As large-scale livestock farming spreads throughout the developing world, so does concern about conditions for the animals raised in these facilities. Meat consumption has grown sharply along with rising prosperity. More meat is now produced in the developing world than in the high-income countries.
A growing majority of chickens and pigs are raised on industrial farm animal production facilities also called factory farms, where tens of thousands of animals are confined along with their waste on small land area. Broiler chickens, though not confined in cages, also experience crowded confinement, poor air quality and stressful handling.
The animal agribusiness sector is known for intensive systems of raising animals for food in extreme confinement, in order to maximise profits. In addition to intense confinement, abuses usually associated with factory farming include massive doses of hormones and antibiotics, battery cages, debeaking, tail docking and breeding sows in crowded pens.
Dairy farm animals have the potential of exposure to various viruses and bacteria via the manure and urine in their environment.
Under such extreme condition, animals are prevented from walking, fully stretching their limbs and performing other important natural behaviour, spending their lives in these miserable conditions until they are slaughtered. Their suffering is unimaginable.
The transport of animals is one of the most stressful activities forced onto animals. When finally grown large enough, animals raised for food are crowded onto trucks and transported over many kilometress through all weather extremes, typically without food or water to the slaughterhouse. Chickens are transported to the slaughter sites in crates stacked high on top of each other on the backs of trucks. They are packed tightly into crates with hardly any room for movement.
Animal welfare is an issue of increasing significance for the community and animal welfare groups. So long as animal welfare comes under agriculture, it will not receive the priority it deserves and will not live up to the expectations of NGOs and animal welfare groups. Indeed the progress in animal welfare has been so slow in this country because the interests of the animals have always come second to commercial interests.
One need only look at Europe to see how embarrassingly behind Malaysia is in terms of treatment of animals.
The European Union (EU) has banned the battery hen cage on the basis of unacceptable cruelty. The use of sow confinement crates is restricted to four weeks in the EU in light of the suffering caused. In India, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) and most animal husbandry departments have advised all state governments and poultry farmers that battery cages should not be used and existing ones should be phased out by 2017.
Consumers kept in the dark
Consumers are always kept in the dark about cruel practices in factory farm animals being covered under the veil of secrecy that has protected animal abusing industries for so long. These industries prefer to operate outside of the public spotlight because they know that the way they treat animals would not be condoned by those concerned about animal welfare.
The animal transport Code of Practice and Animal welfare for farm animals are totally non-existent. It is high time the Farm Animal Welfare Act be set up by the government to accept the best practices and with continuance for changes in regulations with animal welfare being a strong driver for increased regulation.
Malaysia has the opportunity to lead the world when it comes to treatment of animals. That we are instead trailing other developed nations shows how clearly change is needed.
SM MOHAMED IDRIS is president, Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).