is fully integrated into such a chain will therefore have to use breeding methods that are not based on the characteristics of the herd or the country (region), but on the laws of wholesale distribution and the standards that apply to justification. on grants.
The organic cow
The hope that the local breeds of dual-purpose cows with the advent of organic farming would get a second chance proved futile, at least in the Flemish region: there are too few organic farms, and less than a quarter of them make queues. Or, as in France, organic livestock farming is now highly industrialized. Industrial organic livestock farming is based on two principles. First, to achieve mass consumption of certified organic quality food, you need to use mass production methods. Secondly, there is nothing wrong with using mass production methods in agriculture, as working tools in principle do not determine what to do with them and what results one gets. In other words, the use of industrial production methods need not lead to industrial agricultural products; it just depends on how you use them effectively.
That’s some shit, of course. Organic livestock farming is more than just providing 60% feed from organic farming. Take a look at what is written on the page All about organic: The organic cattle breeder chooses strong varieties that can adapt to local conditions; the number of animals on the pasture is limited to prevent overgrazing, soil erosion and too much manure – the manure is recycled on organic soil; the animals are fed with organic feed, which is grown locally, on the farm itself or on farms in the region; only natural methods are used for reproduction – artificial insemination is ok, but the use of hormones or clones is not; lactating calves receive natural milk, preferably breast milk; in case of disease, animals are treated with phytotherapeutic or homeopathic products – classical medicine can only be used under severe conditions.
Come and see all that in a factory hall where a thousand cows are gathered.
The cheap cow
Boerenforum cites various economic arguments as to why it is smart for farmers to keep landraces or varieties for two purposes. High milk quality due to ‘strong hooves and legs’ the ability to graze on more extensive fields (soil with minimal intervention), low veterinary costs, very low feed costs due to the small amount or even the absence of concentrates. They also refer to a report by the Université Catholique de Louvain la Neuve (UCL), which indicates that “the dual-purpose resilience of the cow makes it part of a sustainable livestock scenario where milk production and quality meat production come from the same herds, sustainable companies with a lot of grass clover production and well-considered grazing are maintained (crop grazing is a buzz word). ”
But yes, I thought so too: no corn from South America, no concentrates, only grass from our own short chain and from the farmer’s pastures. Thinking too simple, thinks De Groene Amsterdammer. “Dutch cows break records every year. Good for the industry. Bad for nature (nitrogen). And even worse for the climate: The more milk a cow produces, the more methane it emits, a greenhouse gas that is thirty times more potent than CO2. “And if the Netherlands wants to achieve the goals of the Paris climate agreements by 2030, by then halve its emissions of the greenhouse gas methane. Worldwide, livestock farms (pig farmers and dairy farmers) are the largest emitter of methane. emits less methane, but they also produce less milk. Or you can adjust their menu. “Harvesting grass earlier, when it is less hard, can already yield a lot. Feeding more corn or concentrate instead of grass also provides a reduction, «Writes De Groene.
Yes, what now? Own local production of grass and clover, or corn and concentrates? Just try to do it right here.
In general, I think there is a lot to be said for an agro-ecological agriculture that strives for food sovereignty, feed autonomy on farms, an improvement of soil fertility and strengthening ecosystem services such as healthy air and clean water, as Boerenforum puts it. At Nyéléni Forum 2007 in Mali brought hundreds of representatives from various international organizations, farmers, fishermen, indigenous peoples, landless peoples, agricultural workers, migrants, shepherds, consumers, etc., to an attitude towards food sovereignty. It includes:
- prioritization of local agricultural production to feed the population, farmers and landowners’ access to land, water, seeds and credit. Therefore, there is a need for agricultural reforms, to fight GMOs for free access to seeds and to preserve water as a public good that can be distributed sustainably.
- the right of farmers to produce food and the right of consumers to decide what food they want to eat, who produces it and how
- the right of states to protect themselves against agricultural and food imports at too low a price and against agricultural prices linked to production costs. To do this, states or trade unions must have the right to levy import duties at too low a price, commit themselves to sustainable peasant production and control production in the internal market in order to avoid structural surpluses.
- citizens’ participation in agricultural policy choices
- the recognition of farmers’ rights, which play an important role in agricultural production and food
Finally back to the Boerenforum’s terminology. I wonder how one can be agro-ecologically active when one thinks so economically of common good as healthy air and clean water (“ecosystem services”) and shows so little respect in one’s language for the animals one works with. The cow is reduced to what it provides. Of course I am not a farmer, I am not in the middle of the methane winds and the pies of the sweet cows, but I am in good company (eg Via Campesina), if I assume that a farmer or a cattle farmer is part of a tangle of ecosystems, of complex relationships between animals, plants, humans, life and death, nature and culture. Reducing animals to nothing more than raw materials that can be exploited for one or two purposes seems to me to be a gross misjudgment of the pursuit of ecological balance, which is also a guiding principle in agroecology.
Previously performed at Rivers & Lakes.