The fascinating 2013 documentary called "L'adieu à la viande" (Farewell to Meat) about the consumption of meat in Europe (from Franco/German channel Arte) not only approaches the issue of eating flesh from an environmental aspect but also from the idea of the masculine psychology behind it. Just like American men, European men are conditioned to think that meat makes them strong and more masculine. It is the same old patriarchal thinking that is behind capitalism (from the Latin capita = head) and animal agriculture as well documented by Dr. Will Tuttle in The World Peace Diet.
It shows also how the marketing depicts happy animals, close to nature and how it's so far from the truth. One interesting fact debunks the idea that welfare reforms are useful: the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics in animals but the farmers just ignore it as much as their US counterparts. Up to 96.4% of animals are treated with antibiotics. And of course, we know the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans caused by what they eat through the animals. One out of two chicken is contaminated with germs which resist antibiotics.
They also address the health risks of eating meat: cancer, diabetes, etc... and the westernization of countries like China where health problems are growing because of their increasing consumption of meat. They expect Chinese consumption of meat to double by 2017. It's about class status. Indeed, as the Chinese population becomes richer, their consumption of animal products increase as they want to sadly imitate the west and leave behind their traditional food culture. One adult out of three is now overweight or obese in China. This growing trend in Asia fuels factory farming in the west. For instance, they show that farmers in Germany, who used to let their animals graze, now confine them just so they can meet the demand and not declare bankruptcy. So even though the demand for animal flesh has been reduced in the west, it is just been exported somewhere else. Hence, once again, welfare reforms are useless because they displace problems, not eliminate them.
They also of course address the ethical problems of the system. One very telling moment of the documentary is how a farmer compares the pigs he kills to automobiles and parts, in other words things, not sentient beings (the speaker owns the second largest pig killing factory in the world in The Netherlands). Factory farm is a direct result of the assembly line system invented by Henry Ford to build automobiles and of course inspired the Nazi concentration camps system. But instead of assembling things, you disassemble beings (as the farmer explains literally). You dehumanize people just like you see other animals as things and turn them into commodities.
The documentary also shows the great work of the French Animal Rights group L214 and their undercover footage of the truth. Also interviewed, a PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) activist from Germany and we follow him and other activists as they go inside a turkey factory to document the conditions. They also show that farmers use religious exemptions so they don't have to bother stunning the animals before killing them since the Halal (Muslim) religious exemption (killing the animals while conscious) is accepted as a religious right. It's between 30% to about 40% of the production in France (according to which report you read). It is easy to get "Halal" meat in France since the country has a large Muslim population (the largest in Europe).
Interestingly enough, unlike in America, the debate around factory farming is more about environmental impacts and health rather than ethical issues which is the opposite in America where you need a movie like Cowspiracy to put the environment on the table. In Germany, more than France, the ethical side is more debated. They address openly the problems of methane produced by bovines as being worse than CO2 (unlike in the US where only CO2 is being discussed).
They also, and that is something rarely talked about, address the consequences of western meat demand in countries of Latin America, particularly Paraguay, where most of the food (like GMO soy) which goes to European animals comes from. Europe has no more space to grow feed for the animal industry (same as the US and China). It only benefits economically a very small percentage of the population of Latin America. Most of the companies are Brazilian, Argentine or German and they poison local peasants with pesticides and run offs.
They show the fate of small local farmers reduced to poverty because they couldn't compete with big corporations. A lot of them live in illegal camps where the only food comes from donations. One woman explains how GMO soy destroys the soil and that nothing can grow after that. The money made by rich soy companies goes to Brazil, not the people of Paraguay. Many children die dehydrated, poisoned or from hunger. An elected woman representative shows videos of police raids on camps in Paraguay just to protect soy production interests. They torture, arrest, kill and take everything the people have. Those who can escape usually end up in the slums of the country's capital. The only benefit is that they are not exposed there to dangerous pesticides. GMO soy is everywhere in Paraguay, they don't care about the consequences on the environment or the people.
Another disturbing fact is the number of children now born with malformations in Paraguay because of all this. Types of malformations: brains developed in front of the face, malformed faces, heads without brains and so on... They interview a small family surrounded by GMO soy fields. Their 11 year old son died of pesticide exposure after they all ate pesticide contaminated food and their air being sprayed around them constantly. They all vomited after eating but the boy didn't survive. The mother tried a legal action against the GMO corporations but in the end lost. She says sadly: "There is no justice for the poor". She has been the only one in Paraguay to try to bring this issue to justice. Everyone else stays silent because of the fear of violent repercussions.
They also show the impact on Africa. Production of meat crushes local farmers as well. They show the example of Ghana. Nigeria doesn't allow foreign imports of meat so it is illegally exported and they contaminate the meat with poisonous chemicals (like Formaldehyde) to keep it from spoiling.
Basically, the European Union (and other countries) don't give a damn. They just want meat. As a European Representative for Agriculture claims: "It's the market which decides; alternatives are not realistic". Germany is the first producer of animal flesh in Europe (8 million tons in 2010). There are 85,000 producers in France alone. And it's all been subsidized of course. It represents 40% of the European budget!
Unfortunately, the documentary doesn't address veganism (being mainstream) and only promotes seriously reducing the amount of meat consumed by people. Yes that would be slightly better but we all know that is not the solution as ethical vegans. In fact, we never needed more vegans than now!
Veganism solves cruelty to animals, environmental disaster and human misery. Politicians only respond to social change if they are pressured enough by social change. The more vegans in the world, the more we will see change. According to other reports, the US has now 16 millions vegetarians and vegans or about 5% of the population. In France, it's about 3% of its population. Germany and the UK a little more. No amount of political will or welfare reform will ever change anything. Only by awakening people and spread veganism, will we see changes happening and affecting the entire world... for all.
The documentary is not subtitled in English. However, my summary sums it up and the pictures speak for themselves in many cases. Worth watching no matter what. Watch it here: L'Adieu au Steak.
- The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle
- Wikipedia for terms used in the article.
- Gastone Institute International Policy Council: "France Goes Halal".
- Cowspiracy is a must see documentary I never recommend enough.
Photo of feedlot taken by myself in California. © Véronique Perrot