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  • OFTA and the Expansion of Factory Farming

    OFTA and the Expansion of Factory Farming

    A Global Justice for Animals Report

    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 agriculture[1] and far more inhumane and ecologically destructive.

    The U.S. dairy industry currently receives billions of dollars in subsidies a year,[2] 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,[3] 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[4] 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.[5]

     

    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.[6]

     

    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.”[7]

     

    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.[8] OFTA would likely benefit the industries that utilize these and other inhumane practices.

     

    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,[9] 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.[10]

    As cheaply-produced, 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 such subsidies.

     

    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.[11] Neither country may increase any already-existing customs duties or adopt new ones on imports originating in the other country.[12] While many products are already exempted from duties by Oman’s customs officials, down the line, the agreement could negatively impact Omani farmers.[13] 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.[14], [15] 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 producers.

     

    Given the limited nature of the arable land base in Oman, due to arid conditions, the country remains highly dependent on imports for food,[16] 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.

     

    The increased westernization of the Omani diet reflects a global trend – with disastrous implications for public health and food availability[17] [18] in developing countries which have traditionally had dramatically lower rates of animal product consumption.[19] 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.[20] 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.

     



    1. Rollins, Bernard, PhD. Farm Animal Welfare (Iowa State University Press, 1995).

    2. Mitta, Anuradha “Ploughed Under: WTO and the Small Farmer” 2 September, 2002, http://www.ipsnews.net/riomas10/0209_5.shtml

    3. Animal and Animal Products Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade (ATAC). The US-Oman Free Trade Agreement: Report of the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Animals and Animal Products (2005). http://www.ustr.gov/assets/Trade_Agreements/Bilateral/Oman_FTA/Reports/asset_upload_file565_8382.pdf, p. 4.

    4. “Breast Cancer, Rbgh And Milk.” http://www.organicconsumers.org/rBGH/rach598.htm.

    5. “Frequently Asked Questions.” http://foxbghsuit.com/bgh4.htm.

    6. Farm Sanctuary. “Veal Production.” http://factoryfarming.org/veal.htm.

    7. Farm Sanctuary. “Poultry Production.” http://factoryfarming.org/poultry.htm.

    8. Farm Sactuary. “Factory Egg Production.” http://factoryfarming.org/eggs.

    9. Vegan Outreach. “Environmental Destruction.” http://www.veganoutreach.org/whyvegan/environment.html.

    10. Vegan Outreach. “Transport.” http://www.veganoutreach.org/whyvegan/transport.html.

    11. USTR. Final Text of the US-Oman Free Trade Agreement. “Chapter Two: National Treatment and Market Access for Goods” (2006). http://www.ustr.gov/assets/Trade_Agreements/Bilateral/Oman_FTA/Final_Text/asset_upload_file628_8818.pdf, p. 2-1.

    12. Ibid.

    13. Per conversation with Ron Verdonk, Deputy Director, USDA/FAS/Export Credits-Operations Division, 6/14/06.

    14. U.S. & Foreign Commercial Service And U.S. Department Of State, FY 2005 Country Commercial Guide for Oman (2004).

    15. AgExporter, Arabian Gulf: Hot Markets for U.S. Foods, March, 1996

    16. Grains, Feeds and Oilseeds ATAC. The US-Oman Free Trade Agreement: Report of the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Grains, Feeds and Oilseeds (2005). http://www.ustr.gov/assets/Trade_Agreements/Bilateral/Oman_FTA/Reports/asset_upload_file747_8386.pdf, p. 4.

    [17]Robert Goodland, The Westernization of Diets: The Assessment of Impacts in Developing Countries with special reference to China, 8/15/01

    [18] Global Hunger Alliance, The Promise of Traditional Food Crops, http://www.globalhunger.net/back.html

    [20] Economic Research Service, USDA, Food and Agricultural Commodity Consumption in the United States / AER-820

     

    Global Justice for Animals and the Environment is a project of:
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