OFTA and the Expansion of
A Global Justice for Animals
by Stephanie Rosenberg and Adam Weissman
The Oman free trade agreement threatens to expand
markets for US
factory farm producers resulting in more suffering for farmed animals.
Cruel Efficiency: US Industrial Animal Agriculture
Animal agriculture in Oman
primarily relies on traditional agricultural methods. By contrast, animal
agriculture in the United
States has largely shifted to intensive
industrial production methods on large scale corporate “factory farms,”
particularly in production of poultry, eggs, veal, and pork. Economy of scale
coupled with the economic efficiency of housing large numbers of animals in
intensive-confinement facilities and battery cages makes corporate factory
farmed products dramatically cheaper than those produced by traditional
– and far more inhumane and ecologically
The U.S. dairy industry currently
receives billions of dollars in subsidies a year,
much of which are directed to large scale agribusiness. These subsidies,
combined with the elimination of tariffs on animal products have led to the
prediction that exports of dairy, meat and some poultry products will grow
under the agreement,
boosting the cruel and environmentally-destructive practice of factory farming.
While U.S. dairy production does not involve the
intense confinement of poultry or pork production, the use of Recombinant
Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), common to U.S. dairy production, represents a
threat to consumer health
and animal welfare. Use of rBGH is linked to an increase in the painful udder
infection mastitis, cystic ovaries, uterine disorders, severe hoof problems
that create nonambulatory cows, digestive disorders, enlarges hocks and
lesions, and foot disorders in offspring.
Worse, the notoriously
cruel factory farm veal industry is a direct by-product of the dairy industry. In order to keep cows continually producing
milk, the animals are kept constantly pregnant through artificial insemination.
Many of the male calves produced as a result are taken from their mothers at
one to two days of age and raised for veal, spending their entire lives
confined in two foot wide crates, where they are fed a deliberately deficient
diet to produce borderline anemia to create “white” veal.
Broiler chickens raised
for meat also suffer intense confinement in massive warehouse sheds. Each bird is afforded less than half a square
foot of space. In order to prevent the birds from pecking each other, an aberrant
behavior caused by the stress of intensive confinement, the ends of the birds’
sensitive beaks are cut off without anesthetic. These chickens “have been
genetically altered to grow twice as fast and twice as large as their
ancestors. Pushed beyond their biological limits, hundreds of millions of
chickens die every year before reaching slaughter weight at 6 weeks of age. An industry
journal explains that ‘broiler [chickens] now grow so rapidly that the heart
and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body,
resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses.’ Modern
broiler chickens also experience crippling leg disorders, as their legs are not
capable of supporting their abnormally heavy bodies. Confined in unsanitary,
disease-ridden factory farms, the birds also frequently succumb to heat
prostration, infectious diseases, and cancer.”
Egg production is widely
regarded as the cruelest form of animal agriculture. Egg laying hens spend
their lives confined four to a cage, packed so tightly that they cannot spread
their wings or legs. As male chicks born in hatcheries for laying hens are not
considered useful to industry, these birds are commonly ground alive.
OFTA would likely benefit the industries that utilize these and other inhumane
The destructive impact of
factory farms extends beyond the welfare of the animals confined inside,
however, as animal and industrial waste laden with hormones, pesticides and
other chemicals contaminates soil and water resources,
disrupting delicate ecosystems and destroying habitats. Further, creating
pastures and cropland for animal feed leads to massive deforestation and
species extinction. Finally, the U.S. meat and dairy industries lead
to the mass slaughter of wildlife – an estimated 100,000 animals a year – by
USDA Wildlife Services in order to protect farm animals. Animals killed include
coyotes, bobcats, feral hogs, bison, and mountain lions.
heavily-subsidized U.S.-originating goods enter Omani markets, Omani producers
will be unable to compete. The United
States provides hefty government subsidies
to large agribusinesses, stacking the deck against smaller scale Omani
producers. Article 2.11 of the agreement states that both countries “share the
objective” of eliminating export subsidies on agricultural products and “shall
work together” to eliminate them, but mandates no prohibition or phase-out of
Like previous free trade
agreements, OFTA calls for tariff elimination and for foreign-produced goods to
receive equally favorable treatment as those that are produced domestically.
Neither country may increase any already-existing customs duties or adopt new
ones on imports originating in the other country.
While many products are already exempted from duties by Oman’s customs officials, down the
line, the agreement could negatively impact Omani farmers.
Increasingly, U.S. fast-food
chains are expanding in Oman,
promoting a shift to a U.S.-style junk food diet. For their meat-centered
menus, many of these restaurants import animal products from the United States.,
As this trend increases, OFTA will prevent Oman from enacting protective
measures to ensure that the import market does not erode the market share of local
Given the limited nature
of the arable land base in Oman,
due to arid conditions, the country remains highly dependent on imports for
importing 80 percent of food used domestically. The agreement will give U.S. factory farm producers an additional
advantage over exporters from other countries – many of whom use more humane
traditional agricultural methods than the United States. In the future, Oman
will have the option of enacting custom duties on imports from these nations – but
not on factory farm-raised food from the United States.
westernization of the Omani diet reflects a global trend – with disastrous
implications for public health and food availability
in developing countries which have traditionally had dramatically lower rates
of animal product consumption. At the same time, increasing awareness about
the negative health implications of a meat-based diet will lead to decreased
rates of meat consumption in the United States in the years to come. As US agribusiness producers
aggressively seek new markets to compensate for lost domestic revenues, efforts
by animal welfare, environmental protection, anti-hunger, and public health
advocates to abolish factory farms and promote healthy, plant-based,
resource-efficient diets are undermined.
Expanding market access to Oman for US animal agriculture will
only exacerbate this trend. While Oman,
itself, represents a relatively small market, this agreement, as a stepping
stone to MEFTA, sets a troubling precedent.
Bernard, PhD. Farm Animal Welfare
(Iowa State University Press, 1995).
conversation with Ron Verdonk, Deputy Director, USDA/FAS/Export
Credits-Operations Division, 6/14/06.
U.S. & Foreign
Commercial Service And U.S.
Department Of State, FY 2005 Country Commercial Guide for Oman (2004).
AgExporter, Arabian Gulf: Hot Markets for U.S. Foods, March, 1996
Robert Goodland, The
Westernization of Diets: The Assessment of Impacts in Developing Countries – with special reference to China, 8/15/01
Research Service, USDA, Food and Agricultural Commodity Consumption in the United States /