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The Global Challenge to the Worldwide Trade in Animals

News Icon 06/12/2016

Portrait full colour photo of Clive Phillips

Clive Phillips is Professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Queensland where he established the Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics. The Centre researches the welfare of animals in farming, zoos and animal shelters, as well as the ethics of animal use. He has a PhD in dairy cattle nutrition and behaviour from the University of Glasgow. He has held teaching positions at the University of Wales, Bangor, and the University of Cambridge’s veterinary department.

He advises State and Federal government on animal welfare strategies in Australia and works with animal protection organisations. From an early age, he had a keen interest in the natural world. His book, The Animal Trade, is an important contribution to our understanding of the global challenges that animal advocates face throughout the world.

Philip: You describe the growth of the animal trade as bringing ‘serious concerns for the welfare and ethical treatment of animals, with additional risks created by disease transmission and loss of biodiversity.’ (p. vii) How would you summarise the present worldwide trade in animals? How many animals are traded each year throughout the world? How are they used? What are the risks to human disease?

Clive: The trade in meat and some milk products has increased steadily over the last 50 years and particularly rapidly in the last decade. This is because of rapidly growing demand, following population expansion and increased prosperity in areas where meat was traditionally only eaten in small amounts (e.g., Asia), and the relaxation of trade barriers. Whilst meat production has grown by between 1 and 3 per cent per year, depending on species, the international trade in meat has increased at about 5 per cent. Over the last 50 years the number of meat animals exported annually has increased from 3 to 37 million for pigs, 6 to 15 million for sheep, 5 to 10 million cattle, and 0.8 to 1.4 million for chickens.

It was estimated in 2005 that meat production would have to increase by 135 per cent by 2050. Most of this growth is expected to be in developing countries using intensive production systems of chicken and pig production. The increased human demand for meat will be accompanied by some reduction in demand for staple products (e.g., rice). Meat products require a much greater input of energy, water and land than staple foodstuffs, leading to concerns that there will be inadequate land for the latter.

The expanding trade in live animals increases the spread of animal diseases around the world, some of which can also infect humans (e.g., the influenza virus). Foot and mouth disease, ticks and parasites are also spread by the trade. Trade in meat and animals ground up to feed other animals also spreads deadly diseases to humans, such as the bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease of the 1980’s.

Philip: Which specific area of animal use gives you the greatest concern and why?

Clive: After fish (160 million t/year) and pork (109 million t/year), chicken production is one of the major meats consumed (106 million t/year) and it is the fastest growing. Chicken production has arguably the worst record on animal welfare grounds. In terms of efficiency, it greatly surpasses cattle (106 million t/year) and pig production, but unlike much cattle and sheep production it uses feed that could otherwise be used for humans. Meat chickens are grown in vast sheds with no opportunity for natural behaviour, in large groups of animals that now have inherent disease problems due to genetic selection for very fast growth.

Fish farming currently constitutes about half the fish eaten worldwide, but this is growing as we exhaust the ocean’s supplies. Welfare problems are just as real as with the intensive poultry and pig industries but have largely gone unnoticed, until recently. We now know that fish feel pain and have many of the same concerns as land-based production systems, including over-stocking, inhumane transport and slaughter, aggression between animals, genetic deformities and pollution of their environment.

Dairy cows have also long been assumed to have a good welfare because of their access to pasture. But genetic selection to produce huge quantities of milk has pushed dairy cows to their physiological limits. They readily suffer from a multitude of diseases, especially udder infections and lameness. Instead of lasting the normal 25 years that most bovines do in the wild, the modern dairy cow on average dies at about four years of age, culled from her herd because she is sick or fails to reproduce, an annual necessity for the continued output of milk. In many countries all her male calves will be killed at just a few days of age. They do not grow fast enough and do not have enough muscle for today’s beef market.

Animal Trade book cover image resized.jpg
The Animal Trade

Philip: In the Introduction, you talk of the ‘Animal Age’ and describe it as an ‘another chapter in human development that singles us out as the most selfish animal species on the planet.’ (p. x-xi) What do you mean by the Animal Age? How long will it last and what comes after it?

Clive: The bronze and iron ages signified advances associated with the use of these metals; the animal age similarly represents a change in direction of our development, but in this case not necessarily an advance. Our utilisation of animals is inherently selfish. Which other species routinely imprisons millions of animals for the purposes of feeding, clothing and entertaining it? We evolved a brain that is clever enough to exploit other species. But is it clever enough to see that our current exploitation of animals is not in our long or short term interest?

The growth in animal trade is clearly unsustainable. The parallel increase in income inequality will lead to greater diversity in people’s ability to afford meat products, which are more expensive than staple foods. This coupled with the reduced efficiency of producing food from animals compared with crops is likely to produce an increase in undernourished people if current expansion of the use of land for animals continues.

I am not against the globalisation of trade, indeed it should help to diminish many of today’s problems, such as racial hatred and the rich poor/north south divide. But in the same way that I abhor the trades in arms, drugs and women, the trade in intensively-produced animals is exploitative and should be vehemently opposed. In this respect I hope the ‘animal age’ will be followed by an ethical age, when we acknowledge that we determine the world’s ecosystem and do it responsibly. History shows us, however, civilisations often asked the questions about the morality of their actions too late. Then, they degenerate into prolonged periods of decline. The only difference is that this time almost the whole planet is embarked on a massive experiment in animal exploitation, which endangers the future of every one of us.

Philip: You compare the arguments made in defence of the slave trade in the 18th century with those that are made in support of today’s global trade in animals. You also draw parallels between the past’s anti-slavery movement with the contemporary animal protection movement. Why was it important to make these comparisons?

Clive: The remarkable similarities between the arguments made almost 250 years ago both for and against the slave trade as it existed then, carrying its human cargo from Africa to work on plantations in the Americas, with those addressing livestock export today demonstrate how our socially responsible horizons have expanded from disadvantaged humans to now include animals. But we should not forget that although the slave trade between Britain and America was formally abolished in 1807, variations on this theme exist today in many less developed parts of the world. Women forced into prostitution, children working in factories or in agriculture, indentured families unable to break the cycle of poverty—all constitute modern day slavery. Similarly the global trade in livestock is increasingly perpetrated from developing countries, such as Sudan and Eritrea to Saudi Arabia and from India to Bangladesh, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries. Australia with its large trade in cattle and sheep to Asia and the Middle East is an exception to this trend, but the ethics of it are fiercely challenged by animal advocacy organisations.

Clive and Valerie.jpg
Clive Phillips & wife (left) with Compassion’s Chair, Valerie James & husband Stuart, on recent trip to Madagascar

Philip: This must have been a very challenging book to write given its subject matter. Are you optimistic that progress can be made? Can the numbers of animals traded be reduced? Is it possible to even eliminate some of their uses?

Clive: We have a responsibility to manage our relationship with the natural world better in future, for ourselves, our children and whoever or whatever we believe is the architect of that order in which we find ourselves. Industrial animal farming should not be a part of that future. It pollutes our land, water and air as well as our minds and bodies. It uses resources that we simply do not have to squander in this way. If we want equitable and comfortable living for all people on the planet, we cannot use vast amounts of energy, water and land to produce food for the few that can afford to eat animal products.

The growth in trade around the world has produced prosperity in previously poor nations. This has led to a pursuit of the Western diet and increased demand for animal products. These have greater nutrient density than plant products so it was natural over the course of our evolution to seek them as supplements to our diet. But when they are required in large quantities by a massively increased global population, the use of resources by the growing animal trade becomes a major risk to our survival. The availability of land is limited and the natural world is being converted into farming land at a growing rate. The erosion of our natural world in this way, with unprecedented numbers of species becoming extinct, is primarily caused by the expansion of farming land to produce animals for us to eat. Fortunately, the advantages of eating meat are now questioned by an increasing number of people in the Western world. I am confident this trend will increase. The question is, can the world be persuaded of this in time to avert a global catastrophe?

Philip: Thank you!

The Animal Trade by Clive Phillips is published by CABI for £75.00 / €100.00 / $125.00. CABI is offering Compassion supporters a special discount of 20 per cent by using code CCAT20 with orders placed here.


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