All posts tagged: Farming

How animal waste is helping turn China’s lakes green

Animal husbandry is contaminating Chinas water and has been linked to turning lakes bright green, a phenomenon known as eutrophication

The farm, located at the end of a narrow dirt path, announces its presence with a piercing stench. At first, the caretaker of the collective facility in Kunming says the farm recycles all the animal waste into manure fertiliser. But later, he sheepishly points behind the pigsty.

There, hordes of flies swarm above a festering field of grey-black dung. A few times a month, Cai shovels the steaming excrement produced by some 100 swine owned by local families into a nearby creek, where a mile downstream, villagers fish on the rocky shores of a small lake.

The hilltop fishing spot feeds into Dianchi Lake in south-western Yunnan province, a major tourist attraction and one of Chinas largest fresh water bodies. Dianchi is famous for a number of reasons: its sheer size (nearly 40km long), its distinctive crescent moon shape and the surrounding scenic hills and rock gardens. But it has another distinguishing feature; for several decades, each summer the surface of Dianchi has turned bright green from algae blooms caused by excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus a largely manmade phenomenon known as eutrophication.

Pigs
Polluting pig farm by Dianchi Lake. Photograph: Joanna Chiu

Eutrophication plagues areas around the world where rapid urbanisation and agricultural growth has taken place near bodies of water. When it rains, chemicals from cities, factories and fertilisers or untreated animal waste on farms can wash into lakes, streams and rivers. The extra nutrients feed algae on the surface of the water that can proliferate enough to block light. This deprives organisms of the light they need to photosynthesise.In the UK, for example, Tamar Lakes in south-western England suffered intense eutrophication pollution between 1975 and the 2000s, and the phenomena is also widespread in estuaries and coastal areas in the US.

Polluted water is a chronic problem in China, with citizens increasingly speaking out in frustration and even suing the government. In early 2013, some 16,000 dead pigs (including corpses infected by porcine circovirus) floated to Shanghai along the Huangpu river a grisly sight that raised public concern about both unethical agricultural practices and water contamination. Some local governments have resorted to digging deeper wells to reach safe water, following an official survey finding as much as 80% of groundwater in major river basins is unsafe for human consumption.

Animal husbandry is a major contributor to contamination of Chinas vital drinking water and seafood sources. The extensive survey of the impact of Chinas agricultural transition published in Environmental Research Letters in 2016 found that in 2000, when the country was systematically expanding the size of farms, 30% to 70% of manure was dumped directly into rivers. Before 1970, when farms were mostly owned by single families, only 5% of manure was dumped into rivers. Later, a field test by Anhui Agricultural University showed that agricultural activity around Chaohu Lake in central Anhui province was the primary cause of pollution, according to a 2013 state newspaper report.

Houses
Residential houses by polluted Dianchi Lake. Photograph: Fabio Nodari/Alamy

Chinas surging appetite for meat has compounded the problem. Pork is by far the most popular type of meat consumed nationally, and the humble pig enjoys an exalted status in Chinese culture as a lucky creature symbolising prosperity and peace.

But environmentalists say the average citizen in China does not connect their love of pork to water pollution.

In Dianchi Lake the algal bloom is so heavy that when speedboats pass near the boardwalk, they spray a green-tinged wake. On the beaches of the north-eastern coastal city of Qingdao, the algae is so thick in summers that tourists cannot even wade through so they make the best of the situation by burying themselves in the algae for pictures.

Some argue that the problem may be particularly acute in Yunnan because of the high concentration of pig farms in the province, which is partly fuelled by the fact locals eat a lot of pork. Last year, pork production reached 6.1m tonnes and comprised 77% of all meat production in the province, according to industry statistics. This means Yunnan residents consumed 127kg of pork per capita in 2017 twice the national average.

Cai cannot afford to eat much meat. He comes from a destitute part of the neighbouring province of Guizhou and has only lived in Kunming for two years. He sleeps in a shed next to the pigsty and has never heard of Dianchi Lake, let alone eutrophication.

The joint family farm he manages is part of a local government drive launched in 2013 to consolidate small farms into bigger ones to help alleviate poverty. Officials provide caretakers with information on breeds, technology, disease prevention and sales but have not enacted regulations on waste treatment procedures.

Green
Green algae blooms at Dianchi Lake. Photograph: VCG/Getty Images

The underlying issue is economic, says Prof Rachel Stern, who specialises in environmental law in China at UC Berkeley. The local government is reluctant to impose expensive pollution reduction requirements on small farms that can ill afford them.

In other pollution hotspots, local governments have typically solved similar issues either by providing pollution reduction subsidies, or coming up with an economic re-development plan to re-employ those who lose their livelihood, she says.

It is a similar sight at another small pig farm around 50km away from Dianchi Lake, where a plot of agricultural land stands next to apartments towers. Animal faeces is piled up beside a small pigsty.

The
The polluting pig farm in Kunming, Yunnan province. Photograph: Joanna Chiu

Generally the way the government tries to solve water pollution is to shut down small animal farms and to make them into bigger factories, says Wang Jing, head of Greenpeace East Asias food and agriculture programme.

But this disrupts the pre-existing loop of agriculture in China which is to recycle animal waste into fertiliser using traditional methods. Some of the biggest farms do have industrial converters on site but theyre disincentivised to use them because theyre not legally obliged to and the cost of running the machine costs more than the value of the fertiliser produced, Wang says.

One of the countrys biggest pig farms in Kunming, Yunnan Southwest Tianyou Animal Husbandry Technology Co, received a ministry of agriculture award earlier this year for being one of Chinas most beautiful pig farms.

Protected by high brick walls and a pack of guard dogs, it houses some 10,000 pigs for supply to the national market. Its website boasts the farm uses top agricultural technologies. Photographs in local media show pigs in pristine pens.

We opened here in 2008 and in 2010 we started using an industrial machine to convert waste into fertiliser. It was an important thing to do to protect the water and the soil, says Ge Tao, a sales representative for the company.

Some farms have it but some dont. Its not a government regulation to have it, Ge says, adding that he wasnt sure how waste was processed before 2010.

Reflecting on the green sludge in Dianchi, Ge says even though it is caused by various factors, privately owned farms should do their part to reduce pollution. However, the Guardian was not permitted to tour the companys grounds because of quarantine policies, and could not confirm whether the fertiliser converter was being operated.

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How did we let modern slavery become part of our everyday lives? | Felicity Lawrence

Society abhors exploitation but we are complicit. The cheap goods and services consumers expect makes exploitation inevitable, says Guardian special correspondent Felicity Lawrence

Since the Modern Slavery Act of 2015, British companies over a certain size have been required to report on slavery in their supply chains. Their statements are both shocking and admirable. Shocking because they make clear that the incidence of slavery has become normalised once again and not just in criminal operations such as the illegal drugs trade or trafficking for prostitution, but in the mainstream economy. The declarations are prefaced with management expressions of abhorrence, of course, but there they are, another note alongside the annual accounts. They are admirable, however, in that transparency must be the first step to tackling this phenomenon.

Last month the National Crime Agency reported a 35% annual rise in the number of suspected slavery victims found in the UK, with more than 5,000 people referred to the government mechanism that supports them in 2017. Labour exploitation, rather than sexual exploitation, was the most common type of modern slavery cited.

The list of high-risk sectors for slavery declared in company statements is long: temporary workers in distribution and office cleaning; agency labour in logistics operations; subcontracted car-washes cleaning company vehicles; construction workers building and renovating company premises; outsourced security staff. A catalogue of the casualised workforce, in other words. It is hardly surprising that the most egregious forms of exploitation should appear where economic, legal and moral responsibility has been deliberately diffused. Modern slavery is the flipside of the coin that has seen corporates offshore their profits and dodge tax. Both represent a sloughing-off of what were seen in the past as important obligations to society.

Then there are the more specific areas of production, where big high-street retailers statements acknowledge that forced or trafficked labour, often of refugees, is a well-known and recurring issue: the British and Irish fishing fleets, the UK meat and poultry processing industry, Leicester garment manufacturing, the Thai prawn supply chain, the Italian tomato industry, the Spanish horticulture sector, the Assam tea chain, and the Turkish garment sector.

Separate from corporate reporting, the Gangmaster and Labour Abuse Authority was given powers in April 2017 to investigate exploitation beyond its original narrow remit of food and agriculture. The more it looks, the more it finds, and some of this new activity accounts for the increasing numbers of suspected victims of modern slavery. (Another factor is the statutory defence introduced in the Modern Slavery Act for those forced into criminal activity such as drug dealing: increasing use of that defence in drug cases probably accounts for British victims unusually making up the largest number by nationality this year. Albania, Vietnam, China, Nigeria, Romania, Sudan, Eritrea, India and Poland make up the rest of the top 10 source countries.)

The main concentrations the GLAA sees are among migrant workers in hand carwashes, nail bars, domestic building projects such as basement excavations, the hospitality trade, hotel cleaning, takeaway restaurants and domestic cleaning.

How did slavery, which we thought was abolished, reach into our everyday consumption? While it is quite right that companies should have their reputational feet held to the fire for abuse that arises out of their economic model, there are also uncomfortable truths here for affluent consumers of personal services.

Things that were until recently luxuries manicures, clothes that change fashion every few weeks, regular holiday breaks to hotels, eating out frequently, having your car hand-valeted, using manual labour to dig out a basement under your house are now presented to us as affordable, everyday even. Where they have become so, it is in large part thanks to other people being badly paid at best, or victims of modern slavery at worst. The squeezed middle has been bought off by the illusion that it can share the consuming habits of those with runaway incomes at the top; but it cant not without squeezing those further down the chain.

In a world where the state has often absented itself from the enforcement of employment law, and where so many human interactions are reduced to financial exchanges at whatever rate the market will take, people have become commodities to use or sell. When competition and austerity are king, it is every man and woman for themselves and their family. Too often, we close our eyes and try to protect our own.

People-traffickers target the vulnerable including those with learning disabilities or raised in care, homeless people, those with alcohol and drug problems or previous convictions. They are the people easiest to control and least likely to attract sympathy. Anti-immigration sentiment has encouraged people to see these victims as foreign, as other. How else to explain why neighbours, work colleagues and customers so often fail to notice modern slavery?

Take the group of trafficked Lithuanians working brutal hours on egg farms around the country who were kept under control in their Kent ganghouses by threats and fighting dogs. What did farm managers and local residents on the same quiet streets see and hear? Alarming antisocial behaviour, and fights in a foreign language that made them want to turn away and keep their heads down, or fellow human beings suffering intolerable abuse and anaesthetising themselves from the trauma with drink?

Both the National Audit Office and the parliamentary select committee for work and pensions have highlighted serious shortcomings in the support for victims of modern slavery once they have been identified. The anti-slavery commissioner, Kevin Hyland, also pointed out to the committee that every time a suspected victim of slavery is referred to the national referral mechanism, a crime is being alleged. Yet there is only a one-in-four chance of these cases being recorded as a potential crime, let alone investigated. If there were 4,000 rapes in the UK and only one in four was recorded by the police, there would be an outcry, he said. These failings need state remedies.

Meanwhile, we all need to recognise the signs. Where workers are putting in excessive hours, where they have no language to communicate with customers or where employers seem quick to speak for them, where they live in houses of multiple occupancy, we should be alert to the possibility of modern slavery.

If you are being offered a service for much less than you would expect to pay for it, someone is almost certainly being exploited. A car wash that takes six men 15 minutes and costs 10 does not pay the legal minimum wage. If something seems too cheap to be true, it probably is.

Felicity Lawrence is a special correspondent for the Guardian

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Offended by Koreans eating dog? I trust youve never had a bacon butty | Chas Newkey-Burden

Frightened animals being caged, killed and turned into food wed never dream of such evils in the western world, writes journalist and author Chas Newkey-Burden

Offended by Koreans eating dog? I trust youve never had a bacon butty

Frightened animals being caged, killed and turned into food wed never dream of such evils in the west would we?

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