Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Multistory

Issues with urban agriculture are going to come increasingly to the fore as conditions worsen and people struggle to maintain their food supply through some very dark times. Over at AgWeek, they're running a story about some of the problems UA is facing in one neighbourhood:
NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. — From the front, nothing about the house in suburban New Brighton appears that different.
 A car sits in the driveway near a flower bed of towering magenta amaranth
 plants. A small pirate flag waves from atop a picnic table, a nod to
the “Peter Pan”-inspired name the women who live here gave the half-acre
 property when they moved in seven years ago.
Behind the one-story house, however, is a different scene.
There, you see sprawling vegetable gardens, berry plants, bee hives and lots
of fowl. A large coop extends from the back deck and houses about 15
laying hens, a dozen quail, a few heritage turkeys, a couple ducks and
one Serama rooster. A basket brimming with vegetables sits on a table
near a garden bed. Next to it is a bowl full of multicolored eggs.
The collection represents a day’s harvest at “Lost Boys Acre,” an
experimental urban farm operated by four women in the quiet residential
neighborhood near Silver Lake Road and Interstate 694.
Let's be frank; a half-acre property isn't all that big, and that is a lot of fowl. New Brighton doesn't have any bylaws regarding urban agriculture practices, so everything the four women are doing at Lost Boys Acre is legit.  But that's a lot of noise for a suburban neighbourhood....
The rest of the article makes it pretty clear that much of what's going on is a simple neighbours dispute (the primary complainants really don't like the four women in the house for reasons that have nothing to do with urban ag), but conflicts like this are going to become more and more frequent. Now, I don't actually expect municipal governments to get in front of this issue (cough Havana cough), but they really should be noticing this on their radar and setting some rules.
this is also aan opportunity to set some rules on acceptable treatment of livestock: cattle not allowed on areas less than two acres, say, or chickens needing so many square metres of space for roaming about. The setting of such limits will be subject to abuse (of course), but once in place can be changed by subsequent administrations. these kinds of bylaws can also provide some guidelines for the ethical treatment of livestock in more rural areas.

Which leads to a story from back where I used to farm; Alberta. The CTV news programme W5 ran some undercover footage of an egg operation about 20 km away from our family farm. The story is typical--120,000 birds in battery housing, dead birds not removed from cages, horrific environment, etc.
Down a quiet road, deep in Alberta farm country, not far from Edmonton, is a massive egg production facility known as Kuku Farms. Housing about 120,000 battery hens, they live out their lives in cramped cages, producing almost an egg a day for a year until they are considered spent and killed.
The video shows row upon row of hens crammed into battery-cages. Nearby are dead birds that appeared to have been there for some of time, birds with missing neck feathers and some with severe urine scalding on their backsides.
A few kilometers away is another barn, Creekside Grove Farms. In this barn about 100,000 chicks spend the first 20 weeks of their lives crammed 50 to a cage, standing on barren wire. These are chicks that will eventually become egg-layers.
The undercover video shows some chicks injured while others clamber over them for access to food and water.
Other chicks can be seen escaping from the crowded cages to end up on the hopper, where they are covered in feces and sometimes mangled by the machinery. Perhaps most disturbingly, sick or injured chicks are seen being killed by a practice called "thumping" -- where a bird is smashed against a hard surface to kill it. On several occasions the video shows birds that survived but are left in a garbage bag along with a pile of already dead chicks
Nobody can defend this-- but heaven knows, someone will.  Egg producers are policed by their own group--who are primarily concerned with whether producers are following the quota rules, rather than the proper treatment of animals. However:
On Monday, Egg Farmers of Canada released the following statement from its chairman, Peter Clarke:
"As a fifth-generation egg farmer and chair of our industry, I have visited hundreds of Canada's more than 1,000 egg farms. I have never seen hens treated in the manner shown. I share in the public's response to the video. The images were unacceptable. However, I object to any perception that this is in any way common, tolerated or representative. It simply is not.
Actually, I don't buy that. After a trip to the University of Alberta experimental farm a few years back, it was clear that standards were developed with producers, not the chicken's, requirements in mind. And the problems with factory farming of chicken  are myriad; from arsenic in the meat to issues of manure disposal. But as reported:
W5 found that the industry group tends to focus more on whether eggs are safe for consumption and whether the farmer has the right number of chickens allotted under the industry's market quota system rather than on the well-being of the animals laying the eggs.
The Mercy for Animals investigator told the program that when she was undercover at Creekside Grove, workers were given 24 hours' advance notice of an inspection and that the facility passed inspection.
Until this is top-of-mind for consumers, Egg Farmers of Canada won't give a damn about how the animals are treated. Only when it impacts the bottom line will it matter.

Over at the Guardian, they have a lovely graphic about how much food is wasted from farm-to-fork. The figures were put out by Tesco, a major food retailer, and funnily enough, they show that 16% of food is wasted or destroyed on the farm and by consumers, but less than 1% is wasted by food retailers. Sorry, but I have to call bullshit on this. The EU reports:
Food waste in industrialized countries is as high as in developing countries:
  • In developing countries, over 40% of food losses happen after harvest and during processing;
  • In industrialised countries, over 40% occurs at retail and consumer level.
 (emphasis mine).

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