US president Donald Trump famously argued that NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) is the worst trade deal ever in history, and probably for the first time in his life, he is right. Not for the right reasons obviously (some of which are utterly racist), still NAFTA is truly one of the worst trade deals ever, considering its horrific effect on nonhuman animals.
A couple of days ago the first round of NAFTA re-negotiations, initiated by the Trump administration, has ended. The re-negotiations between the US, Mexico and Canada, comprise of several major issues, among them is animal exploitation, which unfortunately has a major share in the 23 years old deal.
Basically, the trade agreement gradually eliminated nearly all tariffs, and increased “economic integration” between the 3 countries. The result is detrimental to animals. NAFTA virtually made the entire North American continent a giant integrated exploitation zone, promoting intensification of animal exploitation, advancing live animals trade, and animals’ body parts exportation, and eventually amplifying animals’ consumption by making their exploitation more worthwhile for the producers and cheaper for the consumers.
In this post we’ll shortly discuss NAFTA’s effects on the major animal exploitation industries since it was signed. We find it important, because unlike the coverage of NAFTA’s harms to the environment, wild animals and workers’ rights, the most severe suffering intensification element of the trade deal has been mainly neglected so far (with very few exceptions, for example, the extraordinary work of a group called Global Justice for Animals and the Environment).
This deterioration in the state of animals must not be overlooked considering that between 1993 and 2013, trade amongst the three countries in animal products increased more than three-fold, from $4.6 billion a year to $15.5 billion a year.
And now, the US statements regarding their demands in the re-negations can lead to an even worsening of the state of animals in North America.
A Devilsend for Poultry
As in practically every other sphere, chickens are the victims who suffer the most from the deal. “NAFTA has been a godsend for U.S. poultry” said the international trade counsel for the US Poultry and Egg Export Council in a recent testimony at a House of Representatives hearing, before the beginning of the re-negotiations.
Another common phrase was a ‘bonanza for American Agriculture’, which the three major bird abusing organizations (the National Chicken Council, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, and the National Turkey Federation ) used in their joint statement published ahead of the reopening of the trade agreement.
Despite the shared border, before NAFTA the US had only limited exports to Mexico. Yet, nowadays, Mexico is by far the largest market for US birds.
A couple of years ago, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of NAFTA’s coming into effect, the abusive industry reported how they have thrived: “in the two decades of NAFTA, Mexico has risen to become the number one export market for US chicken, turkey, duck and eggs in 2013, with annual sales exceeding $1.3 billion, according to US government trade data.
During this period, total US poultry exports to Mexico have grown by 358% in volume and 415% by value. Export volume of chicken meat has increased by five-fold, while value has increased more than eight times.
For turkey meat, export volume and value to Mexico during the 20 years of NAFTA have increased by 135% and 198%, respectively.”
The 2015-16 decline in exports to Mexico, was mostly a result of the worst-ever outbreak of avian flu in the US, during which almost 50 million birds were “culled”. But the important lesson to take from this horrible case is that even under such conditions, the trade remained, and that is “thanks” to NAFTA. While some countries (such as China) blocked imports, Mexico remained welcoming. This is another way NAFTA strengthen the abusers – pre-agreed standards and more cooperation between the countries in general, softened the financial hit the exploiters faced.
Unsurprisingly, NAFTA’s tariffs removal have also led to an increasing consumption of birds, particularly in Mexico. The National Union of Poultry Farmers reports that per capita consumption increased from 15.83kg of birds’ flesh in 1994 to 25.9 kg by 2014.
NAFTA is not only responsible for this rise by promoting imports of birds, but also by strengthening Mexican domestic abuse. uty-free cheap US corn and soy feed enabled Mexican exploiters to lower their costs of production and thereby making a substantial increase in the country’s flesh consumption. In fact, “production” has grown by 148% since 1993.
The industrialization of animal exploitation farms is one of the worst manifestations of the infamous race to the bottom, attributed to many international trade agreements.
Generally, as companies and countries compete with each other, they aim at cutting their expenses to the minimum, as well as increasing their production to the maximum. So practically, it means that the competitors move their production to the place where the environmental regulations, workers’ rights, safety standards and etc. are lowest. When it comes to animal exploitation it means both an increase in the number of factory farms and an intensification of factory farms facilities.
The situation is better when it comes Canada but for a very cynical reason. The US exploiters don’t have a complete access to the Canadian chickens market, because the country restricts certain imports, in order to protect its own domestic exploiters. Canada insists that animals consumed by the Canadians would be exploited by Canadians. Therefore, Canada imposes import restrictions and “production limits” meant to create a more “stable system”, which is less prone to market forces. So Canadian exploiters’ pressure to protect their own selfish interests, indirectly protected a significant potential of more animals from being exploited.
Nonetheless, although NAFTA didn’t lift all trade barriers, Canadian concessions during the original negotiations had led to a growth in US exports to Canada. According to the USDA, compering 1991-93 to 2011-13 figures, US chicken meat sales to Canada have grown by 333 % in volume (from 42 thousands Metric tons to 140) and 423% in value (from 85 million dollars to 360).
This world is so fucked up that we are bound to hope that the Canadian animal exploiters, people who abuse animals at first hand every single day, would manage to protect their selfish interests, because if their government would compromise what it calls the “supply management” and submit to some of the US requirements, more animals would be severely hurt.
Cows, Much Like Automobiles
One of NAFTA’s most famous examples of markets unification is automobiles manufacture, with each car crossing the borders 5 to 8 times during its assembly. The same phenomenon happens in animal exploitation industries, and is most prominent when it comes to cows.
Cows are transported across the North American borders, both alive and dead. Live cows exports are favored by exploiters, since it strengthen the three countries’ industries as a whole – allowing more profitability of each exploitative phase. The industry seeks the most worthwhile location for each part in the lives of the poor cows. By large, each year since 2000, an average of about 1.2 million cows are transported alive to the U.S. from Mexico (mostly weaned calves who are sent to US’s feedlots). Afterwards, these cows are sent back to their trade partners as “beef” as well as being consumed domestically in the US. Different “cuts” are shipped to each country, with less profitable body parts sent to Mexico. These “cuts” would have had a much less profitable use otherwise, and thus, the trade relationships have increased the value of the carcass, and strengthened the industry all across the continent.
Unsurprisingly, the reopening of the trade deal has led the Canadian, Mexican and US beef industries to join forces and together send an appeal to the countries’ 3 leaders. In it they write “Recent statements about the possible dissolution of NAFTA or potential renegotiation of NAFTA are deeply concerning to us because of the unnecessary risk it places on our producers”.
And indeed according to The USDA’s 20th anniversary report, US cows flesh exports to Mexico have doubled in the two decades since NAFTA (compering 1991-93 averages to that of 2011-13).
In 2014 the US Meat Export Federation also marked NAFTA’s turning 20 with an economic report. It compared 1994 figures with 2013, stating that U.S. cows flesh exports to Mexico and Canada grew from $660 million to more than $2 billion. Canada’s exports to the U.S. and Mexico grew from $400 million to $975 million. Mexico’s exports to the U.S. grew from $10 million to $570 million.
And once again, the trade of cheap crops from the US has led to Mexico’s own abusive industry expansion and intensification as well. So even when Mexicans eat more domestic meat, NAFTA has something to do with it.
The Poster Child for Expended Trade
According to the USDA, the number of individual pigs slaughtered each year in the US has increased dramatically since 1990, from 85 million to 115 million – that’s a 35% increase. During the same period domestic consumption has remained relatively the same, as consumers bend towards chicken flesh. This means that exports have been the main factor in this “production” growth, and explains the exploiters’ pressure to maintain NAFTA (and reach new markets).
USDA data also shows a dramatic increase in the number of very large farms, which coincide with NAFTA’s taking effect. From 1992 through 2012, large-scale farms ($1 million and over annual gross farm income) increased by 35,066 which is 107%.
Pushing for even more intensive and wider mass production, NAFTA is historically considered as the opportunity for the US agribusiness to start this continually growing trend of “efficiently” exploiting animals for the rest of the global markets.
The US has moved from being a net importer of pig products in 1990, to the world’s largest exporter today. The US pig industry is referred to as “the poster child for expended trade”, and more generally it represents the entire agribusiness tendency of looking beyond the domestic consumption and constantly searching for international markets.
As the trade deal reopened, an abuser’s organization called the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) urged Trump to maintain their gains. The US pork exports to Canada and Mexico were almost $799 million and nearly $1.4 billion respectively in 2016. In comparison, in 1994, exports to both countries combined, reached less than $190 million.
Mexico has had the most significant consumption growth, which nearly doubled over the last 20 years. Its domestic exploitation also increased by about 41% during the same period (once again, relying on low cost US feed), but it has not been able to keep pace with the booming demand for pig’s bodies. This, combined with the estimation that there is still room for even further growth in Mexico’s relatively low per capita pig consumption, make the country a very lucrative market for the US.
In recent years, Canada had also become a global power in pig abusing, and relies heavily on exportation. According to the Canadian Pork Council, the country currently ships most of its products south to its NAFTA partners. The US is Canada’s biggest market with 408 thousand tonnes of pigs flesh worth $1.4 billion. Mexico is the fourth largest market where it ships 314 tonnes valued at $587 million.
Also, as in cows’ exploitation, the industry became much more integrated between the three countries in particular the U.S. and Canada. And once again, integration is mostly a code term for cross border live exports. The transportation is mostly from Canada to the US as young pigs are sent to low cost factory farms for fattening. Since NAFTA came into effect in 1994, exports grew from less than 1 million victims, to 5.7 million in 2015 (with a 2007 peak of more than 10 million).
Market integration is also another aspect of the earlier mentioned race to the bottom of trade deals. The group Global Justice for Animals and the Environment (GJAE) described how it led to even lower standards: “NAFTA came into effect on January 1, 1994, and began a major shift towards factory farm agriculture in Mexico. That year, US pork giant Smithfield Foods opened the “Carroll Ranches” factory hog farm in Veracruz, Mexico. Carroll Ranches processes 800,000 pigs into bacon and other products per year, but does not have a sewage treatment plant. The elimination of import tariffs on government-subsidized, US-produced feed crops under NAFTA allowed US agribusiness to outsource factory farms to Mexico, as they were now able to access the same low-cost feed available in the US and export duty-free pork back to the US while taking advantage of Mexico’s lower wages and more lax environmental and safety regulations to minimize costs”.
Or in other and simpler words, as Adam Weissman from GJAE quintessentially frames it in a lecture about free trade and animals: “Tariff elimination + US Agricultural Subsidies + Economy of Scale = Factory Farming Expansion”.
In Crisis, Outsource the Hens’ Suffering
Production and trade of eggs have soared since NAFTA was implemented. According to the USDA, between 1994 and 2013, US shell egg (whole, non-processed eggs) exports increased 492% in volume (and 736% in value) with NAFTA partners. Egg products exports grew 267% in volume (and 435% in value). Most of the increases are due to export to Mexico, while Canada’s increase is more moderate since it limits trade, as part of its “supply” management system.
Again, exploiters hail the agreement, stating that for the US and Mexico, NAFTA has contributed to unprecedented growth in production. Since the implementation of NAFTA, egg production in the US has more than doubled. Mexico’s egg production has increased at an average annual rate of 2.8%, and it’s currently the 6th largest egg producing country in the world. The consumption side is even scarier. Since NAFTA, egg consumption grew by 120%, and today Mexico has the largest per capita egg consumption in the world.
Despite Mexico’s sever avian flu outbreak during 2012, the country retained this “top spot”, with roughly 50 pounds of eggs per person each year, which is about 350 to 400 eggs. Consumption remained relatively stable “thanks” to NAFTA – as although more than 22 million local birds were “culled”, Mexico could easily and cheaply import more eggs from the US.
The only animal exploitation industry which received wide press coverage is the milk industry, mainly, since several complaints were brought up regarding it. Trump said he would stand up for domestic exploiters against what he called “unfair” Canadian practices.
On this issue he has no complaints against Mexico. And it is not a big surprise. Mexico has been collaborative in providing markets for dairy ever since NAFTA begun. Unlike the call to “crack Canada”, the US exploiters’ organizations are pleased with Mexico, and urge US negotiators to maintain it. Mexico imported more than $1.22 billion of U.S. dairy products and ingredients in 2016 compared to only $250 million in 1993.
In 2016, 3.7% of U.S. milk production — nearly 8 billion lbs (3.63 billion liters) — were exported to Mexico in the form of milk powder, cheese, whey protein, lactose and other dairy products.
The USDA reports that cheese imports have experienced steady growth (19% yearly average), with only one year registering a decrease in volume. Statistics show that Mexico has imported almost $2.23 billion worth of cheese in the last 20 years, going from 5 million Metric Tons of cheese back in 1995 to over 80 million Metric Tons in 2013.
It’s Canada that bothers the US cows’ exploiters who have long ago contested Canada’s “supply” management system of quotas and tariffs which is intended to keep domestic prices high and imports extent low. Besides the general pressure on Canada to start cutting tariffs to allow more imports, during 2016 there was another escalation. Due to a deal between Canadian dairy farmers and processors to price milk at a discount amongst themselves, US exports were unable to compete. The sharp decrease in purchasing from the US, particularly of a certain type of milk (“ultra-filtered”), resulted in the current rise in tensions.
In recent years, the US milk industry (mainly dairy farms along the Canadian border, in states like Wisconsin for example), came to rely on Canadian demand, and expended their abusive operations very rapidly. Those exports increased from 33 million dollars in 2011 to 98 million in 2016, but as explained, were pushed out of the Canadian market due to the Canadian cows exploiters’ deal. The loss of jobs in the “dairy capital” of the US, and an important constituent for trump, led to the president describing Canada’s treatment of American dairy a “disgrace”. Not long after, he declared a 20% tariff on Canadian lumber (which like milk, has caused trade conflict between the two countries). This tit-for-tat escalating dispute is expected to be negotiated in the coming NAFTA discussion rounds. And so the fate of millions of cows is depended on political maneuvers during future talks, on whether the cynical interests of Canadian exploiters manage to block cheap US milk and restrain another worsening.
We’ve mentioned how negligible attention NAFTA and other trade agreements receive in the animal activists community. And that is not accidental. The AR movement tends to avoid discussing broad economic issues such as trade deals, probably because they are extremely depressing and can’t be part of the “we are winning” rhetoric. Trade deals embody and reflect how fragile the few achievements made by activists are. How incapable ethics is when confronting economics and politics.
Activists must not confuse accepting reality for what it is and acknowledging reality for what it is. This is our world and us activists are the last who should paint a prettier picture. We are also the last who should accept it. We can choose to keep fighting to marginally scrape the edges of this exploitative world, only to see how one trade deal after another consumes all the little gains we have made, or we can choose to fight all the maladies at once by looking for ways to destroy it.