Animals Farmed: a leap in salmon deaths, superbug fears and the life of a Spanish shepherdess

Hello subscribers. This is our final newsletter from the Animals Farmed series. Thank you for all the correspondence you have sent in. The series itself will continue, and you can follow updates from across the environment desk with the Down to Earth newsletter.

News from around the world

The number of farmed fish has more than doubled to 124 billion since 2007, according to a new study, as the campaign group Compassion in World Farming said fish welfare legislation is needed to protect farmed fish from cruelty. Less than 1% of farmed fish have any species-specific legal protection at slaughter, said the study.

In the US, investigators are looking into whether 50 children who were allegedly illegally employed at midwestern slaughterhouses were victims of labour trafficking, reports NBC News. Agents have interviewed children who worked cleaning a JBS Foods slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Nebraska, officials say.

An investigation into a disease that swept through a mink farm in north-western Spain in October, forcing the culling of 52,000 minks, has revealed bird flu as the cause. It has led to researchers voicing concerns about the avian flu’s potential to set off a human pandemic.

One of the world’s biggest dairy companies, Fonterra, a New Zealand-based co-operative, has banned its farmers from killing bobby (male) calves on their farms unless there is a humane reason. The company said they should be raised for beef or slaughtered for calf-veal or the pet food market.

Pollution from livestock farming, pharmaceuticals and healthcare is fuelling antimicrobial resistance, as spills of manure and other pollution into waterways are adding to the global rise of superbugs, the UN has warned. Vast amounts of antimicrobials are used to treat and prevent infections in farm animals.

US meat companies, including Tyson Foods and Cargill, have been ordered to reach agreement with the state of Oklahoma on how to clean a watershed polluted by chicken litter. There are around 1,900 active poultry houses in the watershed, according to the ruling.

Officials in the US should examine high egg prices for signs of price gouging from top egg companies, a farm group said. The US Department of Agriculture has pointed to avian flu as a reason for the high prices, but the farm group says officials should also examine record-high egg company profits.

UK news

Avara Foods, a leading supplier of chicken to Tesco, is being urged by campaigners to pay reparations to help clean up the River Wye. The river has been damaged by increasing algal blooms partly caused by poultry farms spreading more manure than the land can absorb.

Salmon deaths on fish farms in Scotland nearly doubled last year, official figures show, owing to growing levels of disease, parasites and jellyfish blooms. Campaigners have blamed overcrowding. Data shows nearly 15 million salmon deaths were reported by farms in Scotland in 2022.

A new Danish bacon factory has opened in Rochdale, highlighting the decline in Britain’s pork industry as big retailers look to cheaper imports. British pig meat was too expensive, chief executive Jais Valeur said, adding that the new factory would let the company adapt faster to supermarket gammon and bacon demands.

Hundreds of pig ears have been found dumped in a ditch, puzzling council officers who are now investigating it as flytipping. More than 60 heavy-duty orange net bags of the cuts were discovered in Radwell, Hertfordshire on 4 January. It comes after hundreds of kilograms of frozen chicken pieces were found in the nearby village of Offley in September.

From the Animals Farmed series

Multiple waves of avian flu have left a trail of devastation across the globe, leading to the deaths and culling of more than 300 million chickens, ducks and geese and an unknown number of wild birds between 2005 and 2021.

Photographer Paroma Basu has followed three young Spanish women who have left urban careers and retrained as shepherds through the Escola de Pastors i Pastores de Catalunya, one of a number of ́herding schools opening around Spain.

Finally, Spain’s transformation into one of the world’s biggest pork producers is helping drive rural depopulation, claim opponents of the industry. In 2021, the country of 47 million people slaughtered 58 million pigs – up 40% from a decade earlier – turning Spain into Europe’s largest pork meat producer.

Share your stories and feedback

Thank you to everyone getting in touch to share their thoughts on the series.

Max Taylor told us:

Thank you for these incredibly important round-ups. I’ve been receiving them for around a year now and every single one makes abundantly clear the unbelievably wasteful, dirty and cruel nature of intensive animal farming.

Just last month, we had reports of salmon crawling with lice, farms continuing to go unpunished for polluting rivers with manure, hundreds of millions of birds suffering from bird flu and being culled in often hideous ways, ducks continuing to be force-fed so that their livers swell to abnormal sizes (all so that elite diners can indulge in yet another “delicacy”) and mounting evidence of criminality and corruption in supposedly “high-welfare” UK farms.

Christine Reid commented:

I live in a karst area of Wisconsin [in the US] that is dominated by CAFOs (industrial dairy farms). One in three wells is contaminated by liquid manure. These factory farms are turning to digesters, which do not produce the desired results. One CAFO owner announced last night that they will be installing the Varcor system.

This gives these industrial farms incentives to produce more animal waste – in spite of dropping demand. Manure is becoming more valuable than cow-produced milk. I have been pushing for Wisconsin to lead the US in precision fermentation and provide a growing need for a nutritional alternative with zero lactose and zero manure.