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Grabbing the sheep by the tail – organic farming in Argentina

Working closely with sheep on a Patagonian Granja has started me thinking more about the total farming environment. Seeing animals as part of a mixed crop repertoire, that includes berries and nuts, appears harmoniously ideal.

As a vegetarian I am interested in the welfare of animals, I don’t expect anyone to adhere to my perspective and enjoy seeing my friends and family savor their steak. I just advocate change for animal’s living conditions before they reach anyone’s plate, and believe there is a correlation between lived-a-happy-free-range-kind-of-life-animal and taste.

At the same time, I hope that boutique farms, like the one we’re working on, have a future in Argentina. Which makes me wonder how widespread organic practices are in the process of breeding livestock here, and is an organic farm rare or an increasing trend in this country?

In Australia right now, it’s the peak season for live animals to be exported to Middle Eastern countries with no animal welfare laws. Welfare groups have been trying to put an end to live export for years and the debate continues.

But what’s the story in Argentina, a country famous for tasty ‘asado’ and a traditional gaucho culture?  If we look at beef alone, Argentina produces a total of 2.8 million tonnes per year, making it the third largest beef exporter behind Australia and Brazil. Annual exports that account for 7.36% of worldwide exports and cater to mainly European nations with strict animal welfare laws. The remaining 2.43 million tonnes are consumed locally. Beef consumption here is the second highest in the world behind Uruguay, making national consumption a hefty 55kg per person per year. That means a massive opportunity available to local organic farmers.*

The average gaucho on the Pampa knows where his meat comes from, but for a typical city dweller the disconnect between plate and pasture must be world’s apart. Hopefully the culture of farming is so traditionally Argentinian that people take pride in sourcing their steak from family farms as a way of maintaining the intrinsic culture.

Supporting some local Argentinian farms means financially supporting free-range and organic practices that are already keeping animals in conditions close to their natural surroundings. Additionally encouraging an economic environment where there is a greater emphasis on farming traditional breeds, which have better resistance to disease and to parasites. It also means supporting the ‘breeding’ of animals at a natural rate without unnecessary antibiotics or hormones just to increase productivity. But best of all, and the benefit I’m savoring during our farm experience, is allowing animals to express their normal behavior and live in their natural community.

The history of organic farming in Argentina is relatively new. The organic industry began in the 1980s with a handful of small farms, and by 1992 national organic rules were written based on the International Federation of Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) and European standards, and Argentina became a Latin pioneer in developing rules for organic animal production. This began a tremendous expansion of organic production.**

For animals to be treated humanely in the growing process, land is an essential. According to the National Organisation of Sanitation and Agricultural Quality (SENASA): grazing areas in Argentina grew to more than 4 million hectares between 2000 and 2008, mainly due to an increase of sheep husbandry. Despite a drop between the years of 2000 and 2006 when the economic crises was felt most, the period between 2007 and 2008 saw an increase of 36% in organic agricultural land for a total increase of 43% of grazing areas in Argentina since the turn of the century.***

From what we are told, there is also a high demand for sheep produced on the farm
we’re working at; which means the overall outlook for the humane treatment of Argentinian animals looks bright. With organic land increasing and consequently more ‘cruelty free meat’ becoming available at local butchers, I believe that we have choices that affect not only the future of each country economically, but also culturally, and the bonus being an impact which can create a better life for animals while they are a part of the picture.

I like the simplicity in the wise words of Mahatma Ghandi: ‘The greatness of a nation and it’s moral progress can be judged by the way it’s animals are treated’


*Wikipedia **The Global Status, Prospects, and Challenges of a Changing Organic Market  – Rural Advancement FoundationInternational–USA ***SENASA, Buenos Aires, March 2009

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