Today a “top-level” trade meeting between Chinese and American officials takes place. This meeting followed a month and a half long tit-for-tat trade tensions, which included policy acts as well as many threats between the world’s greatest super powers. Some of which were at the expense of the world’s most weakened – nonhumans animals.
The negotiations weren’t about animal legislation and for the most part not even about animals trade. In fact, the word ‘animals’ probably wasn’t even mentioned, not even once, during the meetings (except for the exploitative terms – ‘cattle’ and ‘pork’). The talks were an effort to stop an escalating trade war, yet millions of animals are to be effected by them, and that says a lot about the fate of animals in this world.
The timeline of recent events was more or less the following: on March 22 the U.S. imposed duties on more than 50$ billion worth of Chinese products, including 25% tariff on steel. The next day China placed duty on 128 U.S. products, which are about 3$ billion worth, including 25% on a wide variety of products made of pigs body parts.
Then, on April 3rd, the U.S. announced threats to impose 25% duties on about 1,300 Chinese products which are worth another $50 billion, including commodities such as aircraft parts and flat-screen televisions.
The following day, the Chinese have threatened to impose an additional 25% duty on other 106 U.S. products, this time amounting to $50 billon. This list includes various cows body parts, and also soybeans, which is a far more dramatic decision than it may sound at first.
As all activists know, soybeans play a crucial role in the extent of global animal exploitation. This is because it is used as feed for many of the victims of the food industries – from farmed fishes to pigs and cows. So when soy prices rise, usually so does the cost of exploiting animals, and thus the consumption somewhat decreases. In other words the beans trade is crucial in determining how much abuse will be inflicted in different places around the world.
For example, in a recent Tyson Foods report, the corporation claimed that soybean meal, corn and other feed ingredients represent roughly 55% of their cost of growing chickens in 2017.
Soy is so central in the world’s “food production”, that only the proposal of a possible Chinese tariff on American soy alone have led to dramatic changes in the global sale patterns during last month.
Since the threats exchange, no new deals between the two countries were made. China turned to Brazil, Argentina and Canada for sellers, and the US found buyers in the EU.
The global shakeup is so drastic because the top two economies have come to significantly rely on one another when it comes to soy flow: One-quarter of the United States’ production of soy is exported to China, which are 33 million tonnes, worth above $12 billion a year. For China, this amount is around a third of all its soybeans imports.
China is heavily reliant on soy imports, producing only about 14 million tonnes of soybeans, while importing more than 93 million tonnes, gobbling 60% of the entire world’s traded soybeans.
The country’s dependency on external soy suppliers is the result of a booming animal flesh industry. Chinese “production” of chickens, pigs and cows flesh jumped 250% from 1986 to 2012, and is projected to increase another 30% by the end of the decade. China is already the world’s largest pigs flesh producer and one of the world’s largest cows flesh producer, and it is unable to grow by itself enough soybeans to feed so many victims.
It is estimated that China will find it difficult to supply its needs from other countries. Though Brazil is set to redirect some exports to China, strong internal demand are estimated to limit the country’s ability to entirely replace US supplies. Also, even if some of Brazil’s beans, which are now more costly, are freed (as the EU – the world’s number two importer – turns to the US), it already today sells 70% of it exported beans to China and thus hesitate to rely further on this one buyer.
The possible purchase of much more beans from Brazil and its neighbors will have a global domino effect. “If China sweeps South America clean of soybeans, other big importers like the EU, Mexico, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Egypt will have to find new supplies” one European soybean trader said.
It’s impossible to predict the implications of this high volatility on animal suffering around the world, both in a shorter term and a longer one.
On the US’ side, given the sizable share of the lost market, shockwaves are hard to predict as well. Considering how unlikely it is for the US to find buyers as large as the biggest emerging market in the world, soy surpluses will lead to a price decrease. As result, other costs are likely to go down along the production line, which is euphemism for the lives of animals becoming even cheaper. The factor of low cost feed may offset any global positive consequences of the previously mentioned tariff on pigs corpses, which makes their flesh somewhat more expensive.
A yet unknown major variant in regards to the scope of US soy production (and all its expected implications), is the country’s omnibus farm bill which takes shape during this year. This bill is a powerful instrument intended to support the agriculture sector – particularly the large farmers who grow commodity grains and oilseeds such as corn and soybeans. They benefit from a number of government-backed programs, which include subsidized federal crop insurance that cover farmers against weather damage or low prices for their crops. These bills traditionally funnel vast amounts of US tax payments to strengthening animal exploitation. The current bill was passed in 2014 and was expected to cost $489 billion over five years. It expires at the end of 2018, at a time when many farmers are extremely discontented with Trump’s anti free trade policies, and just as the November midterm elections are coming up. All this may translate to even more backing for the most abusive elements of the agriculture sector in the on-going negations.
Naturally, the Trump administration promised to shield farmers from the rapidly escalating trade dispute. Another option that is under consideration is to use the department of agriculture authority to buy surplus U.S. crops.
So all in all (and obviously it is far from covering it all) it is hard to estimate the net effect of all these steps and speculative factors on nonhuman animals.
As opposed to our posts regarding trade deals signed last year (Sentient Pawn, Truly the Worst Deal Ever in History, and A Deal Fit for the 21st Century), which we claimed would undoubtedly increase the number of individuals suffering in factory farms, it may seem as if as a result of this trade battle, hopefully at least fewer pigs and cows will be born. However given the Chinese booming consumption of animal products, it is just as likely that more pigs and cows would be born into a life of suffering in countries other than the US, mostly in Europe. Germany, Spain, Denmark, and possibly also Russia, Brazil and Canada are where China is expected to direct its massive and consistently rising demand for animals’ flesh.
The reason we bring up this quick glance on the soy trade is not because it would necessarily lead to more victims, but to demonstrate the large impact it has on the fate of animals around the world, and the little impact morality has.
Their fate is vastly determined not even by the trade of their carcasses but by the trade of their food, which is vastly determined by economic and political factors, meteorological and epidemiological ones, and even plain ego fights between world leaders.
Our point here is to show how arbitrary the fate of billions of animals is, shaped by countless factors activists have no control over. In this particular case, it seems mostly about politicians’ power display, which easily effects billions of individuals. This goes to show how sentients are nothing but pawns in this horrible world. That is our point in this post, and that is what we think activists should take from these events.
All along history individuals are squashed by the power of greater forces. Not always these forces are wars, religions or totalitarian regimes. Sometimes it’s clerical economic arm wrestling.
It is so frustrating that so many efforts by so many activists regarding animal exploitation, which is an extremely difficult issue as it is, are so easily lost by decisions which don’t even mention or consider animals.
The fate of billions of nonhuman animals mustn’t be decided in trade wars or in trade deals.
In fact, the fate of nonhuman animals mustn’t be in the hands of humans at all.
Activists are trying in vain to change humans’ decisions about nonhumans for decades now. It is time to stop trying to change humans’ minds and start taking nonhumans fate out of humans’ hands.
Our goal is not to prove to activists that animal activism doesn’t really matter, but to convince them to make it the only thing that matters.
Activists must internalize that this is how the world works, and ask themselves if they are willing to dedicate every minute of their whole lives just to keep fighting the edges of the problem, instead of finding ways to reach its core and stop the suffering for good.