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The meat industry in south africa

By Camilla Hyslop

Camilla graduated from the University of Cape Town in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Law. She is currently doing her postgraduate degree in Law with an interest in transformative constitutionalism and international law at the University of Cape Town (South Africa).

“Our response to the factory farm is ultimately a test of how we respond to the powerless, to the most distant, to the voiceless – it is a test of how we act when no one is forcing us to act one way or another. Consistency is not required, but engagement with the problem is.”[1]


I recently read “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. The author’s masterful indictment of the meat industry in America has been called required reading for anyone who eats meat.[2] The inhuman treatment of animals, the health implications for humans and the environmental consequences seem to offer little other conclusion than a very selective free range meat diet or a turn to vegetarianism. It is easy to read the book, however, and feel that this bloated and inefficient industry must be limited to the US (since it is too horrific to think that these practices carry on across the globe). However, Safran Foer anticipates this in his preface alerting English readers that the UK faces similar problems. The question is, then, does South Africa?


The main thrust of “Eating Animals” is the great scourge that is factory farming. Essentially, factory farms turn farming, the aeons old connection with the earth to provide us with food, into profit making factories. For efficiency, animals are kept in cages and are given little access to the outside world. This has been true of the American system since the 1930s and 1940s but has South Africa followed suit? Indeed, we have. The South African farming industry has changed towards an intensification programme over the last fifteen years.[3] This is clear in the South African pork industry. Animal rights activists have stated that South African pigs face especially harsh treatment.[4] At present, pregnant pigs are kept in gestation stalls and farrowing stalls which prevents them from moving around for the majority of their lives until they are sent to the abattoir. This is far removed from the life of walking (up to 15km per day), wallowing and foraging of the natural pig.[5]


The justification for this treatment is the need to provide the historically, economically deprived population with affordable food.[6] However, a professor of Public Health at the University of the Western Cape, Professor Thandi Puoane, has underlined the health risks that the disadvantaged face because of the inclusion of factory farmed meat in their diet. She says that the increases in instances of heart disease, obesity, certain cancers and diabetics are a direct result of the hormone-filled meat from factory farms.[7] The animals in factory farms are traditionally sickly due to the conditions that they are kept in. Thus, they are continually injected with antibiotics so as to keep them alive long enough to be slaughtered. A large amount of antibiotics which are then consumed by the average meat eater in this country. Indeed, research at the University of the Western Cape has found that in in all tested supermarket meat, there were levels of the Tetracycline antibiotic.[8] Furthermore, it is clear that in ostrich farming, a growing sector in the South African meat market, the antibiotic Tylosin is in common use.[9] This has raised serious fears of antibiotic resistance occurring and eventually resulting in the rise of a superbug pandemic that would prove deadly for large swaths of the population.  Professor of Food Microbiology, Pieter Gouws, called the situation in regard to antibiotic resistance “grim”.[10]


Environmental Consequences

The health implications are not the only negative for the present meat industry. Under South African legislation, farmers are allowed to destroy so-called ‘damage-causing animals’. This can be through cage traps, poison collars, foothold taps and denning.[11] For Karoo Lamb, the damage-causing animals include black-backed jackals, wild dogs and leopards.[12] These are animals that are not only indigenous to the country, but are assets to the tourist industry. Another drawcard to South Africa are the African Penguins on Boulders Beach. However, the penguin levels are extremely close to extinction due to overfishing in the area, fish which in some instances is used to feed industrially farmed animals.[13] A risk to the tourist industry is one thing but intensive and aggressive meat farming also puts our precarious water situation at risk. One thousand litres of water go into the growth of one kilogram of grain. It takes twenty-four kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef.[14] I am confident that you can do the math. Given the hot, hazy mornings in Cape Town, the latest statistics says that we have 121 days left of water.[15] We cannot allow precious water to be used in factory farming in order to maximise the profits of South African meat producers at the cost of the water needs of a sun-drenched country.


What should we do?

Safran Foer suggests that vegetarianism is the responsible response to the crisis in the meat industry: “We know, at least, that this decision will prevent deforestation, curb global warming, reduce pollution, save oil reserves, lessen the burden on rural America, decrease human rights abuses, improve public health, and help eliminate the most systematic animal abuse in world history.”[16] However, not everyone may be able to act on his principles. It is consumers who can change the way the meat industry operates. Your vote is your buying power. A move away from factory farmed meat and towards better farming practices can be achieved by supporting those few organic farms left and decreasing your meat intake. 


[1] Eating Animals 267










[11] Section 8 of the Norms and Standards for the Management of Damage-Causing Animals in South Africa



[14] The Protein Crunch 217


[16] Eating Animals 257

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