Fighting Factory Farms in Argentina
Argentina has relied heavily on agricultural exports since its independence in 1880. Over time, animal farming (especially cow farming) has become a core part of the country’s national identity. For example, Argentina is one of the highest per-capita consumers of “red meat” and has one of the highest global slaughter rates for cows. Currently, cow and pig production haven’t become fully intensified in Argentina, while the production of chickens and their products is the only sector that’s heavily skewed toward factory farms.
This may change in the future. In 2020, the Argentinian government announced that it’s in discussions to establish pig “mega-farms” throughout the country for the purpose of exporting pig meat to China. Although the goal is to support the country’s economy, the news has been met with backlash from key stakeholders including environmental advocates and small- and medium-sized pig producers. Although the government has yet to sign the “China Agreement,” it remains unclear whether it will in the future.
In this report the author attempts to provide a background on the issue, including the historical, economic, and political context surrounding animal agriculture and Chinese diplomatic relations in Argentina. Most relevant to animal advocates, the author also explores the China Agreement in relation to animal welfare, including how animal welfare arguments have played a role in the backlash against the agreement and what animal advocates can do to strengthen their campaigns.
Pig production is mainly extensive or semi-intensive in Argentina, mainly because creating factory farms requires a lot of funding. According to the author, the Argentinian government sees potential in raising pigs for export, as it doesn’t compete with beef cows or soy (another key export for Argentina). Currently, affordable loans are being made available to pig farmers to enable them to produce a relatively cheaper alternative to “red meat.”
At the same time, pig meat is the most consumed meat in China. Recently, China’s pig production was severely impacted by an outbreak of African Swine Flu (ASF) in 2019 that affected domestic pork suppliers. As a result, China began seeking pig meat from other countries and identified Argentina as a promising partner — ASF isn’t present in Argentina, and some industry leaders believe Argentinian pig production has room to expand and intensify.
In early 2020, it was announced that the Argentine Association of Pig Producers (AAPP) and the China Association for Promotion of Industrial Development (CAPID) had signed a memorandum to establish pig factory farms around Argentina. This was followed by an acknowledgement by the foreign ministry. The announcement resulted in immediate public backlash from different stakeholders, prompting the ministry to postpone it to incorporate environmental protection and biosafety. Since then, the author says there haven’t been any major updates about the negotiations. However, the Argentine province Chaco signed an agreement with a Chinese company in 2020 to install three mega pig farms.
According to the author, there are two key stakeholder groups opposing the China Agreement conflict: socio-environmental advocates and small- and medium-sized pig producers. Environmentalists have been some of the most vocal opponents of the agreement, largely framing their backlash around the human health, environmental, and socio-economic problems with pig factory farms.
Although animal advocates have been involved in the movement, the author claims that environmentalists have been hesitant to focus on animal welfare arguments.
One reason why environmentalists have avoided discussing animal welfare is to avoid antagonizing the other opponent of mega pig farms — the small- and medium-sized pig farmers. Their main reason for opposition is the unfair competition that could be imposed by intensification. These producers are also concerned about the health hazards of factory farms that could impact their animals. However, according to the author, they’ve been careful to distance themselves from environmental messaging.
This leads the author to a discussion of animal welfare in Argentina, which they argue is a relatively overlooked issue. For example, out of 16 legal provisions criminalizing animal cruelty, only two address intensive animal farming — regarding sanitary standards for cows and stocking density of broiler chickens. These provisions have been framed out of concern for human health and profit rather than the animals’ welfare. Additionally, animal welfare guidelines in Argentina tend to be vague, the penalties for violations are minimal, and they’re rarely enforced.
Furthermore, animal welfare training is also poorly developed in Argentina, taught only in 11 out of 21 veterinarian schools. Additionally, the author argues that welfare courses are taught by instructors with limited expertise, meaning that students don’t get to learn about the many different dimensions of animal welfare.
The author makes several recommendations that may help strengthen animal-focused campaigns against the China Agreement (and factory farming in general). For example, advocates can initiate discussions with different stakeholders about the problems with factory farms and how other countries are shifting toward non-animal protein production. Public policies and financial incentives to support alternative protein research could be especially beneficial.
Public education is also needed in Argentina. This includes educating people about the harms of intensifying animal production, especially as it relates to animal suffering. To ensure stakeholders are informed, advocates can push for lawyers, veterinarians, and other relevant professionals to be trained in animal welfare issues, specifically calling for courses that encompass animal ethics and rights. Finally, animal advocates themselves may benefit from learning how to debate about animal welfare science in the public domain. According to the author, this is especially important for animal activists who typically focus only on animal rights and liberation arguments, as their flat-out rejection of welfare arguments may be dissuading others from engaging in a meaningful discussion with them.