Education, Environment & Animal Welfare in Guatemala
A VEGA employee went to Guatemala for a month to work with a local school in Panajachel teaching about the environment and animal welfare.
Guatemala is roughly the size of Ireland and is situated in Central America, between Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. The climate ranges from cool highlands, tropical semi-dry savannah, fertile lowland coasts and tropical jungle. Two thirds of the country is mountainous and volcanic.
The local culture has been much influenced by the Mayan community, the Spanish (the conquerors), and the North Americans. The ancient Mayans occupied a vast geographic area in Central and South America from around 2000 BC until 1500 AD. Today the Mayans account for around 50% of the Guatemalan population. Mayan crafts include weaving, baskets, pottery and wood-carved animals and toys.
In 1996, Guatemala emerged from a 36-year civil war fought between government and rebel forces, costing an estimated 200,000 lives. In the 10 years since the end of the civil war no one has faced charges for any of the acts of murder and torture that took place.
Guatemala is vulnerable to hurricanes and other tropical storms that pass through the region. In 1999, Hurricane Mitch caused millions of US dollars in damage, creating floods, landslides and leading to a decline in the production of major export crops such as coffee and bananas. In 2005, Hurricane Stan caused further casualties and landslides. Many farmers lost crops and land, and people still live in refugee areas in e.g. Santiago.
About 2/3 of the population practice farming of some sort. Most people cultivate the country’s food staples; maize, sorghum and beans, as well as the main exports; coffee, sugar and bananas. The livestock sector includes cattle, chickens, pigs and sheep. Guatemala's fisheries produce shrimps, snapper and tuna. Industries include tourism, petroleum, chemicals, metals, timber, rubber, furniture, textiles, clothing and sugar, accounting for around 20% of Guatemala's GDP and employing 15% of the workforce.
Guatemala has 11.2 million inhabitants and 96% of them hold just 14% of the land. Many families live in extreme poverty due to the lack of land for growing crops. The indigenous population is a large part of these 96%; they live primarily in rural areas and have limited access to public services. Illiteracy and lack of education are key factors that cause and maintain poverty in Guatemala. Approximately 40% of the population is illiterate, and 60% of them are women. Indigenous communities speak a wide range of languages and dialects, but many do not speak Spanish, and this has kept them further marginalized.
To travel between cities you can take a shuttle bus (a mini van service almost exclusively for foreigners as it is relatively expensive; £10 for a 5h bus journey), or a chicken bus (£0.5-1 for the same journey). Live chickens can be seen on these buses as on boats around the lake, transported for that day’s food or for a market. Locally, there are also tuc-tucs (from £0.5), and you can hop on a van for around 10p.
VEGA comments on an FSA consultation on four possible options designed to increase folate intake of young women.
1. Options 2, 3, and 4 should be integrated, except that flours (eg wholemeal) that have not been fortified with vitamin B1, calcium, and iron be exempted, in deference to objectors to mandatory additions to staple foods and water. They are still able to heed the advice on supplementation and dietary sources of the significant B-vitamins.
We presume that the exempted flours might not include those derived from cereals other than wheat; however, the special needs of people at risk could be considered and indicated by advice on labels and voluntary fortification for flours used for foods for celiacs and for making pasta, paratha (chapattis), sourdough bread, and breakfast cereals (eg amaranth, quinoa, soya) and milks and yogurts. Wheat germ should be promoted as an apt additional component for breakfast foods.
2. Labelling should avoid impressions that fortification and supplementation will make good defects due to slapdash dietary habits nor should it appear to exclude populations other than young women. Beverages are also apt for fortification.
3. Notes on fortification and accompanying details must avoid confusing clashes of information, while imparting useful advice on common sources of the requisite B-vitamins and the special needs of certain groups, male and female, of all ages, eg vegetarians and people with certain allergies and intolerances.
Schemes such as the “traffic light” system should be considered to prevent unfortunate juxtapositions, eg of good sources of folate, such as Marmite and savoury spreads, that are high in salt and carry the appropriate warnings relegating them to the junk-food category. It is high time now for support for our campaigns for low-salt versions of such familiar products. Or folate content might be treated as a component in the manner of fat, sugar, and salt in such schemes of nutritional labelling.
4. Folate supplements should be formulated with deference to populations with certain established aversions (eg to gelatine, milk derivatives, and coal tar colorants), such as vegetarians, Jews and Muslims. Screening and monitoring should be achieved during visits of people to GPs for various reasons and checks, when blood samples can be taken for the usual range of cardiovascular, hematological, immunological, and musculoskeletal functions. Suitably alerted GPs and teachers should ensure that no girl leaves schooling without beginning a regimen of such testing.
5. Folate may play a significant part in preventing defects other than NTD (eg cleft palate) and certain drugs may have anti-folate properties. Appropriate warnings and advice must accompany sales of products, prescribed or sold OTC or as complementary or alternative therapeutics.
6. Flours from crops rated as GM should be fortified with folate and the other vitamins and minerals proposed in normal practice, but allowance should be made for exemptions and additions as public attitudes and abstentions develop.
Consultation on Responsibility and Cost Sharing for Animal Health and Welfare
VEGA comments on a Defra consultation on responsibility and cost sharing for animal health and welfare.
1. In many consultations and meetings with DEFRA, the Food Standards Agency, and the Home Office, as well as representatives of the farming and food industry, we have tried to assert consistency in the treatment and relationship of all animals (of which we are one species) and the common environment. Deliberations over the Animal Health and Welfare Strategy and Act have emphasized the need for such objectivity and changes (with increasing prosperity) of human attitudes and respect shift appreciation of the “less equal” animals in the way we abuse, misuse, use and, employ them. In the Farm Animal Welfare Council’s (FAWC) Five Freedoms we have a declaration of animal rights of general relevance (if only because farmers rear animals for purposes other than food) and treatments and breeding of “spoilt”, pets, and companion animals are aspects of domination and domestication that cause disruptions of the innate behaviour of the kept livestock and their commercial exploitation; many examples can be cited in the practices in zoos, circuses, leisure (for humans) activities.
2. Animal welfare must also comprehend the work and dignity of humans used and employed in the “offensive trades” of killing, culling, and experimenting on non-human animals. They represent crude manifestations of the struggle and competition for survival, territory, safety, and immunity waged with unique predatory ferocity for which the relevance of the war-like vocabulary of slaughter, massacre, and torture is lamentably close. The 19th century Cruelty to Animals Act was aptly titled. With animals of all species we should be proud in developing a heritage of coexistence in which we employ others rather than use them, which usage of language harmonizes with the teachings of the Old Testament and Qur’an, even if these have been sullied by vicious practices.
3. In our experience the FSA’s Chief Vet has repeatedly averred that the Agency was not concerted with welfare. This attitude dismays originators of the Agency, for which Standards connoted a broader and worthier purview that Safety alone; and it has come to distinguish “our” FSA from copies in other countries where nothing beyond Safety (for consumption of humans) is implied. “Our” FSA has to assess standards for imported, transhipped, and manufactured foods, as well as activities down on home farm, which is where the functions of the FSA and DEFRA are likely to meet and overlap.
4. On the other hand other representatives of the FSA talk of labelling and definitions involving terms such as natural, organic, and free-range which must impress the general public with corollaries in care and welfare for animals and wellbeing for the environment. Scoring and warnings on these matters are being called for and reference to HAS scores (now Audit Categories) for meat plants and to compliance with the Five Freedoms are being cited as indicators of feasibility of such intentions, which would surpass the bottom line of the Red Tractor scheme and the like.
5. The recent outbreak of avian flu in a poultry factory in Suffolk and the preparations for larger outbreaks of such zoonoses and culling on a massacre scale, together with movements of “products” and migrations of wildlife within Europe and possibly extending globally, provide lessons in the subject of the present consultation. If DEFRA’s responsibilities concentrate mainly on the live part of live/deadstock industry, the FSA might represent more the dead, with demarcation at the point of arrival at the premises or at the point of killing in the slaughterhouse, there will still be much overlap: for one thing, the pathology reports compiled by meat inspectors and reasons for rejected meat and offals can throw much light on conditions and standards under DEFRA’s control, and it must be a task for the FSA to facilitate its contribution, possibly through a coordinating group to ensure consistency in interpretations of standards of welfare and hygiene.
6. At the moment the preparations and practice in the outbreak of avian flu seem to show DEFRA and the FSA collaborating responsibly, albeit with untoward coyness over welfare aspects in the mode of culling and the reticence of the media to offer the public an objective commentary on the practice and results.
7. With poultry, a little-subsidized farming industry, compensations for the culling required by the State Veterinary Service were excessive, seeing that severe shortcomings in husbandry were revealed and the industry is pleading for withdrawal from the stipulations, cost and levies to satisfy the Meat Hygiene Service.
Nonetheless, the industry enjoys the MHS’s presence and supervision as a protection and inhibitor of private litigation that the public might otherwise resort to on the basis of evidence accumulated by EHOs and TSOs and from the FSA. Such industries must be required to indemnify themselves against such disasters. As with errant drivers of vehicles bad practices would attract higher premiums and rid the industry of bad performers. A shard of glass or another contaminant in bread, baked beans, or houmous requires the manufacturer to clear all stocks in the retailers and to confiscate suspect goods. Prudent manufacturers of foods (and other household goods) take care to avoid claims on insurers and from injured parties, and the public is protected. The live/deadstock industry must meet its responsibilities likewise.
8. Some farmers and producers in the food chain complain that the insurance industry will not take on such business. If this is so, DEFRA and FSA must explain to the public that the British farming and food industries cannot produce commodities to the appropriate standards. The aftermaths of the BSE and food-and-mouth epidemics revealed the appallingly low standards and practices in a food chain that needs the combined efforts of the FSA and DEFRA to overcome the tolls exacted by complicity and connivance – and the over-compensated – workings and costs of intensified production of meretriciously cheap food.
1. We applaud the writing and scope of the DEFRA document dated 28 November 2006. We are also pleased to note that the British FSAs relate to Standards in food production, which we recognize as a purview broader than Safety focussed on the human condition. Increasing evidence discloses the distinction and its consequences in welfare and the environment and the farm-to-fork concept linking the land as the factory floor in primary commercial production and the integrating possibilities in joining the thrust of farming production outputs with the pull of customer choice.
We are therefore working on the New Kinder Farming with the Portfolio of dietary and lifestyle practices deemed fit for the purposes of dietary and lifestyle practices deemed fir for the purposes of a good Quality of Life advocated by nutritionists and doctors. This combination of factors is reinforced by environmental considerations of global warming and conservation of resources – in fact, good husbandry and Salutary Sustenance from Salubrious Farming.
2. This understanding informed the Economist’s Dietary Advice in April 2005 that “a healthy diet is built on a base of grains, vegetables and fruits, followed by ever-decreasing amounts of dairy-products, meat, sweets, and oils…” and the declaration recently by Ben Bradshaw MP, a DEFRA Minister, that Britons should consume less meat and milk. The consequences of such policies, together with the objections to catching and farming fish, and the trends in consumption of human populations of meat-reducers and dairy-frees and a massacre of nearly a billion animals killed every year in British slaughterhouse, as well as a brisk market in plant-based alternatives, portend the most powerful remission of cruelty to the enslaved animals, even at an initially feasible conversion rate of 10% year-on-year.
Recent outbreaks of BSE, foot-and-mouth disease, swine fevers, and other zoonoses, as well as the threats of avian flu and other viral diseases, are sacrifices to the altar of production that will generate increasing disgust form the public and little compensation from the Government to rescue an offensive industry and an affront to the dignity and respect due to animals of all species. No amount of free-range, organic euphemism, and dissembling can disguise the enormity. No enterprise in animal welfare can claim significance if it does not manifest practice and preaching in its interpretation of these factors.
3. Our answers to your questions follow:
4.1. The scope of the consultation is good, except that it should accept inclusion of all sentient beings, vertebrate or not, small and large, cuddly or even superficially loathsome (to our species). A rat is a rat is a rat whether it is a pest invading and marking our territory and defeating our attempts at killing it mechanically or by artificial poisons, a pet for kiddies who “love” animals, or victim of the “humane” experimentation that may be a form of torture applied in the interests of safety and convenience in “our” food and environment.
We cannot blink some tricky challenges if we wish to assert an objective scientific analysis and the application of our wit and kindness to lessen the toll exacted in the territorial war for “lebensraum” that we inflict on the animal (including our own species) denizens and environment on our planet. Scientific endeavour must be informed and funded, especially in prosperous communities, for service to the quality of mercy. Unfortunately scientists are inept in presenting these matters clearly, the laws are inhibiting, and the market costive – but they are beginning to react effectively to relevant trends, finding welfare a factor in premium pricing, even it is a times a dubious form of VAT – Virtue Adding Tricks.
4.2. Drafting of laws and codes of practice must avoid qualifying adjectives and adverbs: cruelty to animals must be an indictable offence. Modifying words such as avoidable and needless are excuses that hamper application of correction and punishments: their very use indicates connivance in routine processes that inflict pain and suffering and should be ousted without obstruction or havering. Procedures for therapeutic purposes (for the sole benefit of the patient) do not count as cruelties routinely inflicted or as a consequence of deliberate unkindness or neglect).
4.3. Current concerns over the REACH project on the safety of household goods and tests involving fish and marine animals, as well as insects, may lull some commentators as a means of averting procedures on dogs and cats – or chimpanzees, who are much nearer surrogates for our condition – and illustrate the need for merciful applications of concepts of sentience. Recent events have disclosed the contributing and increasing activities of livestock farmers in breeding animals for ultimate tests and experimentation under the control of the Home Office. Maggot farming is an ancillary enterprise to angling for fish. Some forms of fishing cannot be excused even as a relic of hunting for food.
Exemption of commercial fishing and killing from general applications of “humane” slaughter sees welfare and environmental considerations in a powerful alliance that still fails to prevail over commercial procedures for which science and technology must be favoured in the search for alternatives to cruelties both routine and avoidable. Massacres on the scale of commercial fishing will entail methods of offensive killing infringing the stipulations of humane slaughter and these procedures may earn producers grants in compensations. The trade must operate only if the merchants can prove that they have sounds means of indemnification. The aftermaths of FMD and BSE prove the price paid by the Government for the cheap food produced by an uncaring industry turning out “cheap” food. If insurers cannot be found, the industry must be shut. Public money can be better spent on fostering enterprise in production of good value in all terms.
4.4. A comprehensive Policy must embrace treatments of wildlife and game, dealing with conservation as well as with leisure activities and exploitation.
4.5. It must also consider the merits of a well-kept countryside to prevent wandering of livestock and consequent dangers and poisoning as a result of access to toxic plants and trees (ragwort, yew, rhododendrons etc) and plastic litter and discarded machinery and electrical equipment. Decomposing tires (from silage clamps) and plastic bags can cause serious distress in animals unfortunate enough to ingest such materials.
VEGA Responds to DEFRA Consultation on Farmed Animals Regulations
Replacement of the Welfare of Farmed Animals Regulations must ensure that real protection is given to all animals on farms. Our comments on the draft Regulations follow:
1. The word "farmed" needs the widest interpretation. Assessments of usage must be rated and scored on the FAWC's measures of observance of the Five Freedoms, and conditions of welfare / wellbeing must be scored in the manner of hygiene regulations. Results of inspections (eg by the SVS) must be available to the public and inform labelling, claims, and advertising for the output, activities, and facilities for which the keeper / owner / custodian of the non-human animals is responsible. Such duties should be "burdensome" only to stock-keepers unable to command acceptable practice and care.
The history of bad husbandry and of zoonotic epidemics - and now the threat of avian flu - teaches us the need for swingeing reforms in our treatment of all animals (including humans) involved in activities, in an environment that embraces the origins of the link in the farm-to-fork progression from production to consumption.
2. Care, keeping, ownership, and handling of livestock requires general and specialized training, licensing, and CPD. Modulations in the CAP, entitlement grants, and activities on private land must be considered in the regulations. The future of the anti-Hunting Act must be secured. It must be tidied up and extended to "sporting" pursuits such as shooting and rearing birds mainly for such purposes. Catch-and-return angling must count as an unacceptable form of cruelty. Fishing for food is also relentlessly cruel and its demise, whether as "farmed" or as a relic of hunting for food, should follow as another practice to be ousted soon.
3. Industrialized ("factory") farming must also be damned as bad husbandry and bad practice, undermining worthy endeavour and good standards of employment in farming and food industries. They may be major sources of low-paid work in rural areas and therefore forborne by local communities tolerant of nuisances, cruelties, and breaches of health and safety at work regulations.
However, it is important to establish a right of entry for all local authorities wishing to inspect any premises in their areas where animals are bred, confined, used, or killed (or culled). They would thus have the opportunity to invite or entertain independent competence beyond their local means and to investigate allegations of failure by specialised overseers, among whom established animal welfarists, such as the RSPCA, might be included.
4. Integration of the Animal Welfare Acts must include grey areas, such as sanctuaries looking after variously rescued animals but not operating as recognized show or petting farms with the appropriate access and other facilities.
The threats of zoonotic diseases impress the need for registration and inspection of such collections and backyard flocks of livestock. The welfare of wildlife and uncommercialized, rescued livestock still requires the land to be kept unlittered and unpolluted.
Handling of escaped animals (from farms and slaughterhouses, for instance) must be dealt with in a kindly way and the standards of treatment of an animal on the farm, at auction or in the hands of a dealer or vet, must not depend on the animal's comparable market value. These stipulations would apply to transport: all equines, cattle, sheep, and pigs must have the same level of care as a horse on a journey to or from a race course.
5. The veterinary profession must be required to undertake a 24-hour emergency service and animals must not be reared or kept in premises or grazings where such facilities and appropriate nursing cannot be assured. The trend for trained vets to devolve duties and responsibilities on to lay specialists must be arrested. In obtaining a licence to keep animals, owners must be required to name an appropriately qualified veterinary practice.
We hope that merging of the State Veterinary Service, the Dairy Hygiene and Egg Marketing Inspectorates, as well as the Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service into the one Animal Health agency on the 1st April will increase the powers of these agencies and not overwhelm them with too many various responsibilities.
6. New systems of technology and selective breeding must be anticipated in laws preventing pain and suffering, acute and chronic, in animals and freaks contrived for the purposes of increased production of food or other commercial commodities. Artificial insemination has begun a train of exploitation that is now approaching the further artifices of cloning and what is commonly regarded as GM. The animals' interest in these practices must be upheld and provision for bans must be made.
7. DEFRA must accompany efforts at integrating various pieces of legislation while expounding to consumers/customers/citizens the consequences to them of overdue reforms to establish increasing standards of care of the environment and of the non-human denizens of our countryside and the corollaries in choices of imported foods and goods.
Raising the school leaving age by 2 years offers opportunities in education to rehearse these topics and their application in the quality of life. They would also serve the worthy standards the FSA is trying to assert, especially in appraisals of labelling, claims, and advertising. Recent utterances by authorities such as Ben Bradshaw, MP, a current DEFRA Minister, indicate progress of reform in animal welfare nicely linked with consumer power and salutary dietary change: he advocates reductions in consumption of meat and milk.