AWI Quarterly

Helping Small-Scale North Carolina Farmers Improve Pigs' Lives

Cicero Dobson and a few of the new
sows he received for the NCATSU program.
Marlene Halverson/AWI

In Fall of 2000, Professor Chuck Talbott of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCATSU) invited Diane Halverson to speak about AWI's humane husbandry standards for pigs at a Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) conference. Paul Willis, Iowa pig farmer and manager of Niman Ranch Pork Company, the first company to embrace AWI's standards, also spoke.

When Dr. Talbott first read about Niman Ranch and AWI, he envisioned a program in which small-scale North Carolina pig farmers could be provided with a humane, sustainable alternative to contracting with factory hog operations to raise their hogs. In so doing, they would demonstrate their vital roles in enhancing rural communities, avoid the environmental damage commonly associated with factory hog operations, and give pigs freer lives.

Enough farmers expressed interest at the CFSA conference that Dr. Talbott applied for financial help to North Carolina's Golden LEAF Foundation, which helps tobacco farmers switch to non-tobacco enterprises, and Heifer Project International (HPI), which provides breeding animals to new or limited resource farmers.

Today, there are 28 small-scale North Carolina farmers in or about to enter the NCATSU-Golden LEAF-HPI program. Several farmers who initially received breeding gilts from Paul Willis's Iowa farm through an HPI grant have raised new gilts to pass on to the next group of farmers entering the program (a condition of the HPI grant). Golden LEAF funds pay for fencing, portable shelters for the pastures, and watering and feeding equipment.

Dr. Talbott's assistants (Mike Jones and Eliza Maclean) provide daily technical support for the farmers. All pigs in the program are raised outdoors with plenty of space and varied environments in which to perform their natural behaviors, including wooded areas with welcome shade during the hot North Carolina summer days.

AWI staff conduct site visits to the farms and prescribe changes, where necessary, for the farmers to meet AWI's standards. The meat from the pigs raised by the farmers that meet AWI's standards is sold to Niman Ranch and distributed in the East Coast market for pork from humanely raised hogs.

AWI is grateful to contribute to this effort and improve the lives of pigs while helping small-scale farmers survive by adopting humane, sustainable alternatives to contract hog production.

The Tide Turns at the IWC

The differences of opinion at the annual meetings of the International Whaling Commission are so familiar and fundamental that observers have become accustomed to deadlock. But this year in Berlin, where the Commission met in plenary session from June 16-19, it was hard not to feel the logjam breaking up—in the whales' favor.
Whale-watching is becoming a lucrative business, even in Japan, a country that refuses to give up the inhumane practice of killing whales under the pretext of "scientific whaling." IFAW/R. Sobol

On the very first day, over the thunderous objections of the Norwegian and Japanese delegations and their supporters, the Commission gaveled into existence a new conservation committee by a vote of 25-20. Normally, the creation of yet another committee would hardly be cause for celebration, but this one clearly signaled a shift towards whale protection and away from the killing of whales. The new committee was fought vigorously by the whalers because it will focus on conservation, and gather information and recommend solutions on bycatch (drowning of whales and dolphins in fishing nets) and the growing environmental threats to whales such as toxic contamination and LFA sonar, information not likely to bolster their assertion that there are plenty of healthy whales to kill. Nongovernmental organizations will need to work hard with their governments over the next year to see this committee become effective; Japan, Norway, Iceland, and their allies have stated their intent to undermine the decision.

The vote spread also indicated that the Japanese have perhaps hit a high-water mark in their purchase of the commission through "economic assistance" to developing countries. Although they added two more countries to their chorus line (Nicaragua and Belize), they still lack the numbers to carry a simple majority, much less the 3/4 vote necessary on "schedule changes" such as dropping the moratorium on commercial whaling. While they were able to block important major initiatives such as the creation of whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic, they could not stop the conservation committee, two votes condemning their bogus "scientific" whaling, the vote against their "small-scale coastal whaling," or the vote against allowing secret ballots. In a low moment before the conservation committee discussion, Japan and its pro-whaling allies moved to strike all conservation issues from the agenda; fortunately, that was turned back.

Apparently, Japan's whaling industry has collided with a new economic powerhouse with far more clout than even they can muster: whale watching. The newly formed International Association of Whale Watchers attended the meeting for the first time and gave a press conference announcing their formidable presence. More and more developing countries are beginning to realize significant economic and social benefits from whale-watching tourism. In just a few years, the industry has ballooned to an annual income of one billion U.S. dollars spread across 97 countries, giving them an economic relevance that whale-killing can't touch.

Iceland may offer the first showdown between whaling and whale-watching. Having re-joined the Commission this year with its reservation on the moratorium on commercial whaling intact, Iceland immediately announced its intention to begin its own yearly "scientific" whale-kill of 100 fin whales and 50 sei whales (classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as early as 2004. Despite the belligerence of their Commissioner, Stefan Asmundsson, within the IWC, these plans may be derailed by pressure at home. Icelandic whale watchers, who earned over $8 million from 90,000 visitors in 2001, have joined with Icelandair and the powerful Icelandic fishery industry to oppose the resumption of whaling.

Other information presented leaves no doubt that killing whales for food in the year 2003 is a brutal anachronism:

—Some whales take as long as five hours to die when struck by harpoons, a new report presents the possibility that some whales are conscious when butchered.

—The World Wildlife Fund estimates that 300,000 dolphins and whales are killed yearly after becoming entangled in fishing nets.

—Greenland's so-called aboriginal subsistence whaling was criticized for its huge commercial component and the recent slaughter of 32 orca whales.

AWI has attended the IWC meetings since the Commission's inception. We oppose all forms of whaling except those that are truly necessary for aboriginal subsistence.


USTR's Pig Politics

A USTR factsheet on "U.S. Pork Industry & Trade" cheers America's annual export of over 700 thousand metric tons of pork, valued at more than $1.5 billion. This, claims USTR, generates "wealth and create[s] good paying jobs that contribute significantly to the economic well-being of rural America." But American family farmers don't benefit; it's the corporate agribusinesses that dominate the domestic and foreign markets, subjecting pigs to intensive confinement.

"Free" trade isn't free for small-scale
 family farmers. Reducing trade barriers
facilitates the flow of cheap
 pork products from animal factories.

USTR is brazenly using the Central America Free Trade Agreement to eliminate the "sanitary barriers" that contribute to American pork exports from being restricted in the region. "Sanitary" measures are rules on food safety to prevent the spread of diseases and toxins, through the food supply.

USTR is also trying to undermine "China's zero tolerance on pathogens (listeria and salmonella) in raw meat."

"Opening the Australian market for U.S. pork exports is a priority for the Bush Administration," says USTR. The U.S. won't let food safety issues interfere with our ability to flood a market with cheap hog factory pork: "Australia has sanitary/animal health barriers that keep imported pork out. USTR is pushing the Australian government to develop a new, science-based pork import policy." Rather than improve our food safety, the U.S. wants to force other nations to lower their standards. When scientific findings are not suitable to USTR, we simply challenge those findings as not being based on sound science.


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