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The Price of Cheap Beef: Disease, Deforestation, Slavery and

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HAY MAKER

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The Price of Cheap Beef: Disease, Deforestation, Slavery and Murder
If it's unethical to eat British beef, it's 100 times worse to eat Brazilian - but imports have nearly doubled this year
For the past five years I have been at war with Farmers for Action. These are the neanderthals who have held up the traffic and blockaded the refineries in the hope of persuading the government to reduce the price of fuel. It doesn't matter how often you explain that cheap fuel, which allows the supermarkets to buy from wherever the price of meat or grain is lowest, has destroyed British farming. They will stand in front of the cameras and make us watch as they cut their own throats.

But through gritted teeth I must admit that they have got something right. In January the caveman in chief, David Handley, warned that foot and mouth disease had not been eliminated from Brazil, and that imports of meat from that country risked bringing it back to Britain. The buyers brushed his warning aside. In the first half of this year beef imports from Brazil to the UK rose by 70%, to 34,000 tons. Last week an outbreak was confirmed in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

You would, of course, expect British producers to throw as much mud as they can at cheap imports. You would expect them to question their competitors' hygiene standards and social and environmental impacts, and Mr Handley has done all of these things. But, to my intense annoyance, he is on every count correct.

Unlike him, I do not believe that British beef farmers have a God-given right to stay in business. We shouldn't be eating beef at all. Because the conversion efficiency of feed to meat is so low in cattle, there is no more wasteful kind of food production. British beef producers would be extinct were it not for subsidies and European tariffs. Brazilian meat threatens them only because it is so cheap that it can outcompete theirs even after trade taxes have been paid. But if it's unethical to eat British beef, it's 100 times worse to eat Brazilian.

Until 1990 Brazil produced only enough beef to feed itself. Since then its cattle herd has grown by some 50 million, and the country has become, according to some estimates, the world's biggest exporter: it now sells 1.9m tons a year. The United Kingdom is its fourth-largest customer, after Russia, Egypt and Chile. One region is responsible for 80% of the growth in Brazilian beef production. It's the Amazon.

The past three years have been the most destructive in the Brazilian Amazon's history. In 2004 26,000 sq. km of rainforest were burned: the second-highest rate on record. This year could be worse. And most of it is driven by cattle ranching.

According to the Center for International Forestry Research, cattle pasture accounts for six times more cleared land in the Amazon than crop land: even the notorious soya farmers, who have plowed some 5m hectares of former rainforest, cover just one-tenth of the ground taken by the beef producers. The four Amazon states in which the most beef is produced are the four with the highest deforestation rates.

Cattle ranching, if it keeps expanding in the Amazon, threatens two-fifths of the world's remaining rainforest. This is not just the most diverse ecosystem but also the biggest reserve of standing carbon. Its clearance could provoke a hydrological disaster in South America, as rainfall is reduced as the trees come down. Next time you see footage of the forest burning, remember that you might have paid for it.

Many Brazilians, especially those whose land is being grabbed by the cattlemen, are trying to stop the destruction. Ranchers have an effective argument: when people complain, they kill them. In February we heard an echo of the massacre which has so far claimed 1200 lives, when the American nun Dorothy Stang was murdered - almost certainly by beef producers. The ranchers believed to have killed her were, like cattlemen throughout the Amazon, protected by the police.

For the same reason, and despite the best efforts of President Lula, the ranchers are now employing some 25,000 slaves on their estates. These are people who are transported thousands of miles from their home states, then - forced to buy their provisions from the ranch shop at inflated prices - kept in permanent debt. Because of the expansion of beef production in the Amazon, slavery in Brazil has quintupled in 10 years.

So the government of a country which - despite its best efforts - has failed to stop slavery, murder and environmental catastrophe expects us to believe that its farm-hygiene standards are as rigorously enforced as those of any other nation. Anyone who has worked in the Amazon knows that there is no certificate which cannot be bought, and few local officials who aren't working for the people they are meant to regulate. If foot and mouth disease is endemic in the Brazilian Amazon - most of which is now registered by the government as "safe" - the ministers in Brasilia will be the last to know.

When the disease last hit the UK, in February 2001, the government blamed it on meat imported by Chinese restaurants. But in April of that year we discovered that the farm on which the outbreak started, at Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland, had been taking slops for its pigs from the Whitburn army training camp near Sunderland. The army had been importing some of its beef from Brazil and Uruguay, two of the strongholds of the type-O strain which infected our herds. The Ministry of Defense insisted that it came from "disease-free regions" of South America. One of them was Mato Grosso do Sul, the state in which foot and mouth has just erupted.

So who, in this country, has been buying it? Tesco says that "well over 90%" of its beef comes from the UK. It has stopped buying Brazilian since the outbreak last week, but can't tell me how much it bought before then, because that's "commercially sensitive". I went round one of its stores and found that all the fresh beef was labeled"British" in big red letters. But six of its own-brand processed meals (generally the cheaper kinds) contained "South American beef", three contained "South American/EU beef" and one just "beef". Most of the ready meals supplied by other companies contained only "beef".

Sainsbury's admitted to buying 5% from Brazil until the disease was reported. The man from Asda told me his chain bought "less than 2%" of its beef from Brazil this summer and nothing since. The main market, he claimed, is restaurants and pub chains. I tried McDonald's and Burger King: they both say they don't buy from Brazil. So does the pub company Wetherspoons. Punch Taverns doesn't buy food, but its tenants are supplied by catering companies such as Brake Brothers. Brake Brothers admits to buying Brazilian beef, but the volume is, again, "competitively sensitive". This doesn't necessarily mean that any of these firms have been buying beef from the Amazon: but buying beef from elsewhere in Brazil creates a hole in the domestic market, which will be filled by the growing production in the rainforest. So, given that we're importing tens of thousands of tons a year, where has it gone? Where's the beef?

Perhaps the Guardian's readers could help me locate it. Unlike other meat, fresh beef's country of origin must - because of BSE - be printed on the packet. So, with a little detective work in shops and supermarkets and round the back of pubs, schools, hospitals and barracks, it shouldn't be too hard to trace. Once you've found it, I suggest you back away.
 

Jason

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Does your posting this article mean you agree with it Haymaker?

If so then you better sell off your cattle interests and stop being so wasteful for raising critters that comsume far too much feed per pound of gain.(his words not mine)

This guy is obviously anti beef and will use an exageratted story from Brazil to further his agenda.
 

HAY MAKER

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No cant say as I agree,just a differnt take for the board to read..........good luck
 

Econ101

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Sometimes the cost of an item is more than its price.
 

Kathy

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While we sit back and pretend everything is all better, (now that Canadians can sell UTM into the USA market), groups other than the vegetarian organizations are also working to rid the world of our "wasteful" cattle, pigs, sheep, chickens, turkeys...

Actually, this isn't about ridding the world of beef; but about destroying cattle production in the wealthy nations like USA, Canada, UK and transferring the production to Brazil and other countries where this destructive behavior is accepted and even promoted.

There was no mention in the article of names of the owners of these large ranchers in Brazil. I have heard that many are American owned, does anyone have some data to share here.

Canada should have the world by the tail, when it comes to selling beef. We raise our cattle on grass for the most part. Some finish in feedlots, and others run on grass for the next summer and then go on feed. (I know this is a practice in many parts of the USA as well, so don't bite). Much of the land is only suitable for raising cattle.

Some people have questioned the origins of the first Canadian case of BSE (the catfish farmer from the US deal). There is even a fictional book coming out about how this cow was intracranially injected with BSE and hauled into Canada.

Anyway, we now have the stigma of the disease and we face the brutal punishment seen by UK ranchers.

We cannot compare the UK, or many of the EU countries, to ourselves (Canada and USA) - the land base difference per population is so different. In the UK, however, you don't find these huge feedlots with thousands of head. Even a few hundred is unusual. Most of the beef farms there try to maintain some balance in comparison to their land base. Herds are small. People, like the author of this article in the Guardian, need to remember that if you get rid of the people in the country, you will be totally dependent upon other nations for your food supply. Well, that's even dumber than being totally dependent on other nations for your energy supply - you can't eat gas/diesel.

The first order of any nation is to secure its people's food, water, shelter and safety. You must do what it takes to protect your God given resources from contamination.

I heard Oprah didn't like it when the people devastated by hurricane Katrina were called refugees - but that is exactly what they were (and within their own country). They had no food, water or shelter.

What is even sadder about this situation, is that we have allowed the growth of cities to numbers which we are uncapable of managing in an emergency - and they continue to grow. New Orleans will be rebuilt. So we have people who continue to go on living in these massive cities, pretending that everything is OK - when its not!

This little article on beef is asking the people of the UK to not buy beef from Brazil so as to save the rain forests. But what about their own people and their own resources? Apparently the author could care less about them, and is prepared to buy his food from another country. Even if you want to be a vegetarian, you must realize that the land needs fertilizer to grow the vegetables. You can get this fertilizer from natural sources, ie: the cow, sheep, pig, chicken manure; or you can buy limited artificial fertilizers from the oil companies, etc.

In trying to make a point about vegetarianism and the Brazilian rain forest, the author has missed the big picture in his/her own country. This is why I say, if we all took care of our own "families and neighbors" we'd make this world a better place. I agree we need to draw attention to the needs of other countries (richer or poorer); but this articles failure to name the abusers, makes the point mute.

There is no accountability without naming the criminals.
 

RobertMac

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Kathy said:
The first order of any nation is to secure its people's food, water, shelter and safety. You must do what it takes to protect your God given resources from contamination.

Totally agree, good post.

One little note for the "global warming environmental wackos"...
'Green house gases' are claimed to be the major cause(?) of global warming. The number one 'green house gas' is carbon dioxide. Because of the break down of decaying plant mater, the 'rain forest' is a net producer of 'green house gases'. We had better clear the Amazon to stop 'global warming'!!!!!!! :wink: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
 

Econ101

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I totally agree with you also, Kathy. Agribusiness has used its power to externalize some of the costs of its business onto others in our society. That may be an inevitable result of a cheap food policy adn a system that can not correct these problems and make those who made them up pay for them. SH's packer increased "efficiency" of using ofal in cattle feed is the real reason for the current BSE problems as accepted by most and yet they have paid nothing for those errors.

rkaiser, MRJ, what were the payments the Canadian government (and hence a subsidy paid for by all Canadians) paid to the packers in Canada for? How much were these payments and how does that compare with your idea of a packing plant rkaiser? I am sorry I have little info. on this topic and am getting my information through inference of some of your posts.
 

smalltime

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Demand.As long as its there someone will always have a supply.There will contiue to be a greater and greater denand for any kind of beef.
 

mrj

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Econ101 said:
I totally agree with you also, Kathy. Agribusiness has used its power to externalize some of the costs of its business onto others in our society. That may be an inevitable result of a cheap food policy adn a system that can not correct these problems and make those who made them up pay for them. SH's packer increased "efficiency" of using ofal in cattle feed is the real reason for the current BSE problems as accepted by most and yet they have paid nothing for those errors.

rkaiser, MRJ, what were the payments the Canadian government (and hence a subsidy paid for by all Canadians) paid to the packers in Canada for? How much were these payments and how does that compare with your idea of a packing plant rkaiser? I am sorry I have little info. on this topic and am getting my information through inference of some of your posts.

Your "information" re. subsudies paid to Canadian cattlemen and packers there will be sadly lacking if dependent on any of my posts. I don't believe I've ever mentioned it as I have little knowledge of it, and less interest in the portion that is to make up losses due to BSE influence on their markets. That is their problem, and I feel, not our business.

MRJ
 

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