Friday, August 31, 2007

Brett The Vet - Local is lekker

EPISODE 12: Local is Lekker

Outbreaks of contagious disease in livestock both here and abroad have drawn attention to problems associated with the global meat industry. Animals transported over great distances can effectively spread infections like foot and mouth disease, swine fever and avian flu. As consumers, the choices we make have far reaching effects on the way animals are raised, transported and slaughtered. In Prince Albert particularly, traceability is not only possible, but desirable for farmers, the community, local economy, animal wellbeing, and the environment.

Importations of animal products from other parts of the world or further afield in South Africa, that are also available locally not only facilitate the spread of disease but also highlight other issues. There is often a lack of traceability to the specific origins and the farming conditions. Energy requirements and carbon footprint are important factors affecting global warming where extensive transport is involved. Consider the effort it takes to get a block of Irish butter from a farm in County Cork to our local supermarket, when the same product can be purchased directly from a farm in our town. The stress and deaths that occur when transporting live animals over long distances can be avoided if they are slaughtered closer to home.

Most consumers are now aware that meat and products from factory farmed animals may contain harmful hormones and antibiotics. New evidence shows nutritional deficiencies occur in products from animals eating unnatural diets. For example, feedlot cattle that are deprived grass and fed mostly concentrates have a deficiency in omega three fatty acids which affects cholesterol metabolism in humans. So knowledge about how animals are raised and what they are fed becomes not only important for the welfare of the animals, but also for consumer health and wellbeing. It is not surprising that free range animals eating a natural diet provide healthier and tastier meat, eggs and dairy products.

Choosing locally produced animal products encourages good animal husbandry because farmers are accountable. One would like to think farmers care about the welfare of animals they raise, and usually they do. Nobody would want to support a farmer who treats his animals badly and yet cruelty to all species of domestic animals remains a fact of life. Understandably farming also needs to be a profitable business. When the approach to farming with livestock is animal-centred, the factors of economics and convenience don't override good farming practice. Automatically selecting an arbitrary frozen chicken mass produced from a well known, cheerily branded factory that does not allow closer inspection by visitors just reinforces our ignorance. We all have the power to select from and support local, more sustainable systems that respect life.

The extent of the daily sacrifices made on our behalf affecting the lives of animals is determined by our willingness to be informed and the strength of our desire for harmony in a world where it's easy not to care.

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