World’s largest livestock carrier docks in Timaru

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Alice Geary16:27, Aug 02 2020

The Ocean Drover, the world’s largest livestock carrier, arrived in port at PrimePort Timaru on Saturday.
BEJON HASWELL/STUFFThe Ocean Drover, the world’s largest livestock carrier, arrived in port at PrimePort Timaru on Saturday.

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The world’s largest livestock carrier, the Ocean Drover, entered Timaru’s port on Saturday night for its first visit in two years.

A Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) spokesperson said the Ocean Drover was in Timaru to collect up to 14,000 cattle bound for China.

Saturday’s arrival marked the third time the boat has docked in Timaru. The vessel was due to depart, carrying a mix of dairy and beef cattle, in a few days’ time once loading was complete, they said.

“The Animal Welfare Export Certificate sets stock numbers for this export at no more than 14,000 cattle, predominantly dairy – friesian and jersey – with some beef – hereford and angus,” they said.

Ocean Drover departs Timaru in foggy conditions bound for Napier
Ocean Drover docks at Timaru to load thousands of cows bound for China
Ocean Drover livestock carrier waits just off coast of Timaru
World’s largest purpose built livestock carrier ships dairy heifers to China

“No export of live animals can proceed until we have conducted a post-loading review to ensure we are completely satisfied with the conditions on board.”

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MPI introduced strengthened requirements last year stating that exporters were required to provide a report on the condition of the animals at 30 days after their arrival at their destination. There are also added conditions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ocean Drover is in Timaru to collect up to 14,000 cattle bound for China.
BEJON HASWELL/STUFFThe Ocean Drover is in Timaru to collect up to 14,000 cattle bound for China.

“In response to Covid-19, MPI introduced two further conditions that exporters must meet for their Animal Welfare Export Certificate applications to be granted,” the spokesperson said.

“The master of the ship [is] to provide a contingency plan for a rejection at the port of arrival or a delay in unloading [and] the exporter satisfies MPI that there is unlikely to be any delay in the unloading of the cattle from the ship or movement of the cattle to a quarantine facility after arrival.”

They said the cattle will be accompanied by 10 stock handlers, of whom two are veterinarians.

The exporters had to provide MPI with a back-up plan in case Covid-19 prevented the vessel from entering its destination port.
BEJON HASWELL/STUFFThe exporters had to provide MPI with a back-up plan in case Covid-19 prevented the vessel from entering its destination port.

Livestock exports have been operating for the past few months and the timing of this shipment has not been affected by Covid-19, they said.

MPI did not know where the cattle were coming from, commenting that often a shipment will have stock from more than one farm and from different regions.

“Live animal exports can help in supporting New Zealand farmers to manage stock numbers.”

The Ocean Drover is 176.7 metres long and 31.1m wide and is capable of transporting 75,000 sheep or 18,000 cattle.

Coronavirus: ‘Wake-up call’ for how we treat wild animals

2 Aug 20202 August 2020Last updated at 23:03View Comments (25)Baboon in a cageGETTY IMAGESAnimals like this baboon are caught in the wild and then sold

Animal campaigners say the coronavirus pandemic is a “wake-up call” about how wild animals are treated across the world.

It’s thought the virus, known as Covid-19, might have originally come from animals at a wildlife market in Wuhan, China.

The pandemic has highlighted some of the problems around the way people treat wild animals and the impact that this can then have on humans.

So how does a disease pass from animals to humans, and what can be done to help stop it happening again?

What is a zoonotic disease?

Covid-19 is what scientists call a zoonotic disease – that means it starts off in animals and then humans catch it.

Diseases like this have been around forever – you may have heard of others like Swine Flu, Bird Flu, Ebola and Malaria.

Because of how quickly Covid-19 has spread around the world, we’ve heard much more about it and the problems it can cause for people. World Animal Protection’s Sonul Badiani-Hamment explains what the global wildlife trade isHow does a disease pass from animals to humans?

Animals can carry bacteria and viruses that cause disease, and these may be passed on to – or even jump to – other animal species, including humans. The other species’ body tries to fight the bacteria and virus but, if it can’t, it can become ill.

When wild animals are in unnatural conditions, they can become stressed or weak which makes it more likely that they will pass on the bacteria or viruses they have.

It also makes the wild animal more likely to catch them from others.

If a place isn’t clean enough for the animal, or if they’re near species that they wouldn’t normally meet in the wild, disease is more likely to spread as well.Why does a disease pass from wild animals to humans?

It can happen when wild animals come into contact with humans.

This occurs more often when their habitat is reduced, for example through deforestation and the impacts of climate change.

It means wild animals don’t always have the most suitable or right types of places to live, and some might come into cities instead to find food. This then means they can have much closer contact with humans than they naturally would.Flying macaws in tropical forestGETTY IMAGESIf tropical forests like this get smaller then animals, like these birds, won’t have a place to live

Most wild animals live in the wild where they can find their own food, make their own home and live in the conditions that their bodies were designed for.

However around the world, millions of wild animals such as parrots, iguanas, lizards, tortoises, pangolins and chimpanzees are taken from the wild.

They’re then bought and sold for lots of different reasons, for example to be kept as pets, to be eaten, to provide entertainment, to be used in traditional medicines, or parts of their body, like their scales or nails, might be used for ornaments. Pangolins are often caught and sold for their scales

More on wild animal protection

Wildlife groups want animal markets to be shut down

Can tech help protect global wildlife?What’s being done about it?Conservationist and chimpanzeeGETTY IMAGESConservationists around the world work to get animals, like this chimpanzee, back to living in the wild

Conservationists around the world work really hard to make sure wild animals, and the places where they live, are protected – so that the animals can live their life as naturally as possible.

Following the first outbreak of Covid-19 the city of Wuhan, in China is banning the farming and eating of live wildlife. Thousands of wildlife farms raising animals such as porcupines, civets and turtles have been shut down.

But it’s a worldwide problem. Professor Cunningham from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) told the BBC: “It’s easy to finger point, but it’s not just happening in China, it’s happening in many other countries and even in the western world. We like to have exotic pets and many of those are wild caught and we ought to be putting our own house in order too.”

But tackling the problem is tricky as there are many poor people in parts of the world who depend on the wildlife trade for their jobs.

Professor Cunningham added: “The people who are providing them, whether that’s farmed wild animals or animals from the wild, that’s an important source of income for them.”

Covid-19 only a the dress rehearsal for pandemics

27 JUL 2020SAVE | EMAIL | PRINT |  PDF   Some scientists feel that the current Covid-19 pandemic, which has already infected more than 16-million and killed more than 600,000 worldwide, is only a dress rehearsal for an even bigger pandemic.Covid-19 only a the dress rehearsal for pandemicsProfessor Robert Bragg, researcher in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, and Professor Aliza le Roux, assistant dean: natural and agricultural sciences and associate professor: zoology and entomology at the University of the Free State (UFS), warn about future pandemics, saying that humans’ interaction with animals and lack of learning from the past are the reasons for this.

Another researcher, Dr Martin Nyaga, senior lecturer/ researcher: next generation sequencing (NGS), agrees with Bragg and Le Roux about new viruses and says viruses will keep emerging due to their general nature.

More pandemics might be on the cards

“There is a feeling among some scientists that this could just be a dress rehearsal for the real big pandemic. Many virologists, including me, have been predicting an influenza pandemic for many years. Mankind has been warned about the coming pandemics for many years, but people seem to want to listen only when they are in the midst of a pandemic.

“The bird-flu virus, Influenza H5N1, has a mortality rate of around 60-65%, but it has not yet developed human-to-human transmission. If it does, we could be in for a really serious pandemic,” says Bragg.

Humans’ need for affordable meat on a regular basis is creating the perfect breeding ground for more diseases like this. “This means our demand for meat is driving cheaper and less controlled agricultural practices, cramming more animals into smaller spaces, feeding them less and less natural fodder.

“Remember mad cow disease? Have you seen chicken batteries? We should not blame ‘exotic’ eating practices, but look at our own. If we could see eating meat as a ‘treat’ and not a daily ‘right’, we can reduce pressure on the environment and reduce the speed at which another zoonotic virus can evolve,” says Le Roux.

Nyaga says that more viruses are possible in other organisms as well. “In as much as research on viral particles continues, more outbreaks are possible within not only the coronavirus domain, but also any other class of organisms. The ever-changing nature of viruses, mainly due to mutations and other mechanisms of genetic diversity, could occur through chain of transmission, including via the intermediate hosts. This kind of antigenic mutations could make the general population vulnerable due to lack of immunity against the new strains of emerging strains or completely novel viruses.”

Origin of SARS-CoV-2 and other diseases

According to Bragg, the previous coronavirus that led to SARS and caused major concerns, also started in a wet food market in China – just like Covid-19. That virus was traced to a civet cat meat. This virus had a very high mortality rate but could only be transmitted when a person showed clinical signs. Therefore, measuring the temperature of people was useful and beneficial.

“There are many other examples of serious human pandemics which was spread from animals to humans. Another good example is the Ebola virus, which has also been traced to people eating bats in Africa. Yet another example is HIV, which is believed to have spread to man as a result of the consumption of chimpanzee meat.

“The most serious has been the 1918 Spanish flu, which started off in pigs and spread to man. All of these have to do with the mistreatment of animals by man.

Learning from past pandemics

Le Roux says past pandemics can teach us how to respond from a public health perspective. “If we found treatments that worked before, we can use that as a starting point for current treatments. But if we can’t even control human behaviour (learning from past mistakes), think of how much more challenging it is to develop a vaccine against a virus that is so adaptable.”

Prof Bragg adds: “Mankind should also have learned lessons from the 1918 pandemic, but man is notoriously slow at learning lessons from the past. Each generation wants to make their own mistakes. One can only draw parallels from the people who defined lockdown regulations in 1918 to celebrate the end of the First World War and the demonstrations currently underway in the USA.

“The celebrations in 1918 caused more deaths than have occurred during the four years of the First World War. I predict that within a week or two, the number of cases and mortalities in the USA (and around the world) are going to skyrocket,” says Bragg.

Knowing the animals involved

Nyaga explains that identification of the source (reservoir hosts) and the intermediate host(s) is crucial in devising strategies, including palliative measures and designing drugs or vaccines against a potential pathogenic agent such as SARS-CoV-2. This will help in understanding the genomic dynamics and likely immunological responses that could be triggered along the chain of transmission to humans, and more importantly, how the compounds in the therapies can terminate the different stages of viral replication.

Le Roux says she is not sure if a vaccine would be developed based on knowledge of a host species, but there is the possibility that (depending on the species) we can use some of the host’s antibodies to develop our own antibody therapies. “But generally, the knowledge can help more long-term planning on how to avoid future host shifts to humans. If we know where the virus originated, we can study that species or group of species better, and understand how the mutations occurred, etc. It would help us with future prevention more than current mitigation, I think.”

Research in the fight against Covid-19

According to the experts, various research efforts are afoot on the control of the disease. These range from the development of a vaccine, development of antiviral drugs, and the development of monoclonal antibodies or antibody fragments. Research is also needed on improved, faster, and cheaper diagnostic tests to test for the presence of the virus as well as for the detection of antibodies against the virus in people. This last test is needed to demonstrate the efficacy of vaccines as well as people in the population who have recovered from the virus.

Bragg says research on the epidemiology of the virus is also needed. How far it can spread and how long it can survive are critical questions, particularly when talking about social distancing. Much of the current information is based on guesswork. “Worldwide, research efforts are gaining an understanding of the virus and how it is causing disease in humans. If you think that this virus was unknown before December 2019, mankind has very quickly learned a lot about this virus and there are many very interesting articles coming out on what receptors the virus binds to and how the virus causes damage to the host and overcomes the host defence mechanisms.”

Nyaga says while the understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 is still in its infancy, results are already emerging on the molecular dynamics and immunological perspectives of the virus. With the characterisation of the genomic sequences of the virus, it has been possible to design several vaccines, including the inactivated virus, viral vectors, nucleic acid-based and protein-based vaccines. A good number of them are currently under clinical trials for possible WHO qualification towards global use. “Just recently, a clinical trial on one of these vaccines, called ‘the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-trial’, was on schedule locally to be championed by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg,.”

According to him, effective prevention essentially requires an in-depth understanding of the clinical severity of Covid19, the extent of transmission and infection, and the efficacy of treatment options in order to accelerate the development of diagnostics and treatment options.

Bragg says that the socio-economic impact of the virus is very serious at this stage. The final number of human cases and fatalities are still a long way from completion. This virus is going to be with us for quite some time and the mortality rate in some countries with high levels of HIV and TB could become very high.

8 people, thousands of animals killed in floods in Mongolia

Source: Xinhua| 2020-07-07 14:39:59|Editor: huaxia

ULAN BATOR, July 7 (Xinhua) — Eight people and thousands of livestock animals were killed and thousands of homes were flooded as a heavy rain caused flash floods in some provinces of Mongolia on Friday and Saturday, the country’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) reported on Tuesday.

“A total of eight people, including two children lost their lives due to the heavy rain-triggered floods in Umnugovi province in the south and Sukhbaatar province in the east on July 3,” NEMA said in a statement.

More than 7,000 livestock animals were killed in three provinces, namely Tuv and Govisumber in the central and Arkhangai in the central-west due to the floods, the report said.

In addition, a total of 2,360 homes in some provinces such as Khentii, Tuv and Khuvsgul were flooded, it said.

Meteorologists forecast heavy rains to hit a large part of the country in the coming days, urging citizens, especially herders, to take extra precautions. Enditem

Rethinking meat — from farm to table

Kate Mountain Farm is one of many Adirondack Harvest-associated local farms offering CSA meats and vegetables. Find local producers at (Photo provided)

The food supply chain system is vulnerable. America’s meatpacking plants endure some of the highest rates of workplace injury of any U.S. job sector, and COVID-19 has introduced yet another occupational hazard. These crowded facilities have become frighteningly successful vectors for COVID-19 contagion.

On Sunday April 26, a news release entitled, “A Delicate Balance: Feeding the Nation and Keeping Our Employees Healthy” appeared as a full-page ad in The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It was also widely posted on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Written by John H. Tyson, chairman of the Board of Tyson Foods, the statement declared, “In small communities around the country, where we employ over 100,000 hard-working men and women, we’re being forced to shutter our doors. This means one thing — the food supply chain is vulnerable. As pork, beef, and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain. … Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation. Millions of animals — chickens, pigs and cattle — will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities. The food supply chain is breaking.”

And with that, Southern and Midwestern farmers began euthanizing livestock.

Two days after the publication of Tyson’s letter, President Trump declared that meatpacking plants were “critical infrastructure” under the Defense Production Act of 1950 and prohibited their closure.

While this was happening, vegetable farmers were forced to let their crops rot in the fields or plow otherwise harvestable food into the ground. Dairy farmers, already grappling with low prices, found themselves dumping more than 3.5 million gallons of milk every day (estimate from Dairy Farmers of America). And everywhere, food pantries, facing unprecedented demand, were running out of food. This clearly reveals just how vulnerable, and how unjust, our food supply system can be. It also emphasizes the need to fix it.

Zoonosis: diseases transmitted to humans from animals

Lots of diseases, including most pandemics (e.g. H1N1 [swine flu], H5N1 [bird flu], Ebola, Lyme disease, malaria, rabies, ringworm, West Nile virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS], HIV/AIDS), originated in animals.

The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, which infected roughly one-third of the world’s population of 500 million people, killing an estimated 50 million including 675,000 Americans, is believed to have originated on a pig farm. That was long before CAFO factory farms existed.

CAFOs: confined animal feeding operations

CAFO farms can generate a myriad of environmental and public health problems. CAFO manure contains potential contaminants including plant nutrients (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus) and pathogens (e.g., E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics, animal blood, silage leachate). The volume of waste produced depends on the type and number of animals farmed. A feeding operation with 800,000 pigs can produce over 1.6 million tons of waste a year. That amount is one-and-a-half times more than the annual sanitary waste produced by the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (GAO, 2008).

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2000 National Water Quality Inventory found that 29 states specifically identified animal feeding operations (AFOs), not just CAFOs, as contributing to water quality impairment (Congressional Research Service, 2008).

In order to protect their livestock from diseases that might kill entire populations, resulting in huge profit losses, CAFO farmers commonly treat their animals with antibiotics. And poultry fed antibiotic feed show significantly higher weight gain than those fed non-antibiotic feed (Settle et al. 2014). Animals growing at a greater rate than they would otherwise reduces operating costs and increases profit.

But use of antibiotic feed is threatening human health. Every year 2 million people experience serious illness due to untreatable bacterial infection and 23,000 die because the bacteria that made them sick is antibiotic-resistant (Young 2013). When antibiotic-resistant bacteria spreads to a large group of people and cannot be treated, we have what is known as a superbug. And many scientists believe that superbugs are the inevitable consequence we will face if CAFOs continue to use antibiotics indiscriminately in the feed of the nation’s largest source of meats.

Then there’s the animal cruelty issue, which I won’t get into here, other than to say that 9 billion animals, including 8.8 billion chickens, are raised and killed on large, overcrowded U.S. CAFO farms every year (source: Humane Society of the United States).


Locally sourced meat: a better alternative

There’s a better way to keep your freezer full: meat CSAs. Community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm programs directly connect farmers to consumers. You know right where your food is coming from. You’re supporting local farming families that raise top-quality pastured and grass-fed livestock — working with nature rather than against it. Pasture-based farming improves animal health, maximizes cost-efficiency and minimizes farm pollution. You reap the rewards by purchasing affordable, quality meats (and eggs) produced using sustainable farming practices.

You buy a share, and you pick it up when it’s ready. It’s that simple. And most farms offer share sizes to fit everyone’s needs. You can receive meat on a regularly scheduled timetable or one time only.

To learn more or find pretty much every type of locally grown and/or prepared food imaginable (and more), visit or contact your local Cornell Cooperative Extension office.

Moral consideration for animals

I WOULD like to gravitate our concerns towards a video that recently went viral, showing a helpless kitten being crushed over and over again by an adult woman for her entertainment/fetish.Also, we have news on 11 cats being ruthlessly poisoned to death over Hari Raya Aidilfitri at the Apartment Seri Lily Bukit Beruntung.

Animal cruelty is real and pervasive. It happens to all different types of animals and in every corner of the world. It is also preventable and unnecessary.

A composed ecosystem is made up of all living organisms. Within this system, all things have their rightful place and warrant the essential consideration and regard for that place and balance.

In the words of Albert Schweitzer, the Alsatian polymath (1875-1965): “We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do.

“True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognise it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.”

Animals are entitled to the possession of their own existence and that their most basic interests – such as the need to avoid suffering – should be afforded the same consideration as similar interests of human beings.

Therefore, it is prejudicial to oppose the suffering of humans while accepting the suffering of animals as simply a fact of life.

By respecting animal rights and having consideration for animal welfare, we also support ecological balance.

However, many animals endure heinous cruelties as people do not recognise that animals have rights, let alone the importance of having those rights.

As sentient beings, animals have the right to live a life free of agony and torment. Just because we are at the top of the food chain, it does not mean that we, humans, are the only ones with rights nor do we have the right to take animal rights away.

Animals couldn’t possibly speak for themselves and for that reason we have the responsibility to protect them. Safeguarding them is something we should take pride in.

It is important to view animals as having an intrinsic value separate from any value they have to humans and are worthy of moral consideration.

In his book Animal Liberation, Peter Singer says the fundamental dictum of equality does not prescribe equal or identical treatment; it demands equal consideration.

Animals are neither inanimate nor automata objects. They have the faculty to suffer in a similar manner and to the same degree that humans do.

Every action that we take which would impede with their needs and welfare, we are ethically obligated to take into account their ability to experience maternal love, fear, frustration, pain, pleasure and also depression.

Animals also have the faculty to exhibit empathy toward humans and other animals in a myriad of ways, particularly reassuring, mourning and even rescuing each other from harm at their own expense.

It is important to acknowledge that empathy in animals stretches across species and continents. This is not just sanguine thinking.

Research has disclosed that illuminating kids to be compassionate to animals can guide them to become good-natured and more heedful in their interactions with other humans.

Additionally, it helps them be more respectful and valuable to society. Francis of Assisi said: “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men”.

Animals are sentient beings and sentience is the only thing that matters when discussing those to whom we should give moral consideration.

In the words of Mohandas Ghandi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”.

Therefore, as a civilised society, we must count animals as worthy of moral consideration and ethical treatment. The question is not can they reason, nor can they talk, but can they suffer? – May 30, 2020.

* Suzianah Nhazzla Ismail reads The Malaysian Insight.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.



The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) sent an urgent message to pork producers today, warning of animal welfare activists taking videos of hogs being euthanized on farms.

Direct Action Everywhere (DXE) has members on the ground in Iowa, says CSIF, and all farms and processing plants should be on high alert that they may be targeted in an attempt to capture video footage and cause a disruption to normal business activity.

Livestock farmers must be vigilant in monitoring the security of farms at all times, for the safety of people and livestock.

“Most people think they will never be the target, but no one can assume they are safe,” says CSIF executive director Brian Waddingham. “There are many preventive measures you can take to protect your farm and your livestock.”  For a complete list of ways to keep your farm out of the crosshairs, click here.

If you find a suspicious vehicle near your farm or discover criminals on your property, do not try to apprehend them, says Waddingham. Contact local law enforcement.

This is an extreme animal rights group that is taking advantage of a heart-wrenching, crisis situation some livestock farmers are faced with to advance their own agenda – which is to eliminate animal agriculture, he says.

For additional suggestions on preventive measures you can take to reduce your risk, as well as suggestions of what to do if you are the victim of a criminal act, visit our website.

Trump Demanded Meat Plants Stay Open, COVID Cases Have Now Tripled

President Donald Trump issued an executive order in late April requiring all meat processing plants in the U.S. to remain open, despite reports of coronavirus infections and related deaths being prevalent at a number of the plants.

Since that order was issued, the number of COVID-19 cases that have been identified at meat plants across the country has likely tripled, according to estimates from a nonprofit watchdog group.

At the time of Trump’s executive order, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had identified around 5,000 employees across 20 meat processing plants who had contracted COVID-19, and 17 workers at those plants who had died from the disease. In spite of concerns about the disease spreading at these and other locations, the president issued his order, utilizing the Defense Production Act to classify processing plants as essential infrastructure.

The executive order prevented local governments and health officials from enforcing plant closures in the event of an outbreak and it’s now apparent that the disease has indeed spread at these meatpacking locations since the order.

More than 100 plants across the country have seen a high number of cases of COVID-19. The Food & Environment Reporting Network (FERN), a nonprofit journalism watchdog group dedicated to food and agricultural issues, estimated in a report published last week that 17,000 workers may have now contracted the disease, with at least 66 COVID-related deaths recorded among employees at meat processing plants.

In light of this, other organizations are demanding the federal government take a more proactive approach toward limiting the spread of COVID-19. Citing the large numbers of workers at meat processing plants contracting coronavirus, the Center for Food Safety produced a petition in which it demanded the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issue new emergency standards to protect employees’ health.

“Protecting workers in meatpacking plants is important not just for the workers, but also for our food safety,” the organization wrote in its letter. “Unprotected and sick workers are more likely to make mistakes, making it more likely that tainted meat gets onto store shelves. The last thing we need during this pandemic is a major foodborne illness outbreak.”

There are a number of reasons why meatpacking plants could be hotbeds for COVID-19. Workers typically stand close together, often shoulder-to-shoulder, on the assembly line. Many workers aren’t wearing protective gear at this time either, as it slows down their pace of work, while the companies themselves have admitted to struggling to find the necessary protective equipment for their workers, even after Trump’s executive order was issued.

Colder temperatures in the plants may also be helping the virus linger longer on surfaces or in air particles, and ventilation systems may be spreading coronavirus throughout the buildings.

Among the U.S. population in general, it’s feared that coronavirus will likely continue to spread even more than it already has, as several states begin transitioning away from stay-at-home orders that were previously issued.

As of Tuesday this week, the nation surpassed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, and one estimate forecasts that 30,000 more Americans could die from the disease by Independence Day. Many health experts agree that a second wave of cases is likely to come about as states reopen businesses and other public areas.

‘Something isn’t right’: U.S. probes soaring beef prices

One hundred years ago, U.S. antitrust prosecutors broke down monopolies in meatpacking. But can they do it again?

Meat for sale in a Miami supermarket

Supermarket customers are paying more for beef than they have in decades during the coronavirus pandemic. But at the same time, the companies that process the meat for sale are paying farmers and ranchers staggeringly low prices for cattle.

Now, the Agriculture Department and prosecutors are investigating whether the meatpacking industry is fixing or manipulating prices.

The Department of Justice is looking at the four largest U.S. meatpackers — Tyson Foods, JBS, National Beef and Cargill — which collectively control about 85 percent of the U.S. market for the slaughter and packaging of beef, according to a person with knowledge of the probe. The USDA is also investigating the beef price fluctuations, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has confirmed.

Meatpackers say beef prices have spiked during the pandemic because plants are running at lower capacity as workers fall ill, so less meat is making its way to shelves. The four companies didn’t respond to requests for comment about the probes.

But the coronavirus crisis is highlighting how the American system of getting meat to the table favors a handful of giant companies despite a century of government efforts to decentralize it. And it’s sparking new calls for changes in meatpacking.

“It’s evidence that something isn’t right in the industry,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who has spoken out against mergers in the agriculture industry. In April, Grassley requested federal investigations into market manipulation and unfair practices within the cattle industry. So have 19 other senators and 11 state attorneys general.

The average retail price for fresh beef in April was $6.22 per pound — 26 cents higher per pound than it was the month before, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the same time, at the end of April, the average price for a steer was below $100 per hundred pounds; the five-year average for that same week was about $135 per hundred pounds, according to USDA’s weekly summary.

Ed Greiman, general manager of Upper Iowa Beef who formerly headed the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, attributed the consumer price increase to plants running at lower capacity. At the same time, farmers and ranchers desperate to offload their cattle as they reach optimal weight for slaughter are cutting prices so they won’t have to kill the animals without selling them.

“I’m running at half speed,” Greiman said at an event hosted by the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association. “Cattle are backing up because we can’t run our plants fast enough. Nothing is functioning properly. We need to be careful not to put blame on any one thing or part of the industry because we can’t get these plants going.”

The industry has long been a focus for government antitrust enforcement.

Exactly 100 years ago, after years of litigation, the five biggest U.S. meatpackers — which were responsible for 82 percent of the beef market — agreed to an antitrust settlement with the Justice Department that helped break their control over the industry.

The Justice Department’s efforts to reduce concentration in meatpacking led to decades of competition. By 1980, the top four firms controlled only 36 percent of cattle slaughters in the U.S., according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

But during the next 10 years, meatpacking experienced a huge wave of deals, enough that the USDA dubbed the time “merger mania.” By 1988, the new four biggest companies again controlled 70 percent of the beef meatpacking market.

“There’s greater concentration in meatpacking now” than in 1921, said Thomas Horton, an antitrust professor at the University of South Dakota, who previously worked at the Justice Department. The first antitrust laws were “passed to take care of the Big Five. Now we have the Big Four. We’re going backwards.”

Unlike poultry and pork, which take weeks or months to raise, cattle can take as long as two years from birth to butcher. That lifecycle makes it much more difficult to adjust supply. Once cattle reaches its optimal weight, they need to be sold within two weeks, said Peter Carstensen, an antitrust professor at the University of Wisconsin. And realistically, a farmer can only transport cattle about 150 miles to a slaughterhouse.

“You’ve got at most four bidders, but the reality is there are often fewer,” said Carstensen, noting that in some states, there are only one or two meatpackers with plants.

While the structure of the industry has remained stable since 2009, changes in how the meatpackers buy cattle have also had an impact. Before 2015, about half of all cattle was purchased via direct negotiation between a rancher and meatpacker, known as the negotiated cash market. Today, about 70 percent are purchased through contracts where farmers agree to deliver cattle once they reach a certain weight with the price to be determined later — usually a formula that takes into account how much cattle sell for in the cash market.

The increase in these contracts has some advantages for ranchers, because they know they have a buyer and don’t have to spend time on negotiations, said Ted Schroeder, an agricultural economist at Kansas State University. But fewer cash trades have made it harder to figure out the right price for cattle, he said.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 14,271 meatpacking workers have been sick as of May 15, according to the nonprofit Food and Environment Reporting Network. Worker illnesses and temporary plant closures have led plants to operate at about 50 percent capacity, said Schroeder.

Schroeder, who has focused on cattle prices for more than three decades, said the rising consumer prices and falling cattle prices are consistent with normal supply and demand.

“It’s economics 101. There’s less meat around, but demand is still pretty strong,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of cattle but can’t get it through the system. We are pretty close to what I would expect to happen to wholesale and farm prices given the bottleneck.”

Not everyone is persuaded. Last year, ranchers filed an antitrust suit against the four meatpackers for colluding to depress cattle prices. The suit, pending in Minneapolis federal court, alleges that Tyson, JBS, Cargill and National Beef began coordinating in 2015 to reduce the number of cattle slaughtered while also limiting how many they bought in the cash market. Ranchers with excess animals on their hands were forced to sell for less or enter into long-term contracts beneficial to meatpackers.

“The Big Four simultaneously withdrew from the cash market with intent to reduce prices across the board,” said Bill Bullard, CEO of Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit, in an interview.

The companies were able to coordinate by communicating through trade associations, said Bullard. The lawsuit is based in part on information provided by a confidential witness who worked for one of the meatpackers for a decade. The conspiracy drove prices down at least 8 percent, said Bullard.

If the meatpackers were communicating about prices, that would clearly violate criminal antitrust laws, said Carstensen. But if a company observes what a rival does and matches that behavior — sometimes called “tacit collusion”— that may not violate the law, he said.

“Coordination is not the same thing as collusion,” said Carstensen.

The Justice Department could, however, try to make a case that the meatpackers have monopolized the beef market. They could argue that the companies have engaged in “an anticompetitive set of industry practices, which taken together, violate antitrust law and require a broader restructuring,” he said.

The anti-monopoly Open Markets Institute has outlined a similar theory and pushed for breaking up the Big Four so no company controls more than 10 percent of the market. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also advocated for breaking up meatpackers as part of her presidential campaign.

Grassley, meanwhile, said he’s not ready to call for the breakup of major meatpackers, but he has “a great deal of questions about whether they’re operating within the law.”

Bullard’s group is also pushing for broader changes to the industry, such as requiring packers to buy at least half of their cattle from the cash market or prohibiting contracts that don’t include prices.

Kansas’ Schroeder, though, warned against moving the industry backwards. Breaking up the meatpackers would likely lead to higher consumer prices, he said, and insisting on cash sales would eliminate some of the advantages, like stable supply, that contracts offer.

“Too often, we try to stop things from progressing. We want things to be the way they used to be. But the way they used to be wasn’t that great,” he said. “We should be cautious how we approach regulation, so we don’t turn the apple cart upside down.”

COVID-19 Exposes Flaws in Animal Protein Production

 from Sentient Media

COVID-19 Exposes Flaws in Animal Protein Production
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Our food system is breaking due to COVID-19 closures, but this collapse has been looming for decades.

We were warned years ago that another deadly pandemic was inevitable—but we did not listen. Instead, humans have continued prioritizing low food prices and convenience over public safety and pandemic prevention.

Though there are many contributors to the current collapse—including a growing global population and deep-rooted cultural norms—big meat and dairy companies, farmers, producers, and consumers are all to blame for the system’s demise. Demand for animal protein and deep-seated industrialization of animal farming have created the perfect breeding grounds for disease.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many slaughterhouses across North America have been shut down or are working at limited capacity because of large outbreaks among farm and slaughterhouse workers. The closing of restaurants, schools, and hotels—responsible for significant amounts of meat and dairy consumption—has contributed to a drop in demand for animal products.

As a result, there are now major backlogs of animals on farms. Eggs are being crushed, milk is being dumped, and our animal protein production system appears to be crumbling before our eyes—a reality that demonstrates the dire need for reform within our animal-dependent food system.

“The system is breaking up,” says Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy in the Faculties of Management and Agriculture at Dalhousie University, in Canada. What we see happening today, he says, “is really showing the limits of our system,” and the cost “are the lives of animals that were produced for no reason.”

Meat Production Is Showing No Signs of Slowing Down
Though COVID-19 has threatened food supply chains, meat production in 2021 is forecast to rise nearly 4 percent higher than in 2020 due to recovery in all major types of meat.

From an economic perspective, “the problem remains in processing,” Charlebois explains. Our food system was transformed over a century ago from local abattoirs to massive corporate slaughter plants. A centralized food system, he adds, “makes the entire supply chain vulnerable.”

Adam Clark Estes—Deputy Editor of Recode at Vox—explains that “Meatpacking remains consolidated to a few dozen Midwestern processing plants, many of which are owned by a handful of huge corporations, like JBS and Smithfield.” That’s why, he says, “when a few of these processors get shut down, due to a pandemic or something else, the country’s entire meat supply suffers.”

Read the full story

Covering COVID-19
With the worst global pandemic we’ve seen in over a century, it’s more important than ever to make sure the truth is reported in its entirety, not just what’s convenient.