Compassion campaigner Jonty Whittleton has just returned from a fact-finding tour of farming in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital city. After a 17-hour flight, he’s back in the office – jet-lagged but full of hope. This is his story.
I’m trying to compute the horrific sight and sound of 5,000 confined hens – there are four to a cage, which are stacked three tiers high, disappearing off into the distance. Each hen is missing the front part of its beak – a painful procedure to stop the cramped birds pecking each other. And they’re all making the call of frustration, the sound echoing off the corrugated-iron roof. This is the stark reality of factory farming.
After a few minutes, I have to leave. The smell and dust have got too much for me. Out in the clean air, I question why this kind of farming exists. The answer is simple: intensive farming is increasingly seen as innovative. You can get more food using less space. In developing countries, where food production is paramount, there is sometimes less time to worry about the dangers of factory farming. That’s a risky view of course, but it’s a widely held belief regardless.
Engaging young people
I hop in the car back to Hanoi and its incessant buzz of engines, beep of horns and clatter of street vendors. Next stop is a talk with local students about the dangers of factory farming. It’s being given by Chetana Mirle – Director of the Farm Animal Program at Humane Society International (HSI) – who set the farm visit up. Chetana delivers a fantastic speech about the costs of factory farming. The kids are equally fantastic – articulate, passionate and full of questions.
Developing a dialogue
My final day is spent with Chetana and colleagues at the University of Agriculture in Hanoi. We’re attending a day-long workshop sponsored by HSI, which is bringing a variety of stakeholders together, including government ministers, professors and students. We hear from a range of great speakers, who provoke deep discussions and debates. There’s still a sense of scepticism about the dangers of factory farming. It’s not surprising – change can’t happen overnight.
A story of hope
Sitting in my cramped seat on the long flight home, I’m struck by a genuine feeling of hope. My experiences in Vietnam have shown me that the majority of people are willing to listen to our arguments, even if they don’t completely agree. Many simply feel that factory farming is a necessary evil to achieve food security. We need to keep fighting to prove that this isn’t the case.
There are many examples of better farming in Vietnam, too: though 30 percent of eggs in Vietnam are produced in factory farms, the rest are produced by smaller family farms. That’s something to champion.
I’m reminded of the importance of picking your arguments carefully – ethics will only get us so far. We need strong ethical AND economic arguments against factory farming if we’re going to kick-start a food and farming revolution. We need to talk about how factory farming actually reduces jobs and how it can be a false economy, reducing product quality and increasing costs such as veterinary bills. If we get this right, our vision for better food and farming will start to become a reality.
Huge thanks to HSI for making the trip possible.