It was inevitable that on discussing animals we arrived at animal farming first of all. Vietnam, as a developing country, consists mainly of small household farming without proper structures or vets, posing many different health issues.
My impression after the conversation is that industrial farming is the future and inevitable, whether I like it or not. But why? Vietnam is in a place where it could try a different route and avoid the long term damage caused by industrial mass production.
Household farming in the past was predominantly the supplier of meat but since the outbreak of Avian Flu H5N1 in 2005 the government has ceased to support small farmers and instead encourage adoption of the industrial model.
Close human and animal contact certainly make transmitting illness much easier. At the same time being exposed to animal at a young age, human bodies get acclimated and develop natural antibodies. There is no proof that the industrial model is any safer than traditional household models. While industrial model provide better infrastructure but over time, as their purpose is to raise broilers with faster growth and return, they breed weaker chicken, kept alive only by vast doses of antibiotics (which leads to the other problem of antibiotic resistance). The long term prospect of having only a few breed is also problematic, and unfavorable by nature since if a virus succeed in killing one certain strand there is no other variety to escape this fate.
While avian flu emerged in Asia, and the first outbreak of the swine flue strand H1N1 in 1918 is unknown, the next outbreak in 1976 was in the US. There were numerous outbreaks in subsequent years, including in industrial farms.
One researcher also pointed out that it is not for health reasons that the traditional model is increasingly replaced by industrial farms, it is rather a matter of economic growth. The industrial model gives a fast return and seems the ideal model for cheap meat but is not sustainable and will ultimately result in costly environmental damage. Importing foreign breed also means dependency on foreign imports, not just in terms of the breed but also antibiotics, facilities, feed, etc.
Cheap meat is also an illusion. The cheaper the meat the lower the quality. In the long run, money needed for cleaning up resulting environmental damages are substantial. Feeding the world is a strange excuse as there is little meat available in places that are actually suffering from food shortage. Industrial farming is also not good for farmers and only beneficial to those already with substantial capital.
So what is Vietnam’s issue?
Does it make sense to import a farming model from the West that has proven to be faulty in various ways? Is it possible to create a model that is safer and smaller?
At the moment, local chicken are still prized and valued for their meat and their cultural qualities, and household livestock contribute substantially to the farmer’s livelihood. What of the future?