There’s a global trade in live farm animals taking place – a secretive and dirty business that sees millions of cattle, sheep, pigs, horses and other species trucked and shipped around the world for slaughter and processing, retail and consumption.
Fuelled by the growing demand for cheap meat and meat by-products, and enabled by increasingly intensive agricultural production, this largely unreported trade not only raises serious concerns about the welfare of the transported animals, but poses much wider questions about the nature and sustainability of modern food supply and production.
Advocates of the trade claim they are simply feeding consumer demand, and that the sector is well governed, provides much needed employment and vital income, ensures regional food security and consistently maintain that welfare standards are generally high.
But in an unprecedented global operation, Ecostorm investigators, working on behalf of the Handle With Care coalition – a body made up of some of the world’s leading animal welfare pressure groups – travelled to over a dozen countries in six continents to examine the true cost of this lucrative trade to animals, people and the environment.
Working undercover and utilising a variety of unique research techniques, Ecostorm investigators tracked shipments of farm animals from Canada to Hawaii, Brazil to Lebanon, Spain to Italy, India to Bangladesh, Australia to the Middle East, Namibia and Botswana to South Africa, as well as within Thailand, Mexico, Greece and elsewhere.
The investigations, documented in a unique series of specially commissioned campaign films and cinema adverts, graphically uncover the often shocking conditions endured by millions of farm animals annually as they are transported hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles from one country to another.
Evidence obtained by investigators also exposes the negative impacts of the industry on the environment – particularly in Brazil where cattle ranching has been identified as a major cause of deforestation – and on people, especially the now near-universal plight of small-scale traditional farmers squeezed out of the market by the increasingly globalised trade in livestock.
Compelling evidence of the potential spread of animal / human diseases as a result of the trade is also revealed: in Thailand, the links between the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza and the movement of live poultry are highlighted; in Bangladesh, the thriving yet illegal trade in cattle from India is revealed as being partly responsible for the spreading of foot and mouth disease in the region.
Britain too plays a role in this global trade, with thousands of animals a year typically exported to Europe for rearing, slaughter, processing and consumption. Many of these are young calves transported principally to the Netherlands, France, Spain and elsewhere for veal production. Although restrictions in place following last year’s foot and mouth outbreaks temporarily curtailed the trade, exports of live farm animals from the UK are expected to resume imminently.
By documenting the typical international supply chains of certain meat and meat products – literally from ‘crate to plate’ – and approaching, for the first time, the subject of live farm animal transport as an issue of globalisation as well as animal welfare, the investigations and campaign films present strong visual and other evidence which show that this trade, in its current form, is both unacceptable and unsustainable.