This is my monthly column for Kaf.online (originally in Dutch). Due to the language and culture difference, some of the nuances may have gotten lost in translation. I hope you’ll enjoy it anyhow!
The first epidemic animal disease I can remember was BSE in the mid nineties. Back then, poignant images of ill cows swaying on their legs were constantly in the news. Shortly after that, Dutch pig farmers had to deal with a terrible wave of swine fever. I vividly remember the grab cranes literally grabbing those pigs out of their stables after which they’d be destroyed by the tens of thousands. To top things off, a third of the total poultry population in the Netherlands was slaughtered in 2003 because of the bird flu.
These are just a few examples of the misery Dutch animal farmers – and the ill animals in particular – had to deal with over the past 20 years. A dramatic experience, certainly, but not all that surprising. On the contrary, I’m surprised there haven’t been more epidemics like this. Because let’s be honest, if you cram tens of thousands of animals together in one space you’re asking for trouble, right? It doesn’t take a genius to know this is the perfect environment for many a virus.
And yet (again) we haven’t learned anything from the past. Worse even, the number of poultry farms in the Netherlands has been decreasing for years, while the number of chickens is increasing. Wait a minute, what? Yep, that’s right. In 2014 there were 2160 Dutch farms and together they held about 105 million chickens. That means an average of some 69 thousand chickens per poultry farm. Imagine the amount of feathers – and dust – flying around in those stables.
And that’s exactly the problem: feathers and feather dust are a paradise for so many lice, flees and mites it gets you itchy all over. One of these nasty little bastards, the so-called red mite, has caused the recent International Egg Contamination Scandal we currently find ourselves in. I hate to say it was about time for some fresh animal-farmers-drama…
As long as we – yes, that includes us carnivore-consumers-who-want-to-pay-as-little-as-possible – keep prioritising the economic interest (i.e. more animals spread over less farms), these kind of mass diseases will keep occurring. In the egg-case we can blame it on the company exterminating the red mite, but the real issue goes much deeper than that. The way our bio-industry is structured needs to change radically: we need to have less animals per farm and more space for each animal. Indeed, that probably means we’ll have to pay a little more for our piece of beef or pork. But I’m sure we’d manage to go without that bit of meat for a few days a week. We could have a fresh egg to go with our meal instead. Uncontaminated of course.
Photo credit: http://www.pixabay.com