Western corporations funding huge expansion of eco-damaging dairy factory farms in Sri Lanka, study finds

Exclusive: Rise of factory farming revealed in country at high risk of effects of climate change

Jane Dalton
Saturday 26 January 2019 19:40 GMT
Westernised factory farm in Sri Lanka said to be typical of the new imported standards in the country

Western corporations are pumping huge sums of money into developing industrial farming in Sri Lanka, research has found – despite warnings meat and dairy consumption must halve to avoid climate change.

Food and farming giants are investing in a rapid expansion of intensive animal agriculture in the south Asian country, the researchers said.

Yet scientists believe it is one of the top two nations that will suffer most from tropical storms and floods.

And activists say the funding is driving up numbers of animals in “deplorable” conditions.

Some cows have been filmed lying on concrete floors with chains around their necks so short they can barely move.

Companies and food groups in the US, Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand are changing Sri Lanka’s eating habits, the study by the Moving Animals group found.

High-profile advertising campaigns have tried to stress the benefits of dairy products.

Since 2012 Australia’s largest live exporter, Wellard, has exported about 24,500 heifers to Sri Lanka in multi-million-pound deals. About 200 died from disease, it was reported.

Australia will benefit from the deals longer term, too, as animal feed is one of its main exports to Sri Lanka.

Cows were filmed with chains so short they could barely move
Cows were filmed with chains so short they could barely move (Moving Animals)

Swiss-based Nestlé has become a major player in growing the nation’s dairy industry: it buys milk from more than 25,000 dairy farms, representing about 40 per cent of all milk sold nationwide.

The research found that advertising campaigns for Nestlé’s chocolate malt drink Milo, particularly aimed at children, are predominant, even though doubts have been raised over its “healthy” claims in Malaysia and Australia.

The US government has put $14m (£10.6m) into efforts to double yields from herds by 2022.

With the project reported to be focused “on less cows and more milk” experts fear it means increasing animal exploitation.

Dairy collective Fonterra, New Zealand’s largest company, has a decade-long commitment to develop Sri Lanka’s dairy industry.

Its two big brands, Anchor and Ratthi, account for 60 per cent of Sri Lanka’s huge milk-powder market.

A goat was photographed with a bloody head injury
A goat was photographed with a bloody head injury (Moving Animals)

Amy Jones, of Moving Animals, who photographed a typical Sri Lankan factory farm, said: “The Western model of industrial farming is causing millions of animals to suffer in deplorable conditions.

“The farm was a haunting replica of industrialised Western dairy farms – a stark contrast to conventional, small-scale herds.

“Pregnant female cows were slumped on bare floors, chained to the ceiling by their necks, while next door, calves were stashed inside isolated, metal cages.

“On the goat farm, one animal was suffering a head injury, their face caked in dry blood.”

The Global Climate Risk Index 2019 ranked Sri Lanka second after Puerto Rico for landslides, floods and monsoons.

Wellard said it does not deliver heifers to farms that tether animals, and that the mortality rate of 4 per cent is lower than that in some developed countries.

A Fonterra spokesperson said: “All the milk we collect locally comes from small-scale local dairy farmers,” adding the company had trained over 6,000 farmers and industry professionals, and invested over Rs 3bn (£12.5m) in dairy development.

“We’re committed to managing animals responsibly and eliminating practices that contravene the internationally recognised ‘five freedoms’ of animal welfare. This includes ensuring animals have access to quality nutrition, shelter and medical care, and have sufficient space and facilities to live comfortably,” he said.

Fonterra’s market-leading Anchor and Ratthi milk is sourced from New Zealand, he said.

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A Nestlé spokeswoman said: “We do not own any farms in Sri Lanka. All of our regular milk suppliers are smallholder farmers, whom we have helped develop for more than 35 years together with the Sri Lankan government. Our aim is to provide training and development to local farmers, offer them assistance to develop their business in line with our commitment to rural development, and provide them with a route to market by buying their milk.

“We have set up essential infrastructure such as milk chilling centres, which offer farmers a means to keep their milk fresh in tropical weather until it is transported to our factory.

“We also train farmers on a range of technical topics and best practices including cattle feeding and breeding, and animal health and farm management.”

It offers free mobile veterinary clinics in collaboration with the government, she said.

“Our programmes also educate farmers about the “five freedoms” applied to animals, ie freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; fear and distress; physical and thermal discomfort; pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.”

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