Archive for the ‘Adis English posts’ Category

The inconvenient true price of a pork chop

Oktober 24, 2013

Salami in the pgilet Last night I became an impulse buyer. The german magazine “Der Spiegel” had a most remarkable cover, a piglet with Salami inside. The title on the cover of the magazine translates “The Pork-System – How the Meatindustry is making us ill” (the german word “Schweinesystem” has an additional very negative metaphoric meaning, it suggests betrayal of the stakeholders in the system).

I’m writing this in English because the only free link to the article is the one to the english version and because I thought it might be interesting to see the leading german newsmagazines view for english speaking readers. For the Germanspeaking I have put it into Google-Translator, making it a journey from german via english back to german. This produces quite funny results: For example “Top-Genetik-Eber” becomes “Top-genetischen Wildschwein”.

Anyway, the article is not especially funny at all. It tells the successstory of the german pig-business. “Factory Farming: The True Price of a Pork Chop” is the title inside the magazine. Germany is producing 58 Mio. pigs a year. This makes the country the 3rd biggest exporter after China and the USA. And there’s a big domestic consumption: The roughly 82 Mio. germans eat 39 Kilos of pig meat a year in the average. 85 percent of the germans eat meat every day, four times as many as in 1850. So far so good for the meat industry. But the industrialisation of the business has a few dark sides (which are the same in many other countries):

  • The animals have to be absolute high performers. In the final four months of their half-year live they have to add 850 grams of weight a day. They live in tight spaces in growing stabulations. While the average farm had 101 animals only 20 years ago, this number has risen to 985 in 2012. There is though, some improvement in the animal welfare sector. The non-lactating sows have to be kept in groups, but only 73 percent of the farmers have implemented the new system yet.
  • The personnel in the slaughterhouse is payed lousily. They are not occupied by the slaugther enterprises but by eastern-europaen subcontractors that are paid by piece slaughtered. Result: 5.04 Euros an hour (before taxes). A trade unionist calls this “salary dumping”. If they were paid 12 Euros an hour, the Kilo Schnitzel would cost Euros 7.35 per Kilo instead of 7.10. Seems like nothing, but not in this system, where everything is counted down to the last dime.
  • The consumers get cheap meat but the costs are high: 50 Mio. m3 of liquid pig manure are threatening or already polluting their drinking water. The massive and partially preventive use of Antibiotics in the short life span of the pigs is producing resistant germs that will put their effect in humane medicine in danger. Last year 1746 tons of antibiotics were used in the german animal health sector. Double as much as for the use in human medicine. 40 Percent of the veterinarians working in the pig sector are carriers of resistant germs of the MRSA-Type.

And the farmers? Is the “Schweinesystem” good for them? It can be so from an an economical point of view, at least short and mid term. But I bet that many of them don’t like the way their animals are treated as industrial goods. And how they themselves are pressed into the logics of an industrial system that has become like a huge machine, which treats the farmer as a small wheel, who has to turn and grow or get lost. The number of pigfarms has gone down from 264000 to 28000 in 20 years. Maybe it’s time for a big emancipation movement. No farmer should ever forget, that no retailer, no butcher, no cheesemaker and no baker will ever be able to produce a kilo of meat, milk or wheat without his work.

Agrentina (4): Where’s the beef?

September 6, 2013

Im FeedlotThis may seem like a weird question taking into account that Argentina is still one of the biggest meat producers worldwide with a per capita consumption of ca 60 Kilograms a year.

But there have been some heavy shifts in the system recently. Firstly, as I mentioned in the last post, the high export taxes of 15% have reduced the output of the sector. While a few years ago Argentina was third in beef exports worldwide, nowadays they are only 11th, overtaken by relatively small competitors like Paraguay and Uruguay, where a number of Argentinian investors have started to produce meat abroad because the tarif conditions are much better than at home.

Secondly, meat production has lost a lot of its traditional methods. So far, when I was thinking, sometimes even dreaming of a good piece of Argentinian beef, there was an imaginary movie starting to run in the inner cinema: happy cows migrating through the Pampa and eating grass for all their lives before they would be killed on the spot and grilled in a traditional Asado.

The AsadoNot that these Gaucho-traditions don’t exist anymore. During the livestock tour at the Congress of the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists (Ifaj) we were shown beautiful herds of Hereford and Angus cattle in lush green fields and we were treated with a traditional Asado (a whole cow including hooves, teeth and skin). Later we were presented an “Azote”, a rivercrossing of cows, horses and gauchos, all of them swimming.

That was quite impressive but in fact, this show is not represantative for the sector anymore. Because of the vast expansion of the profitable soy production (from 5 m to 20 m hectares in the last 20 years) the space for cattle in the fertile Pampa Humeda has become scarce. The sector reacted in two ways: migration and concentration. Either the cattle business was looking for new grounds (eg. in the western Pampa Seca or in the northern Chaco, both of them very dry regions where you need much more space to nourish the same number of head).

Or they started investing in feedlots, a totally new phenomenon for Argentina. I visited two feedlots, one of them with 3000 head on 10 hectares, the other one with 22000 head on 40 hectares. These are US-inspired industrial operations that lack any kind of Gaucho romanticism. As I heard, more than half of Argentina’s beef is finished in feedlots, with an increase ahead, because cash-cropping keeps growing.

The heifers and steers are brought to the lots after roughly 8 months of grassfeeding and will spend something between 3 and 5 months in the lot before they get slaughtered. For starters, the diet is changed from grass to corn, soymeal and silage within a week, combined with a good dose of antibiotics to prevent the spreading of illnesses in the packed corrals. The whole area of the feeding lot is covered by an ugly smell, that further reduced my belief in the pure Argentinian Pampa beef.

Somehow I can understand why they didn’t show us a feedlot on Tuesdays livestocktour… (Thx a lot to Neroli Roocke from Australia for the help with editing my pidgin english:)

PS. If you like to read more english posts check out “Adi’s English Posts”.

The Pros and Cons of Backyardchickens

Mai 29, 2013

Backyardchicken in Gränichen, Aargau, SwitzerlandThe most frequent search term, that people get on my blog with, is “Hühnerhaus selber bauen” (german for “Build your own Henhouse”). The popularity of the subject of backyardchickens seems enormous. And at the same time, the idea of keeping a few hens in your more or less limited suburban space, is politically so correct, that I’ve never ever heard anybody say anything bad about it.

That’s why, it got really alert, when I saw the  following Headline in the Facebook-Timeline of a colleague in the far Canadian west: “You Absolutely Should Not Get Backyard Chickens”, it read. The link led to a very interesting blog, called “Northwest Edible Life” by Erica, who says about herself: “I grow, I cook, I save and I try to stay slowish in a very fast world.” Sounds good.

But anyway, back to the backyardchickens. I’m not gonna retell the whole story, it’s a very worthy entertaining read. Just shortly, Erica says, don’t even thing of buying a “half-dozen cute peeping balls of fluff” to grow them into chicken when you’re not ready to either keep them as long as they live, even when they stop laying eggs, or culling them yourself, when they no longer supply you with eggs.

Erica, who is a seasoned owner of chickens in the backyard herself, says this, because a friend of hers wants to buy some balls of fluff so badly. But she only thinks of the eggs, and not of the consequences that their production has. The productive phase of hens, even if they are kept like pets, is relatively short, 3 years, sometimes a little more. But they can live much longer. 20 year old hens are not unheard of.

The 5 to maybe 10 years, that you only feed the postproductive hen, cost you hundreds of dollars, as my blogging colleague calculates. Her friend isnt’r really ready to dispense so much. But on the other hand she wouldn’t be able to do any damage to her hen, not talking of killing her for a tasty chicken stew.

So the only alternative would be to give away the chicken to some kind of old hens home. Lack of responsability, says Erica. With a certain right, I think, either you go the full way with your chicken, or you absolutely shouldn’t get backyardchickens. Thanks for the interesting thoughts, Erika, always good to look at a worldwidely praised phenomenon from another angle. 

Springcows (2): Calves and their mums

April 11, 2013

Le LimousinSpring has come, at last. Well, he’s still a bit shaky, but growing fast, like these calves. With the temperature going up, so does the activity of my guest cow-photographers, luckily. Today it’s a tribute to some cows and their young ones, made at Agrischa, a regional Ag-Fair in the canton of Grisons, a zone where a lot of meadow-based cattle growing is happening. Above you see a limousin calf hidden behind mother.
Kalb2Intimate moment between a Highlander duo.
Kalb3Finally, a little competition. I honestly couldn’t tell what race it is. The first one who tells me, gets a little price. Good Luck! Thanks a lot, Monika, for your great gallery! (Pics Monika Schlatter)

Aerial sheepviews of the week

März 2, 2013

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I love to fly to Britain, when- or whereever you arrive, the first thing you see is green, drystonewalls and a flock of sheep. Above Newcastle, below Edinburgh.

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Horseburger: Tip of the iceberg & a chip pass

Januar 29, 2013

Horses before becoming beef burgers2For almost two weeks now, a rather animalic scandal has been sending shockwaves through Englands meat processing and retail industry. When the Irish Food authority released the news about their finding horsemeat in some beefburgers on January 15th, the reactions among consumers and in the farming sector were strong. Unlike the Swiss habit, it’s apparently rather taboo to eat horse in Ireland and in the UK it’s not much more popular.
But even if the Irish would love horseburgers, this wouldn’t make things any better. False declaration is a hyper-sensitive matter in the food sector and for the big retailers involved, eg. Tesco and Aldi, it was and still is a very embarassing story. 
13 days after the start of this Burgergate, the  Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney has published the “Final Update on Authenticity of Meat Products Investigation”. It confirms, that the source of the equine DNA in the burgers was an ingredient imported from Poland for the burgers of the ABP Food Group’s Silvercrest-Plant, a so called “beef filler made up of fat cuts and trims”. The responsible company reacts as expected: It is sacking a few people, restructuring the organisation, and auditing all third party suppliers, as the “Farmers Guardian” reports.
What are the lessons out of the Horseburger-Scandal? There is a few. Firstly, the internationally dispersed assembling, processing and production of foods guarantee the lowest possible price, while there’s a higher risk of scandals like the one we’re talking of. A scandal that is costing the involved companies not only a lot of money but also – much more valuable – a lot of consumers trust. Many people are wondering why Ireland as one of Europes leading beef exporters is importing beef for hamburgers – the answer is simple: ABP can save a few pennies per Burger with this measure.
I bet, and the measures taken by ABP prove it, that nothing will change fundamentally about these procedures and the next food scandal will be coming as surely as the amen in the church. We’re talking of the tip of an iceberg here and one day it might destroy the Food-Industry, this multinational Titanic.
And here comes the chance – or as we call it in Switzerland the chip pass – for the british farmers, small processors and groceries. Scandals like this will help to convince a certain if probably small percentage of the consumers (probably at least all of the horse-friends) to no longer buy the cheapest burger at one of the big retailers outlets, but a pure british beef burger from a known source, like a local farmer and a local butcher.
Finally my favourite horseburger-joke: Tesco burger walks into bar. “Pint please”. “I can’t hear you” says barman. “Sorry” replies burger. “I’m a little bit horse”. (Bilder LID, The Grocer)
Horse before becoming beef burger  

Indias farmers acting on Land Rejuvenation

Januar 8, 2013

Guruswami and wife ShantaMy old Blog-Pal Heidi has sent me the link to an interesting picture gallery on the BBC-India-Site. Under the title: “Natural ways of increasing Indian yields”, the pictures and their captions describe a rather large-based approach to solving some of the enormous problems of Indian small scale farmers. They often lack water, proper production factors and Know-how, just to name a few. As the rural population is still very large, India has a large poverty problem, although it is at the same time one of the fastest growing economic powers in the world. One numeric fact that may highlight the problems is, that 40 percent of the children in India are malnourished. 
The above-mentioned project is summoned under the name of Bhoochentana (“Soil Rejuvenation”) and implemented under authority of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) and the Government of Karnataka, a large state in the south of India. Bangalore, the biggest city in Karnataka is one of the economic capitals of India, but the majority of the states population is rural: “Nearly 56% of the workforce in Karnataka is engaged in agriculture and related activities. A total of 12.31 million hectares of land, or 64.6% of the state’s total area, is cultivated. Much of the agricultural output is dependent on the southwest Monsoon as only 26.5% of the sown area is irrigated”, writes Wikipedia.
Farmer with banana plants in troughAccording to Icrisat, Karnataka has the second largest area under rainfed (meaning non-irigated) agriculture after Rajasthan in the country. This means that the very concentrated precipitation during the monsoon-period has to be treated very carefully. One of the activities of the project is therefore to preserve the rainwater by building embankments around the fields as shown in the above picture.
Other activities include the improvement of cultivars, fertilizing and capacity-building. It’s always difficult to assess the quality of such a project from far away and with a relatively low level of information. But although there is a lot of institutions and bureaucracy involved, it seems that the method is concentrating on strengthening the farmers by building on their knowledge and trying to improve it, instead of just confrontating them with modern expensive technology and not taking into account social conditions and local traditions. When I look at the picture of one of the portrayed farmers and his wife above and below (presenting Azolla fern that they produced in their own pond to fertilize and feed the cattle), it seems to me, that they are quite involved and enthusiastic about the support to self-empowering that they receive. And that is the most important. (Pics Alina Paul Bossuet/Icrisat)
Guruswami and wife Shanta scooping handfuls of algae from their pond 

Besuch im Permakulturland / Permacultural visit

Dezember 23, 2012

Permakultur KrameterhofThis is the first ever bilingual post on my blog. The reason is, that the described video made on an austrian farm is spoken in german, but has english undertitles. I found it on permies.com, “the hottest permaculture site on the net”. I last heard of permaculture when I was a student, about countless years ago. And although it’s not extremely widely spread, permaculture is still there and obviously has quite a fan community. Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer is one of the idols of the permaculture movement. In the very worthwhile video his son Josef explains why. The Holzer farm is a clever low-input (besides working hours)-system of sustainable agriculture, it seems to me. The ponds on different levels are there for water conservation and fish-production, while the slopes are used for agroforestry and pasture. On the terraces they grow the cereals. Have a look, if you sometimes are pessimistic about the future of agriculture. Holzer will make your day.
Josef Holzer erklärt das TeichsystemDieser Tage bin ich via Twitter und den Permakultur-Spezialisten Richard Mahringer auf ein interessantes Video gestossen. Das halbstündige szenische Interview mit dem Landwirt Josef Holzer vom Krameterhof in der Region Salzburg ist ein Tour d’horizon über den Betrieb, der von seinem Vater Sepp aufgebaut worden ist. 45 Hektaren, das meiste am Hang, Mutterkuh- und Schweinehaltung, etwas Ackerbau und Fischproduktion. Tönt insgesamt unspektakulär, aber beim genaueren Hinschauen ein höchst ungewöhnlicher Betrieb.
Terasse mit RoggenHolzer beginnt mit den Teichen. Das Klima ist eher trocken, das Wasser rar, deshalb arbeitet man auf dem Krameterhof mit aus Quellen gespiesenen mit einem cleveren Teichsystem, die als Wasserreservoirs sowie der Fisch- und Krebseproduktion dienen, an den Hängen grast zwischen Frucht- und Holzbäumen das kreuzungstechnisch auf die Hänge abgestimmte Vieh und auf den Terassen baut man das Getreide an. Holzer junior beschreibt das alles auf eine Art, die das ganze selbstverständlich und schlüssig erscheinen lässt. Natürlich ist Permakultur nicht für jeden Betrieb die Lösung, aber etwas mehr davon täte nicht schaden. Falls Sie dieser Tage zwischen zwei Buffets und Bescherungen mal eine halbe Stunde Zeit haben, dann kann ich dieses ruhige Filmli als geistige Nahrung nur empfehlen. 
Kreuzung aus Zwergrind und Highlander

North Korea drive-by-shootings

Dezember 1, 2012

DSC03356When I was in North Korea a month ago, it was not so easy to make pictures at all times. The national members of the delegations I used to travel around with were rather reluctant, when I asked them to stop for a cow grazing, an ox pulling or a tractor standing around. Thats why I did a lot of drive-by shooting with my cam, with some effects on the quality of the pics, but they still give an impression. 
Let’s start with a paddy rice field in the area of Kubin Ri, a village where Swiss Agency of Development and Cooperation (SDC) is entertaining projects, some 80 kilometers northeast of Pyongyang. 
Nordkorea 003Rice is the fuel of North Korean food system. It is strictly cultivated and traded under state control, while there’s a little more liberty for other agricultural products, that are allowed to be sold on farmers markets, taking place usually and at least every 1st, 11th and 21th of the months in a lot of places countrywide. The rice is planted, harvested, bound to sheaves and threshed in practically 100 percent manual work. Transport to the farm is sometimes provided for by the typical seventies Chollima-tractor, a domestic 28 horsepower engine, 2 wheel drive only, but never minding the low quality diesel prevalent in the country.
Street-sceneMost of the transport though, is done with oxen, be it on the countryside…
Oxen seen from the train…or be it in bigger places, like this one that I passed on the train-ride from Pyongyang to Beijing. In the capital though, there is hardly any oxen-pulled-mobility…
The car advertisement…but a growing number of cars, and quite unusual and much discussed among expats and North Koreans alike: an advertisement for the domestic brand.
Kimchi at the doorA very typical sight in all the places I was, even the less rural ones: Chinese cabbage everywhere. In those early november days, the country was brownish dry, except for the widespread green patches in coop-farms and private kitchen gardens. The cabbage togheter with the white raddish are the basics for the treasured national speciality Kimchi, that is fermented and conserved in large clay vases, that the North Koreans keep dug in their garden or on their balconys. Kimchi is the only source of vegs and vitamins during winter time for a big part of the population. That’s why it’s so crucial to plant any tiny or bigger spot available.
Road side shopBesides the above mentioned farmer markets, quite a lot of North Koreans now sell some of their privately produced or traded-in products (often with barter) in the quite widely spread road-side make-shift-shops. You find them on the countryside as well as in downtown Pyongyang, where one night I saw women selling all kind of homemade stuff, eg. tofu or Kimchi, and fruit at night, crouching on the sidewalks with their pocketlamps lighting up the scene. On the Tongil-Market in Pyongyang and at all the other selling points, it was exclusively women selling.
Grain seen from the train
On my way back to Beijing, there was a lot of unloading going on along the tracks. 1000s of bags, containing grains, probably rice and corn were piled up at the train stations. I don’t have it confirmed, but I guess, this is the stately Public Distribution Systems stocks for the winter built up in each place and covered with rice-straw-mats in the end. Obviously there is a big lack of storing capacity in North Korea. One of the factors contributing to the big after-harvest losses. Other problems of the food and agricultural sector, just to name a few: Lack of mechanization, fuel, seeds, fertilizer (N is sometimes available, but there’s a big lack of P and K -> sour soils) and management capacities in the coop-farms, that are the backbone of the agricultural system.
Train scene

ChinAg daily(2): Streetmarkets, night & day

November 7, 2012

Beijing has about 23 million inhabitants, those people have to eat everyday, and man, they like to eat. Wherever a round of chinese gather, it wont take long till they unpack a dozen of dishes in plastic jars, everybody taking from each plate picking with the sticks, that they manage artistically. Theres a wide variety of opportunities to cover your needs in food, one of them is the market(s, see last post) or the growing number of supermarkets of all kinds. Streetmarkets of the mobile kind are very common, too. The colleagues I met in Beijing told me, that they are acting in semi-legality. Sometimes you have to pack very quickly and disappear, sometimes you can solve the problem with a thicker or thinner bundle of Yuans… Above and below are few examples of these mobile salespoints. Nighttime doesnt stop the trading by the way, China is nowadays one of the most capitalistic, if not the most capitalistic country in the world. Business runs around the clock, often it’s survival of the fittest, which means for example for farmers, that if you want to make a good buck, you have to take the long journey to town to go get the best price from the urban population.
Clementines sold by a farmers couple. She is selling in the back while he is eating and collecting the money in the frontseat.
Mobile sweet potato frying and selling device.
Glazed chestnuts for tourists at Summerpalace.
Cucumbers sold peeled to eat like an ice cream, a refreshing and healthy snack, rare combination.


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