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.