Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Back in my January winter breaks at Hampshire College, I learned that the words “free-range chicken” could mean more than a cruelty free, certified organic meal in a world that slaughters fifty billion-plus chickens a year. Students that stayed on campus for extra classes and credits “rescued” frozen chicken from our departed colleagues’ refrigerators, and those community supported agriculture (CSA) chicken filets ended up feeding various hungry students with significant experience on the BBQ do it yourself realm.
Right after graduating college I volunteered as a farmer for the Sunbow 5 Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to the teachings of Mokichi Okada, a Japanese farmer and spiritual leader who founded in the 1930’s a “no-input” method of sustainable agriculture known by Nature Farming and Nature Cultivation.
The fundamental concept of “shizen saibai” or Nature Cultivation is to avoid at all costs the use of any “-cide”, as seen with pesticides and herbicides and to avoid the use of organic and chemical fertilizers. It is believed that the soil has an inherent power that can be fortified through the celestial elements, in addition to the terrestrial ones that can be found in the leaves and grasses used for composting in Nature Farming.
The Mahikari religious movement, or Johrei as it is known by devotees in the world, has made a name for itself in Brazil for having farms that practice the teachings of Mokichi Okada. The largest provider of certified organic chicken in Rio de Janeiro, Korin, uses “Agricultura Natural” or Nature Farming in the production of its fruits, vegetables and chickens. In fact, every August the company offers a mass prayer to all the chickens that were slaughtered.
Korin, whose products are certified by IBD (“Instituto Biodinâmico”), provides open spaces for the chickens where they can roam and perform natural-like behavior such as choosing their own nests and taking sun and dust baths.
Free-range chicken, also known as “caipira” in Brazil, are typically grown by small farmers and do not necessarily have to be organically certified for people to pay more for it. The general public, in my personal experience, seems to concord with the notion the caipira chicken is healthier, tastier and better overall.
Conventionally grown chickens in Brazil, unlike “caipira” chickens, spend their short-lived lives in cages the size of a laptop. There are no regulations for the size of the growing areas for meat and egg-laying chicken in Brazil. Skeletal disorders and diseases are not only exacerbated by their limited confinement, but also by the hormones, antibiotics and ultra-rich feed that induces rapid growth and make their living conditions inhumane and physically painful.
Animal cruelty and unhealthy meat products are not exclusive to poultry farming. As shown in Fantástico this past Sunday, a popular news and entertainment show here, thirty percent of the total beef produced in Brazil does not pass through any form of health inspection. The hidden cameras showed powerful images of animals being unnecessarily tortured by their breeders and the unsanitary conditions of the facilities that handled and processed the meat.
Beef and chicken aside, it was estimated that 24,000 tons of equine meat were exported abroad in 2012. Interestingly enough you can’t find horse meat on the menus in Brazil, but you might be able to find it on your hamburger patty.
However, Brazilians seem to be getting more preoccupied with the quality and essence of what is on their plate. According to the Brazilian Ministry of Agricultural Development (MDA), the market for organic food products is growing between 15 to 20 percent annually. The Brazilian organic market stands today at about R$500 million or US$250 million, powered by approximately 90,000 farmers ranging from small to medium size farms.
There are religions that believe that after we die our spirits are manifested and reincarnated in animals. With this in mind, I believe the way we treat animals is a reflection of how we treat our own society. I pray that society will eventually go back to the origins of sustainable agriculture because it will definitely make this a better world.
Find organic markets in Brazil here.
Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at:Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.