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New diseases in animals are emerging and more virulent forms of old diseases are increasing. Epidemics are an intrinsic part of factory farming and industrial agriculture.
In the UK more than two million cattle were found to be infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) - mad cow disease. By August 2002, 133 people had died from the Variant Creutzfeld-Jacob Disease (VCJD) - the human equivalent of BSE.
In 2001, an epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK led to the slaughter of more than five million animals, costing the government two billion pounds in direct payment to farmers alone.
The swine fever in Asia led to the killing of millions of pigs. A newly-emerged nipah strain killed 100 pig farm workers, infected 150 with non-fatal encephalitis and led to the slaughter of a million pigs to control the disease.
The avian flu has already led to human deaths and the killing of millions of ducks and chickens. Though the epidemic has abated, it has spread to 10 countries.
The avian flu has led to a ban on poultry imports - a ban that was removed as a result of WTO free trade rules. While the US has used the power of its giant corporations to force countries to open their markets to its exports, one mad cow case in the US was enough to interrupt its beef exports.
The avian flu has forced a reversal of the removal of Quantitative Restrictions (QRs) forced on India in 2000 as a result of a US-initiated dispute in WTO.
On April 1, 2001, India removed completely the QRs on imports of 1,429 items as per the bilateral agreement with the US. QRs on imports in respect of 714 items have already been removed with effect from April 1, 2000 .
QRs are the only real safeguards against public health risks. According to the commitment given by India to the developed world, we had till 2003 to remove all QRs.
This commitment had been accepted by countries of the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. Yet India entered into a bilateral agreement with the US on December 28, 1999, which hastened the removal.
In December, 1999, the ministry of commerce worked out a deal with the US to remove QRs from 1,429 items.
Despite knowing how severe the impact of the removal of restrictions on imports would be, the Indian government asked Washington to announce this so-called "agreement" only after Parliament went with recess.
According to the Financial Times, the government feared that the sensitive matter could be used by law-makers eager to make political capital.
The announcement of the bilateral agreement was finally made on December 28, 1999 by US trade representative Charlene Barshefsky, who applauded it, saying: "I am pleased that we have reached an agreement that is mutually beneficial to both the United States and to India. Eliminating these restrictions will provide - for the first time in 50 years for some products - market access opportunities for US producers in key sectors such as textiles, agriculture, consumer goods and a wide variety of manufactured products..."
The flooding of Indian markets with these products whose import was restricted to conserve scarce foreign exchange, and protect jobs and livelihoods, will have a devastating impact on the Indian people and the economy.
Most items in the restricted list are agricultural products, items produced in the small-scale household sector and animal products. Among the unrestricted imports are carcasses and animal waste parts that could be a threat to our public health.
It also includes fish, milk, coconut, coffee, spices, tea, ragi, bajra, neem products and even Basmati. This flood of imports will leave no aspect of the Indian economy untouched.
The reintroduction of QRs on chicken imports due to the avian flu indicates that it needs to be maintained for health security, ecological security and livelihood security.
Precaution must be the policy. And since factory farms have an established track record of spreading diseases, imports need to be governed on the basis of the precautionary principle.
We need to heed these warning signals and revisit the false assumption that deregulated commerce and free trade in food improves welfare. It is hurting both human and animal welfare.
Globalisation and free trade create the compulsion for factory farming and intensive agriculture, with increasing costs to the planet, animal welfare and public health.
Export- and trade-dominated agriculture demands monocultures. While production for local needs can be based on free range chicken and forage-fed cattle, production for trade creates captive production as more livestock are cooped together for industrial efficiency.
The result is ecological inefficiency and a recipe for the creation and spread of new diseases.
Industrial farming is a highly inefficient form of production when viewed from the perspective of animals and humans.
It is efficient only from the perspective of trade and industry which externalises all environmental and health costs and leaves the planet and people with the burden of pollution and disease.
According to data from the US itself, it takes 16 kg of grain to produce a kg of beef. The UK poultry industry states that it takes 1.6 kg of feed to produce one kg of animal meat of which only 33.7 per cent is edible.
In terms of the feed/food ratio, industrial farming is a negative economy which consumes more than is produced.
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